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How Falcons handle Ridder will be crucial for future of franchise

The third-round pick seems like a potential gem.

NFL: AUG 22 Preseason - Falcons at Jets Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Atlanta Falcons might have a gem in quarterback Desmond Ridder.

That doesn’t mean he needs to play right now, though.

In what sincerely might be the most positive thing to happen to the Falcons in years, the team’s third-round quarterback has been playing largely sensational football in two preseason games so far. His throws are crisp, his confidence is evident, his play can be downright electric. Watching him dice up an opposing defense is a hard thing not to salivate over, though with tempered expectations when you remember that, indeed, this is still preseason and some of those defenders are reserves.

While he’s largely playing against backups, sometimes guys just look the part. So far, Ridder has shown the kind of tantalizing potential that makes you wonder if the team found a future franchise quarterback in the middle of the draft. That’s the kind of success that could really kickstart this new regime, but it’s also the kind of speculation that we have absolutely no idea will really hold the day’s worth of water when it’s all said and done.

Ridder looks great, but that doesn’t mean he should start. While head coach Arthur Smith says he’s being harder on Ridder because of his talent and his apparent surpassing of rookie standards, he’s also not going to toss his quarterback prospect to the wolves just because he’s impressing early. With Marcus Mariota also playing some pretty inspired football (against more starters), we shouldn’t expect the team to trot Ridder out there for growing pains.

Goodness knows he’d take plenty of lumps when the real games start, and if this promise really is something, the team should exercise caution and ensure they prioritize Ridder’s development. It’d be a sin to cash in on this potential too soon and stunt Ridder’s growth, or cause him to unnecessarily take shots and get dispirited during a rough stretch early in his career.

While third-round quarterbacks don’t often become stars in the NFL, Russell Wilson does exist. He and Dak Prescott are the goals right now all teams are reaching for by striking gold on a mid-round QB, with Ridder, at least for now, hinting he might really be next in line. Of course, quarterbacks have looked good in preseason play in the past and not fulfilled that promise once starting reps came into focus. It’s not to say that’s going to happen to Ridder, but it’s not to say it won’t, either. Plenty of NFL analysts are praising his play, which gives you a lot of hope. But it doesn’t mean it’s time for him to start.

Patrick Mahomes, the best QB in the NFL, sat a year behind Alex Smith before taking the reins in Kansas City. Aaron Rodgers sat for what felt like an eternity in Green Bay before taking over for Brett Favre. It’s not to say Ridder is the next Mahomes or Rodgers (not that we’d oppose), but there have been plenty of success stories that begin with waiting. Ridder not playing right now could continue his development on track with where the team has been pushing him, with more clearly in the future for this guy in Smith’s offense.

Also, you can’t ignore the fact that Mariota also looks quite good, and might give the team the best chance it has to win right now. While the team is technically rebuilding, it still desperately wants to win games. Starting Ridder might have its own selling point for fans, but there are a lot of unknowns with how the on-field product would look. Mariota might not be a top-5 NFL quarterback, but he’s got extensive starting experience and a ton of rest on his body after taking in too many hits in Tennessee. The team won’t want to both wave the white flag on Mariota and rush Ridder into action. It doesn’t make a lot of sense for the team to start Ridder right now unless Mariota gets hurt.

Of course, you might counter with Russell Wilson or Dak Prescott, who were intended to sit on the bench to begin with and wound up effectively jumping into starting roles and thriving right away. They are the mid-round outliers in terms of success, but again, Ridder being a successful starter at all as a mid-round quarterback would be an outlier.

If the team really stinks this year and Mariota struggles, Ridder time might come earlier than expected. Though, while some folks think he will start by midseason, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him sit a year, learn the system and grow in practice for a 2023 starting job with his name on it. Maybe Mariota blows the roof off the place and puts Ridder on the bench longer. Maybe Ridder never starts at all and is just a really good backup. Who’s to say in August. With two impressive games for sampling and the team’s consistent praise for him, it doesn’t seem like it’s all just fluff for hyping up Ridder’s future.

We don’t know how Ridder’s time will go in Atlanta, but we do feel like there’s a lot to be excited about. We’ll see how the team handles him in his rookie year, but don’t be shocked if it’s with caution. The team may know it has something special in Ridder, but they probably won’t hurry Ridder’s development along to find out for sure. They shouldn’t.