Atlanta Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder looked to be benched in the second half of their game versus the Tennessee Titans. And there's question as to whether he will start moving forward. The Falcons claimed that he was in their own concussion protocol and are worried about his health at this point to see if he is ready for the game against the Minnesota Vikings. The Falcons will be better off seeing what Ridder has the rest of the way than starting backup Taylor Heinicke.
Heinicke is a known commodity in the NFL and is known to be a backup-level guy who can come in for spurts when the starter goes down with an injury. He's not a guy you can tie your job, your franchise or your team's fans' mental health to. The Falcons stand to gain more with Ridder because his ceiling of being a competent franchise-level quarterback is much higher than Heinicke's ceiling—one that Heinicke has already hit. The problem with Ridder is that his floor is much lower and Heinicke is already a finished product for the most part.
Desmond Ridder has been struggling, but has shown flashes.
During the first four weeks of the season, Desmond Ridder threw 119 passes and completed 74 of them (62.2 percent) for 744 yards with three interceptions and three touchdowns. On the surface, that doesn't look very good. The film made it look even worse. He had 10 turnover worthy throws according to Pro Football Focus and was unable to really read the defenses thrown at him by Jacksonville and Detroit. He also took 16 sacks due to poor line play in those games and wasn't creating much with his running ability with just 47 yards on 14 carries and three fumbles.
Against the Texans, he showed what it could look like if it all came together. And that continued through the next two games where he averaged 295 yards through the air on a 68.8 percent completion percentage and had three touchdowns to go along with three interceptions. That's a massive increase of average yardage by 109 yards per game and a nearly seven percent increase in completion percentage. He also had 66 yards on 12 carries for two touchdowns. He also reduced his turnover worthy throws from 10 to five on a similar number of attempts.
The big issue came from his fumbles. He should have had a third rushing touchdown, but that was negated by a fumble. In this three game span, he had six turnovers between the interceptions and the fumbles. Adding another fumble against the Titans didn't help, either. However, despite the seven fumbles and six interceptions on the year, he showed enough flashes in the stretch that he could be relied on to move the ball and allow the offense to be one of the better ones in the league.
To be fair to Ridder, some of those fumbles aren't entirely on him. Of the seven fumbles, five of them came on what looked to be good defensive plays. One of them was just a bad snap exchange and only one of them seemed to be from carelessness. The Falcons do need to continue to improve on ball security, and that's never going to be a one week fix, but pulling a guy at this point doesn't let him fix his issues and only gets it into his head that he's a liability.
If he can eliminate the vast majority of his turnover worthy throws and hold onto the ball better, the Falcons might have a true franchise quarterback with Ridder. He's already shown that he is a competent passer. And he might even become one of the better passers in the league if he gets a true chance to develop. As a passer, he's a lot like Matt Ryan in that his throws may never be the flashy, Patrick Mahomes or Josh Allen type passes, but he gets the ball to his guy to make a play and gain yardage.
Improvement can be seen, even if it's not linear.
Sometimes success is a roller coaster. There will be ups and downs along the way, but Ridder's trendline has been overly on an upward trajectory. The Falcons could be very close to a break through for the offense with him. And honestly, the second half against the Titans might have been successful regardless of which quarterback was in the game because the offensive line was blocking better, and the scheme made much more sense. Arjun Menon, who used to do analytics for the Jets posted a tweet breaking down how accurate quarterbacks have been in the league this season.
The interesting part about this tweet isn't that Ridder is in the bottom half of the league. That was expected after his slow start. But he's improved to the point where his accuracy was just a little bit behind Kirk Cousins, Josh Allen, Matthew Stafford and Jalen Hurts. He can improve to a similar level to them in accuracy rate and start to take the next step in the red zone with more reps if he's given the chance. And he should be.
Ridder has all the tools to be a good quarterback.
Ridder has the arm to make all of the throws. He has shown that he can make plays with his arm to keep the ball moving and runs the offense well. The Falcons quarterback has good anticipation that is starting to get better and really understands pre-snap reads. Those notes all came together late in the Buccaneers game when he was trying to make a throw to Kyle Pitts in a two-minute drill situation that led the Falcons to a win. On this clutch throw, he reads the defense, hits Pitts in stride with the ball after he anticipated the coverage opening on this key play.
He also understands how to use his legs to make plays. On both of the plays shown below, Ridder gains yards and creates plays that help the drive continue by using his mobility. He scrambles much better the last few weeks to also make plays out of structure. While he's consistent and effective in structure on basic drop backs, the plays out of structure create bigger plays. On the pass shown below, he was able to create a big pass to Tyler Allgeier after scrambling and using his chemistry with Allgeier to get a big gain.
When seeing the positives that Ridder can bring, the goal moving forward for the offense should be trying to create more of those positives. Not benching him and focusing on a backup caliber quarterback. The highs are so high that it makes the questions, "how do we eliminate the lowest lows?" The question isn't, "how do we get him to play at a competent level moving forward?" The Falcons should focus on building the quarterback and offense up.
Cap ramifications long term make this no risk.
The best part of sticking with Ridder and letting him develop is that if he can't eliminate his lowest lows, they can replace him and have an inexpensive, competent backup on the roster on a third-round rookie deal. Him costing just over a million dollars every year makes the risk of sticking with him worth it. It also makes the reward of sticking with him even more worth it. Because if Ridder can develop into that franchise caliber quarterback that his potential shows, then the Falcons will be in a great cap situation to continue to build the offense and defense up around him.
All advanced stats are courtesy Pro Football Focus or Football Outsiders. All traditional stats are courtesy of official team websites, NFLGSIS or CFB Stats. All RAS and athletic testing numbers are courtesy of DraftScout.com and Kent Lee Platte's RAS Football website.