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Desmond Ridder Atlanta Falcons
Atlanta Falcons

Why Desmond Ridder Should Start for Falcons Week 1

  • Jack McKessy
  • June 13, 2022
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If the Atlanta Falcons want to jumpstart their rebuilding process, then it’s not Marcus Mariota who should be starting under center in Week 1 of the 2022 season. Rookie Desmond Ridder should get the nod instead.

Since their last playoff appearance in 2017, the Falcons have been stuck in a purgatory of mediocrity. They won seven games in each of the two years that followed, dipped down to four wins in 2020 after Tom Brady joined the NFC South, then crept back to seven wins in 2021. Atlanta hasn’t been bad enough to merit tanking accusations or earn themselves multiple years of premium draft picks. They also haven’t been good enough to not consider initiating a rebuild.

Well, after a fourth straight season of missing the playoffs and losing out on the Deshaun Watson bidding war, Atlanta made their biggest move toward a rebuild: trading away quarterback Matt Ryan.

Ryan leaves the franchise as by far the winningest (120 wins) and longest-tenured (222 games) quarterback in Falcons history. In his wake is a weak Falcons roster on both sides of the ball—but especially the receiving corps—and big shoes to fill.

That leads to the question of who replaces him under center. Atlanta signed Mariota at the beginning of the offseason then selected Ridder in the third round of the 2022 NFL Draft.

Mariota represents the “safer” option as a veteran player who has had plenty of experience as an NFL starter. The former No. 2 overall pick enters the 2022 season with 61 career starts in 74 games over seven years but hasn’t started a game since he lost the starting job in Tennessee to Ryan Tannehill.

At the same time, Mariota is the known quantity. Atlanta knows they’re getting a game manager, not a star passer, who has previously had issues with turning the ball over. The Falcons also know Mariota is capable of making plays with his legs, though it’s come at the expense of his health as he’s never played a full season without injuries.

Rolling with Mariota to start the season isn’t a bad option per se. He’s a veteran quarterback that could lead Atlanta to a few wins this season if he protects the football and builds chemistry with blossoming tight end Kyle Pitts and rookie receiver Drake London. His ceiling definitely falls short of the playoffs in 2022, but he would be able to keep the Falcons in several games this season.

The problem with Mariota is that the safe option at quarterback doesn’t bring anything extra to the table. He’s a serviceable quarterback, but a solid season from him doesn’t bring the Falcons any closer to finding a true successor to Ryan nor any nearer to a return to the playoffs.

That’s where Ridder comes in.

It’s easy to fall into the logic that the Falcons shouldn’t rush their rookie quarterback into a starting role because of a weak roster or a lack of development as a player. But for a team like Atlanta, there isn’t much to lose by having Ridder as their starting quarterback in Week 1.

He’s already got the projection as a more complete prospect than some other quarterbacks in his draft class, namely Malik Willis. And while the Falcons don’t have a very strong offense around him, Ridder would get the chance to start building chemistry with his pass-catchers early, specifically the aforementioned young guys, Pitts and London.

Starting Ridder from the beginning of his rookie season would provide him more in-game experience at the pro level as well as an immediate opportunity to prove himself a worthy successor to Ryan. As a self-proclaimed game manager, he’d also give the Falcons a similar playstyle to Mariota anyway, it’s just that Ridder’s play could end up being better than Mariota’s. Why not get an answer on Ridder sooner rather than later?

Ridder could end up being a solid successor to the greatest quarterback in the history of the Falcons. Mariota is almost definitely not going to be Atlanta’s long-term answer under center.

Allowing Ridder to come in as the starter in the first week of his rookie season would catalyze the rebuilding process for his team, especially if he plays well. The Falcons aren’t playoff contenders this year anyway and should give their young quarterback a chance to prove himself early.

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Jack McKessy