The race for QB1 is wide open and there are roughly a half-dozen quarterbacks that are reasonably in the conversation. While some of those options appear to be fading while others are rising, Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder has steadily been an ascending player that has incrementally built his case and his 2021 campaign is off to a terrific start.
Ridder became the Bearcats’ starter in 2018 and impressed. He was named American Athletic Conference Rookie of the Year after passing for 2,445 yards with 20 touchdowns with 583 rushing yards and five touchdowns—and Cincinnati logged an 11-2 record. Injuries plagued Ridder in his second season in 2019 but the Bearcats still finished 11-3.
Ridder took a step forward in 2020, posting career highs in completion percentage, yards per attempt, touchdown percentage, passing yards per game, passer rating, rushing yards per attempt, and rushing touchdowns. He was named AAC Offensive Player of the Year and MVP of the AAC Championship Game.
A moment of “buy-in” for me was Ridder’s performance against Georgia in the 2020 Peach Bowl, a game Cincinnati lost. It was just the sixth time the Bearcats suffered defeat with Ridder as the team’s starter in his first three seasons.
The contest wasn’t a fair fight in the trenches entering the game and became even more lopsided after Bearcats’ starting left tackle James Hudson was ejected from the game in the second quarter. The Georgia defensive front seven was an elite unit that harassed Ridder the entire game. Ridder was sacked eight times and hit repeatedly, but he remained poised and battled. He took hit after hit but never appeared rattled. His toughness was evident throughout the Bearcats’ narrow 24-21 defeat and had Cincinnati in position to win the game late in the fourth quarter.
In the offseason leading up to the 2021 season, Ridder spent time with Jordan Palmer and it was the first time he ever spent time with a private quarterback coach. Palmer is renowned for his work with young quarterbacks and played a big role in the development of Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen, who entered the NFL as a raw and inexperienced passer from Wyoming and finished second in the league MVP voting in 2020. Palmer helped Allen improve his mechanics, which resulted in material gains with his accuracy. That’s exactly what needs to happen with Ridder.
Ridder has general accuracy but he lacks consistently sharp ball placement. The root of his uneven results stems from his mechanics where he has a tendency to overstride because his body doesn’t work in unison throughout his throwing process. That’s the same issue Allen had. Ridder illustrating growth with his accuracy in 2021 is significant for his draft stock.
Inconsistent accuracy aside, there is so much to like about Ridder’s game. He blends the competitive toughness discussed earlier with tremendous athleticism. Earning a spot in Bruce Feldman’s 2021 College Football Freaks List, Feldman reports that he runs a 4.55 40 and 4.00 shuttle with a 36-inch vertical and a 10-foot-8 broad jump at 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds.
That athleticism shines on tape with his ability to make plays off-script and dominate as a runner. Not taking away yardage lost from sacks, Ridder has tallied 2,282 rushing yards in his career with 23 touchdowns in just over three seasons as a starter. He is explosive, has great vision, breaks tackles, and has the elusiveness needed to make defenders whiff. He has the type of skill set as a runner that demands designed quarterback runs and his creativity with extending plays is exciting.
Given his blend of size, athleticism, and arm talent, the full playbook is available for Ridder, and his skill set forces the opposing defense to account for all 11 offensive players on every snap. The program praises Ridders’ leadership traits and there just aren’t many boxes left for him to check. Like every quarterback, he’ll need to acclimate to the NFL game and develop his ability as a progression-style passer, but the foundation for him to become a dynamic dual-threat quarterback in the NFL is evident.
With a wide-open race for QB1, Ridders’ resume, skill set, toughness, and consistent growth gives him as much appeal—if not more—than any other draft-eligible quarterback. There’s still plenty of games to be played in 2021 and data points to collect in the pre-draft process but Ridder is on the right trajectory.