Falcons see similar skill sets in third-round QB Desmond Ridder and Marcus Mariota
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Michael RothsteinESPN Staff Writer
- Previously covered University of Michigan for ESPN.com and AnnArbor.com
- Also covered Notre Dame for Fort Wayne Journal Gazette
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – When the Atlanta Falcons were in quarterback madness in the middle of March, Desmond Ridder paid attention from afar. The quarterback was aware that the Falcons might be a good fit. He liked the offense of coach Arthur Smith.
Then Atlanta traded stalwart starter Matt Ryan to the Indianapolis Colts. They signed Marcus Mariota the same day. Ridder, a draft prospect, suddenly thought that maybe the Falcons might be a possibility.
Ridder has long felt like his game and Mariota’s were similar. Ridder was a big fan of Mariota as a college quarterback growing up. The University of Cincinnati signal-caller believed that Mariota might end up as a Falcon even though he was drafted by the Falcons in Round 3.
” I didn’t want words to be put into the mouth of anyone, but I’m like man, you know, if they get [Mariota],” Ridder. “Why not get a younger man just like him?” That’s me. So when they picked him up, that got me really excited for Atlanta.”
Soon after, the Falcons and Ridder met at Ridder’s pro day in Cincinnati, where Ridder, a Louisville native, even dug up a bobblehead of former Louisville Cardinals quarterback and current Falcons offensive coordinator Dave Ragone. They spent several hours together, and Ridder’s mother was even present. It took until pick No. 74 on the second day of the draft, it finally happened.
These comparisons to Mariota are very apt. This can be helpful when creating a game plan or constructing an offense.
” The good thing is that you are playing with men with similar skill sets,” Smith stated. It’s refreshing to put together game plans. There are many times when you have guys with very different skill sets. If this guy goes out, you have to have a plan.
“So they are both — really, all three; Feleipe [Franks], too — that part is nice. When you put together how we’re going to play, that part does help having similar skill sets.”
Mariota and Ridder are built similarly. They are both 6-foot-4 and of similar weight (215-220 pounds). They both are quarterbacks who can run – Mariota showed to be a willing runner when necessary as a starter with the Tennessee Titans under Smith, when he was the offensive coordinator there, and Ridder ran 110 times last season for 355 yards and six touchdowns. Both have the ability to make plays and are strong leaders.
“They are both very athletic quarterbacks,” Smith said. “So, that’s a good thing, he’s looked up to Marcus, because it’ll be a really good room.”
How that ends up clarifying itself as the season goes on – whether Mariota remains the starting quarterback the entire season or Ridder is able to win the job at some point — that’s an unknown right now. Smith stated that the best player will play. The Falcons have no long-term commitment to Mariota – he’s signed for only two seasons, and the contract is one that can be easy to get out of after 2022, if necessary. Ridder, a rookie who was drafted in the third round of the draft, is not an immediate starter.
Either way, the Falcons can create a similar plan, and if the past month said anything about the offense, Smith wants to build long term, whether it’s with Mariota, Ridder or someone who isn’t on the roster yet. He wants a quarterback that can move a bit and can extend plays when needed. He is looking for a quarterback who can make smart decisions and has accuracy. These are traits he identified Tuesday when analyzing quarterbacks. Atlanta believes Ridder, who completed 64.9% of his passes last season and 66.2% the season before, has that quality. Our athletic abilities, leadership, and our ability to extend plays. Ridder stated that once we can extend plays, I believe that’s something we do very well.” “Being able use our legs to get out of the pocket, making a efficient throw. Being able to protect your self and not doing anything stupid with the ball.
” This game is about longevity. You know, I think we both do a great job of that. And so, like I said, I’m excited to get down there to learn from someone who’s been in the game for a long time and won a lot of games at the highest level.”
Ridder sees himself in the quarterback he’s coming to play with. It’s why he was so excited about coming to Atlanta. There’s opportunity. There is an obvious mentor.
And there’s the possibility of a strong future, as the Falcons discover, for the first-time in more than a decade what life will be like without Ryan.
The author of 5 books, 3 of which are New York Times bestsellers. I’ve been published in more than 100 newspapers and magazines and am a frequent commentator on NPR.