Welcome back to the search for the Pittsburgh Steelers future franchise QB! Last time we broke down an inexperienced but uber-talented player in Malik Willis, so this week I decided to check out the prospect with by far the most college starts of anyone on my list: Cincinnati QB Desmond Ridder. Does he have what it takes to be in the mix to be the Steelers next QB? Let’s take a look.
For the details and explanation of how I am judging these players, check out part I.
Desmond Ridder, QB Cincinnati: 2,296 passing yards, 592 rushing yards and 31 total touchdowns
Ridder has above average arm strength that allows him to attack every part of the field. He has very good footwork on his drop backs and has an efficient, quick release. The biggest concern I have after watching several games is his ball-placement and general accuracy. He has a habit of failing to lead his receivers or throw them open, which lead to a lot of missed chances for yards after catch. This seems to be from a combination of timing and lack of anticipation: he was often a tick late with his decision making. He also didn’t show much ability to throw with anticipation because of it, leading to a lot of incompletions that could have been big plays.
In the games I watched he struggled to give his receivers a chance on deep passes, outside of a few wide-open looks. This was disappointing considering his arm should allow him to attack the deep parts of the field, and it lowers the ceiling of the offense when you can’t hit deep shots with at least some consistency. He was at his best in the short and intermediate game where he could get the ball out quick. He looked very comfortable throwing to the boundary both from the pocket and when on the run, leading to some impressive sideline tosses. He also does a really good job finding open receivers in the middle of the field, and his ball-placement looked best when he was targeting that part of the field. He definitely needs refinement as a passer if he wants to elevate past being considered a project at the next level, and I think that is why he returned for his senior season.
Ridder is a well-above average athlete for the QB position, but I don’t think he quite stacks up to guys like Lance or Fields from this year’s class or Malik Willis from his own. I think he is similar to Ryan Tannehill as far as his physical profile is concerned, which is not at all a slight towards Ridder. I like the physicality that he displays as runner, but I don’t think it would be wise to continue to do it as a pro. 6’4 and 215lbs is a little too lanky for me to believe that he can continue to run the way he does in college, but he will still be very effective in the RPO and read option game as long as he learns to protect himself. He has enough wiggle to make less agile players miss but probably won’t be shaking many defensive backs. His pocket movement needs work as well. He took a lot of sacks in the Georgia game especially that were avoidable in my opinion, and he generally doesn’t feel pressure quick enough at times to use his athleticism to escape. Overall, Ridder has more than enough physical ability to make all they plays you need a mobile QB to be able to make.
Ridder was lightly recruited out of Louisville, KY. In fact, he was never rated above a 3-star prospect by any major recruiting site. He received his scholarship to Cincinnati after a tryout, only to see coach Tommy Tuberville fired during his senior high school season. When new coach Luke Fickell was brought in, Desmond learned his scholarship was still on the table. I don’t know if Fickell really new what he had in Ridder, but I am sure he is glad that he made that decision. Ridder has quite a personal back story as well. For starters, his mother was just 15 when he was born. When the father left the picture, it led to him and his mother living with his grandmother for much of his childhood. He had to work very hard to get to where he is, and it has been his dream to make to the NFL. The fact that he has made it his far makes me confident in saying his work ethic won’t be a problem at the next level.
Ridder has all the talent needed to succeed as a starter in the NFL. I think he made the right decision to go back to school to try and iron out some of the issues that are still present on tape, and if he can improve his accuracy in particular it could elevate him past several other prospects. My biggest concern with him as a possible option for the Steelers is his inconsistency with his ball placement. New Offensive Coordinator Matt Canada puts a premium on yards after catch, and Ridder struggled at times helping his receivers in that regard. If he can show improvement in that area and overall consistency as a passer, he could be a great fit with all of the playmakers the Steelers have at their disposal. If not, the Steelers should avoid taking a chance on him after he had 4 years as a starter to improve in those areas.