Desmond Ridder

Falcons To Start Marcus Mariota At QB While In Playoff Hunt

After back-to-back losses featuring subpar performances from quarterback Marcus Mariota, there has been some speculation that Atlanta could bench the 2015 first-rounder in favor of third-round rookie Desmond Ridder. However, as long as the Falcons remain in the playoff hunt, they will continue to deploy Mariota under center, as Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reports.

At 4-6, Atlanta’s postseason hopes are a function of the weak NFC South. The club is just one game back of the Buccaneers for the division lead, and with the playoffs still within reach, it is believed that benching Mariota would send the wrong message to the locker room. Indeed, when asked about the Falcons’ quarterback situation this week, head coach Arthur Smith said, “there is no situation. There was never a situation — ever.”

While it is true that Atlanta’s run-heavy offense minimizes the impact of recent Day 1 draftees Kyle Pitts and Drake London, it is also worth mentioning that, prior to the current two-game losing streak, Mariota had posted QB ratings of over 100.0 in three straight contests. His own rushing ability is also key to the team’s offense, as he has carried the ball 63 times for 347 yards (5.5 YPC), three touchdowns, and 23 first downs. He is largely giving the Falcons what they expected when they signed him as a bridge option this offseason, and on the balance, he has helped keep Atlanta competitive despite an ugly salary cap situation that has led to an overall talent shortage.

That is not to say that the team is unhappy with Ridder’s development. According to Rapoport, the Falcons — who were confident enough in Ridder to install him as Mariota’s backup to start the season and forego a veteran option — have been quite pleased with how the Cincinnati product has progressed. If the team falls out of contention in the coming weeks, Smith may choose to give the rookie passer his first regular season snaps.

Until then, however, Mariota will remain the QB1. He will look to right the ship on Sunday against the 3-7 Bears.

NFC South Notes: Mariota, Saints, Bucs

Marcus Mariota did not acquit himself well during the Falcons‘ Week 10 loss to the Panthers, and Jason La Canfora of the Washington Post notes the eighth-year passer’s status as Atlanta’s starter past the midseason point has befuddled various NFL staffers. Mariota’s style has led Arthur Smith to lean heavily on his ground attack (23.1 pass attempts per game), and while that has been fairly effective for the Falcons, the team’s top-10 picks over the past two years — Kyle Pitts and Drake London — are being limited by this offense. Some execs are wondering why it is taking the Falcons so long to bench Mariota for rookie third-rounder Desmond Ridder, La Canfora adds. Pitts, who became only the second rookie tight end in NFL history to surpass 1,000 yards (behind Mike Ditka, 1961), has topped 30 yards in just two games this season. This year’s first wideout taken, London has not exceeded 50 yards in a game since Week 3.

It is certainly possible the Falcons, who are rebuilding yet also competing in a weak NFC South, do not view Ridder as ready. But this situation is raising eyebrows around the league. Here is the latest from the NFL’s lone division without an above-.500 team:

  • Pete Werner missed the Saints‘ Week 10 game due to an ankle injury, and it does not sound like he will return anytime soon. The second-year linebacker underwent surgery, Nick Underhill of NewOrleans.football tweets. Werner remains on New Orleans’ active roster, oddly, though it seems likely the team moves him to IR soon. The Saints are not ruling Werner out from a return this season, Underhill adds. After working as a part-time starter last season, the former second-round pick has been a three-down player this year. The Ohio State product has made a career-high 74 tackles and ranks as a top-30 linebacker, per Pro Football Focus.
  • The Saints should be expected to augment their running back situation in 2023, Mike Triplett of NewOrleans.football tweets. Mark Ingram will turn 33 soon, and his contract expires at season’s end. Alvin Kamara will likely be suspended for his role in an alleged assault; the five-time Pro Bowler’s case has been delayed multiple times and is now tabled to January 2023. The Saints will likely have a bevy of options to choose from to find a Kamara complement/fill-in option. While certain free agency-eligible backs (Saquon Barkley chief among them) will not hit the market, many will. The contingent of starters or key contributors who are eligible for 2023 free agency includes Kareem Hunt, Josh Jacobs, Miles Sanders, David Montgomery, Damien Harris, Tony Pollard, Devin Singletary and D’Onta Foreman. Although the Saints could obviously look to the draft here, this is shaping up as a buyer’s running back market.
  • Rob Gronkowski‘s second retirement following O.J. Howard‘s free agency departure led to a near-overhaul for the Buccaneers at tight end. While longtime contributor Cameron Brate remains, he sustained a concussion recently. During Brate’s injury hiatus, the Bucs explored adding a tight end at the deadline, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com tweets. However, the team stood pat and has since used fourth-round rookie Cade Otton frequently. Otton, who caught Tom Brady‘s game-winning toss to beat the Rams earlier this month, and Brate have played in front of offseason addition Kyle Rudolph. Brate’s Week 10 return left the 12th-year vet a healthy scratch.

Falcons Name Marcus Mariota Starting QB

This will not qualify as particularly surprising news, but the Falcons have named Marcus Mariota their starting quarterback. On the first day of training camp earlier this week, quarterbacks coach Charles London confirmed that Mariota will serve as Atlanta’s QB1, while third-round rookie Desmond Ridder will begin his pro career as Mariota’s backup.

“Obviously, we’ve got a plan for each of them,” London said. “Marcus is the starter. That’s how we’re going into this thing” (via Josh Kendall of The Athletic (subscription required)).

Mariota, the No. 2 overall pick of the Titans in the 2015 draft, showed some promise during his five years in Tennessee, including a 2016 campaign in which he threw for 26 TDs against nine interceptions and rushed for 349 yards and a pair of scores. But Ryan Tannehill supplanted Mariota as the Titans’ starter midway through the 2019 season, and Mariota has spent the last two years with the Raiders as Derek Carr‘s backup.

During that time, he saw extended action in only one game, a Week 15 contest in 2020 in which he completed 17 of 28 passes for 226 yards, including a touchdown and an interception, and rushed nine times for 88 yards and a score. That performance was enough to generate trade interest the following offseason, but the structure of Mariota’s contract prevented a deal from being consummated. He ultimately remained with Las Vegas on a reworked pact, and he wound up throwing just two passes in 2021 (though he was occasionally brought in on special packages and rushed 13 times for 87 yards and a TD).

After trading franchise icon Matt Ryan to the Colts in March, the Falcons signed Mariota to a two-year, $18.75MM contract. Even after that signing, the club was said to be considering using its No. 8 overall pick on a collegiate passer, though Atlanta chose to wait until the third round to select a QB. Ridder completed just under 65% of his passes for 30 TDs and eight picks in 2021 — a season in which he took Cincinnati to the College Football Playoff — and has the chance to become the long-term answer for Atlanta under center.

He may be working with the second team as he acclimates to the NFL, but he will be getting plenty of reps. We heard last month that the Falcons would be deploying Feleipe Franks, the only other quarterback on the roster, in more of a hybrid role, and Kendall confirmed that Franks will practice as a tight end for most of camp.

Falcons Notes: QB Camp Reps, RB, NT Competitions

For the first time since 2008, the Falcons will have a starting quarterback not named Matt Ryan when the upcoming season begins. The team added Marcus Mariota as a short-term solution at the position, then drafted Desmond Ridder as a long-term option to succeed him.

The former has starting experience dating back to his time with the Titans, and will look to establish himself as a No. 1 again after two years as a backup with the Raiders. The latter, meanwhile, had an historic career at Cincinnati, leading the Bearcats to the CFP playoffs in 2021. Their lack of a track record at the NFL level made the Falcons a candidate to add a camp arm, but the team is investing fully in their top two passers.

As detailed by D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, training camp reps will be split between Mariota and Ridder, with Feleipe Franks primarily focusing on his transition to TE. “When you look at it in terms of the quarterbacks for live periods of practice, there is not a lot [of] taxing amount of periods where the ball is being thrown,” said offensive coordinator Dave Ragone when speaking about a concentrated workload for the pair. With little expected of the team in 2022, dividing the reps only two ways is a sensible step for the Falcons as they search for a new franchise signal-caller.

Here are a few other notes from the Peach State, both from Ledbetter’s positional breakdowns:

  • The Falcons ranked 31st in the league in rushing last season, so their attempts at improving their ground game will be the subject of much attention this year. Cordarrelle Patterson is set to return, after he totalled a career-best 1,166 scrimmage yards in 2021. He will not enter camp as the undisputed No. 1 back, however; RBs coach Mike Pitre said that there will be a “wide open” competition involving the veteran Swiss Army knife, free agent signing Damien Williamsand younger options like rookie Tyler Allgeier and Avery Williamswho is converting from cornerback. Head coach Arthur Smith did add, however, that the Falcons will “continue to try to enhance ” Patterson’s overall role in the offense.
  • On the defensive side of the ball, nose tackle will be another positional battle to watch. Either Vincent Taylor 0r Anthony Rush will earn a starting spot alongside Grady Jarrett in the heart of the d-line. Eddie Goldman was the most experienced option for a first-team role until his unexpected retirement decision was confirmed earlier this week. Taylor and Rush have each bounced around to multiple teams in their careers, but will have an opportunity for significant snaps in their debut seasons with the Falcons, who ranked 27th against the run in 2021.

Falcons, Round 3 QB Desmond Ridder Agree To Deal

With Falcons rookies reporting to camp Tuesday, the team finally came to terms with its third-round quarterback. Desmond Ridder is now under contract, Field Yates of ESPN.com tweets.

While the Cincinnati prospect is the final Falcons 2022 draftee to sign, he is the first of this year’s third-round QBs to agree to the terms of his four-year rookie contract. Not as much wiggle room exists for third-rounders, as only their signing bonuses are guaranteed, but the CBA has annually made third-round contract agreements drag out a bit. Ridder’s camp appears to have done well in these lengthy negotiations.

Ridder’s draft slot comes with a $5.36MM price and includes a $1.1MM signing bonus. The deal will also include bonuses on Day 5 of the 2023, ’24 and ’25 training camps, per Aaron Wilson of ProFootballNetwork.com (on Twitter). Although the bonuses are for $78K (2023), $207K (2024) and $336K (2025), they represent sweeteners for a quarterback who was expected to come off the draft board earlier than he did. The bonuses should factor into the other two teams’ negotiations with third-round QBs.

The Falcons stopped the near-two-round quarterback drought by taking Ridder 74th overall. Ridder joined Malik Willis and Matt Corral in being linked to a potential first-round destination, but the non-Kenny Pickett wing of this year’s scrutinized QB class waited until late Friday night to be selected. Of the three, Ridder has the best chance of seeing extended starter run as a rookie.

After falling short in the Deshaun Watson sweepstakes — a derby in which the Falcons were believed to have finished second to the Browns — the team quickly pivoted from its quarterback plan of the past 14 years. The Falcons traded Matt Ryan and signed ex-Arthur Smith pupil Marcus Mariota. The former Heisman winner has not been a full-season QB1 since 2018, opening the door for Ridder. The Falcons being on a clear rebuilding track would stand to give Ridder a window at making several rookie-year starts, though Mariota is expected to open the season in the starter’s role.

Ridder started for four seasons with the Bearcats. The most notable of those came in 2021, when the seasoned signal-caller helped the American Athletic Conference team become the first Group of Five program to be selected for a College Football Playoff slot. Ridder finished his senior season with 3,334 passing yards, 30 TD throws and eight INTs. He also showed rushing chops throughout his career, topping 500 yards in a season twice and finishing his Cincinnati career with 28 rushing TDs.

As Atlanta’s rookie contingent breaks for camp, here is the now-fully signed group:

Round 1: No. 8 Drake London, WR (USC) (signed)
Round 2: No. 38 (from Panthers through Jets and Giants) Arnold Ebiketie, OLB (Penn State) (signed)
Round 2: No. 58 (from Titans) Troy Andersen, LB (Montana State) (signed)
Round 3: No. 74 Desmond Ridder, QB (Cincinnati) (signed)
Round 3: No. 82 (from Colts) DeAngelo Malone, LB (Western Kentucky) (signed)
Round 5: No. 151 Tyler Allgeier, RB (BYU) (signed)
Round 6: No. 190 Justin Shaffer, OG (Georgia) (signed)
Round 6: No. 213 John FitzPatrick, TE (Georgia) (signed)

Poll: Which Rookie QB Will Make Most Starts In 2022?

As players widely linked to first-round destinations fell into the third, the long run of skepticism about this year’s quarterback class manifested itself. While this was the lowest-rated quarterback crop since at least the 2013 class, a few of these passers have paths to early playing time.

Russell Wilson‘s rapid rise notwithstanding, third-round QBs do not have an extensive track record for extended QB1 run as rookies. Only six non-Wilson Round 3 QBs (Joe Ferguson, Mike Glennon, Chris Chandler, Davis Mills, John Hadl and Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton) made at least 10 starts as rookies. (Wilson is the only third-round QB to start a full season.) The bar is low for the likes of Desmond Ridder, Malik Willis and Matt Corral, but they each landed in interesting situations.

Conversations around starter promotions for this year’s class must first include Kenny Pickett, who ended up going 54 spots before the next quarterback came off the board. The Pittsburgh alum, who will turn 24 next month, was a four-year starter at the ACC school. Pickett’s NFL entrance looks similar to new teammate Mitchell Trubisky‘s. The No. 2 overall choice in 2017, Trubisky unseated Glennon after the latter signed with the Bears that offseason. A value gap between being picked second and 20th certainly exists, but the Steelers clearly have Pickett penciled in as their long-term preference.

Four of the five QBs taken in last year’s first round were full-time starters by September, while three of the four 2020 first-rounders moved to the top depth chart position by October. The Steelers bumped 2004 No. 11 overall pick Ben Roethlisberger into their lineup in Week 3 of his rookie year, following a Tommy Maddox injury. How eager will they be to put Pickett out there? Trubisky has 50 career starts to his credit, and the oft-maligned Bears draftee rebuilt his value in Buffalo — to some degree — to create a bit of a market in March. A Trubisky-Mason Rudolph depth chart adds some fuel to a scenario in which Pickett waits a bit before taking the reins.

The second quarterback chosen this year, Ridder joins a Falcons team amid a full-scale rebuild. This is a similar situation to the one Mills walked into in Houston. Ridder started four seasons at Cincinnati, topping it off by helping the Bearcats become the first Group of Five team invited to the College Football Playoff. Marcus Mariota resides as Atlanta’s stopgap starter, and while Ridder’s No. 74 overall draft slot does not mandate a lengthy look as the team’s long-term arm, Mariota has not made it past October as a starter since 2018.

The former Arthur Smith Titans pupil would stand to buy Ridder time in a low-expectations season post-Matt Ryan, but Ridder has a clear path to an extended look — if he proves worthy in the coming months.

Willis’ tumble doubled as one of the modern draft’s most notable freefalls. Linked to teams in the top half of the first round, the Liberty prospect fell to No. 86, when the Titans traded up for him. Of the top QBs taken this year, Willis seemingly has the best chance for a full-on redshirt. Ryan Tannehill has not seen his job threatened since taking over for Mariota midway through the 2019 slate, though the Titans have featured one of the lowest-profile QB2 situations since Mariota left for Las Vegas.

Willis’ all-around skillset, which allowed the Auburn transfer to nearly put up a 3,000-1,000 season during a year in which he accounted for 40 touchdowns, will make things interesting for Tennessee — if the Titans struggle after losing a few key offensive starters.

Perhaps the biggest wild card here, Corral resides on a Panthers team that spent the past two offseasons trying to made a big quarterback splash. Sam Darnold still represents Carolina’s projected Week 1 starter, unless the team finally decides to acquire Baker Mayfield. The Panthers have balked at trading for the disgruntled Browns QB for several weeks, due to his $18.9MM fully guaranteed contract. Darnold and Corral’s performance this offseason may well determine if Mayfield ends up a Panther, with Matt Rhule on the hot seat and Darnold showing little — albeit behind a bad offensive line — in 2021. Corral finished last season with a 20-to-5 TD-to-INT ratio, adding 11 rushing scores, and led Ole Miss to its first major bowl game in six years.

Which quarterback will make the most starts for his team this season? Vote in PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section.

NFC Rumors: Cowboys, Falcons, Saints, Trask

Going into the 2022 offseason, the Cowboys knew that they needed to bolster their defensive line. Early reports rumored that Dallas had interest in adding a former rival in Jason Pierre-Paul, who spent eight years as a Giant before going to Tampa Bay.

ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler reported that the Cowboys’ interest in Pierre-Paul seems to be waning, as Dallas believes they have “at least six capable edge rushers.” In the offseason, they added Dante Fowler through free agency and drafted Sam Williams out of Ole Miss last month. They’ll find themselves in the pass rushing rotation with the likes of Dorance Armstrong, Tarell Basham, DeMarcus Lawrence, and Chauncey Golston.

Here are a few other rumors from around the NFC, starting with a few more rumors from Jeremy Fowler’s article:

  • Atlanta selected Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder in the third round, over every quarterback in the Draft, besides Kenny Pickett who was the only passer off the board at that point. Fowler reports that Ridder’s biggest competition for the pick was Liberty’s Malik Willis, but the Falcons felt that Willis lacked the signature moments at Liberty, even though he had incredible talent. Ridder, on the other hand, had a more complete body of work, in their opinion. It didn’t hurt that Ridder reportedly came to interviews with a plan on how to unseat a veteran starting quarterback wherever he landed.
  • Another team that was long rumored to be looking at quarterbacks in the Draft, New Orleans instead drafted wide receiver Chris Olave with their first round pick. According to Fowler, the Saints had no plans to draft a quarterback. They had Olave in their sights and, upon seeing Drake London and Garrett Wilson come off the board at Nos. 8 and 10 overall, they knew they needed to make a move to ensure Olave would be available. New Orleans apparently did an outstanding job of keeping their plans a complete mystery to the rest of the NFL.
  • With Tom Brady coming out of retirement to quarterback the Buccaneers, Tampa Bay has been evaluating their backup quarterback position. According to Greg Auman of The Athletic, Buccaneers quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen doesn’t see Kyle Trask competing with Blaine Gabbert for the backup job. This shouldn’t put Trask’s roster spot in jeopardy, though. Gabbert is one of the better backup quarterbacks in the league, but the plan for Trask was always for a post-Brady team. Tampa Bay is happy with Trask’s progress so far and will likely keep developing the 24-year-old for the future.

Falcons Draft Desmond Ridder At No. 74

The long wait for the second quarterback to be taken off the board is finally over as the Falcons selected Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder in the third round with the No. 74 overall pick of the 2022 NFL Draft. 

Ridder has produced every season as a four-year starter saving his best year for last. While he reduced his running a bit this past year, he’s shown his abilities in past seasons racking up 650 yards in 2019 and 12 rushing touchdowns in 2020. Perhaps most importantly, Ridder knows how to win, achieving a 44-7 record in four years as a Bearcat.

Ridder comes to a Falcons team that is looking forward to the next era at quarterback. After 13 years with Matt Ryan at the helm, the only players awaiting Ridder’s competition in the quarterbacks room in Atlanta are Marcus Mariota and Feleipe Franks.

Despite not being picked until the third round, Ridder has a very real chance to win the starting job behind center for the Falcons. With weapons like Kyle Pitts and newly drafted Drake London at his disposal, Ridder could see some early rookie fireworks lead to a long-term starting gig.

Draft Notes: Remaining QBs, Jets, Vikings, Burks, Johnson

One of the main storylines from last night’s first round was the fact that only one quarterback came off the board. The Steelers have their preferred choice in Kenny Pickett, but the other top options likely won’t have to wait long to hear their names called.

Jeff Howe of the Athletic reports (via Twitter) that “several teams” are trying to move up in the second round. As a result, there is “anticipation that a QB run could be on the way”. A number of teams could be interested in adding the likes of Malik Willis, Sam Howell, Desmond Ridder and Matt Corral as intriguing developmental options.

On that point, Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer names the Titans, Falcons, Seahawks and Commanders as teams to watch for. He reports that “Ridder’s name has been consistently connected to Tennessee”, who now holds the 35th overall pick. The other teams have done significant work on signal-callers as well. Perhaps eyeing a passer, the Seahawks have made “exploratory calls” about moving up tonight, per CBS Sports’ Josina Anderson (Twitter link).

Here are some other notes looking back on last night:

  • The Jets, as it has been reported, were willing to part with the No. 10 pick for Deebo Samuel. They almost made a different deal with that selection, though, as detailed by ESPN’s Rich Cimini (on Twitter). New York wanted to swap with Seattle for No. 9 to avoid a team leapfrogging them to select Garrett Wilson. Both teams were able to successfully stand pat, ultimately getting Charles Cross and Wilson, respectively.
  • Not long after the top-10 was complete, the Vikings ceded the 12th overall pick to the Lions. With their second first-rounder, Detroit selected Jameson Williams, who may have been the pick at that spot had Minnesota kept it. Breer reports that the Alabama receiver “was very much in play ” for the Vikings, who added Lewis Cine and two Day 2 picks as a result of the deal.
  • Another of the top receivers to be taken last night was Treylon Burks, whom the Titans selected as a replacement for A.J. BrownWhen speaking to Pat McAfee, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport said the Arkansas alum “was the guy Aaron Rodgers wanted” (video link). With him off the board, the Packers extended their streak of not using a Round 1 pick on a wideout, but he reports that they are a candidate to trade up for one tonight (video link).
  • One of the most surprising fallers on Thursday night was pass rusher Jermaine Johnson II. Part of the reason he was still on the board for the Jets at No. 25, Breer notes, was poor interviews with teams in the pre-draft process. Thought by some as a top-10 pick, he ended up with the Jets anyway, and figures to serve as a notable boost to their pass rush.

Teams Targeting Late First-Round QB Trade-Ups?

It is widely known by this point that the 2022 quarterback class is not held in the same regard as the average one. That has made it difficult to pin down the likely landing spots for the top prospects at the position, as well as the number of teams willing to spend a first-round pick on one of them. It would appear as though the back end of Day 1 could become the source of some QB-related trades, however. 

[RELATED: Interest In First-Round QBs Cooling?]

NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reports that while Malik Willis and Kenny Pickett are the top options, the possibility exists for the next tier of passers to start being taken late in the opening round (video link). That group – which consists of Sam HowellDesmond Ridder and Matt Corrall – could be the target of teams trading up from early in the second round.

As Pelissero notes, there are a number of teams near the top of the second round which could select a signal-caller. That list includes the Seahawks and Falcons; if they decline to draft the likes of Willis or Pickett in the top-10, they could try to move into the late 20s to land one of the three other passers in the (seemingly likely) event they are still available.

One team to consider in that scenario is the Lions. While they are expected to target the top remaining edge rusher with the No. 2 pick, the team also owns No. 32. It is with that final Day 1 selection, CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora reports, that Detroit “is more likely [to] snag a QB… or move up a bit from there to do so”. Competition between the Lions and a number of other interested teams could create the circumstances needed for there to be “a run on some of those other quarterbacks”, as Pelissero details.

The pre-draft process has seen a number of opinions come out regarding this QB class and the value of developmental signal-callers versus more surefire prospects at other positions. Much will depend, of course, on how high Willis and Pickett go, but those two may not be the only passers to hear their names called on Day 1.