The Atlanta Falcons Offense Lies In The Hands of Desmond Ridder

“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the staircase”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

What does faith mean to you? When does it show itself in your life? When this faith is tested, what do you do? For the Atlanta Falcons, these questions of faith are personified through a spirited third-round quarterback with athletic upside out of the University of Cincinnati. Brace yourself, Falcons fans. The fate of the 2023 Atlanta Falcons offense lies in the 10-inch hands of second-year quarterback, Desmond Ridder.

For some fans, this means nothing more than allowing a young, plucky future franchise quarterback to get reps, so they may grow to evolve into the best version of themselves. They’ve seen how faith in a quarterback’s intangibles and physical gifts has worked for teams such as the defending NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles.

For others, this is the beginning of the end of the Terry Fontenot-Arthur Smith regime, as the belief in the second-year signal caller seems to be misplaced. This is mismanagement at the most important position on the football field and consequences/repercussions will shortly follow. And those consequences will be dire.

Which is the correct take? Only time will tell.

Today, however, we discuss how Fontenot and Smith have shown their belief and built this Falcons offense around Desmond Ridder. And we try to figure out whether or not it will or will not pay off in the long run.

Disclaimer: All statistics were from Pro Football Reference unless otherwise specified.

Photo Credit: Emilee Chinn/AP

Desmond Ridder Holds The Fate Of The Atlanta Falcons In His Hands

Biting The Bullet

Over the last two drafts, Terry Fontenot and Arthur Smith have been mimicking Chris Tucker’s character Smokey from Friday. If you got Kool-Aid, there’s no sugar. Peanut butter, no jelly. Ham, no burger. Long story, short, there was not much talent to work with around the quarterback position.

Smith has spent the last two years molding together an offense out of scraps. The WR1 in 2021 was Kyle Pitts. While Pitts is a tight end by name only, he lined up out wide 237 times out of necessity, not creativity.

Smith had to mold two completely different offenses for two quarterbacks who win in different ways. In 2021, Matt Ryan was 11th in the league in Play Action Attempt Rate (Play Action Pass Attempts/Total Pass Attempts) and 12th in Play Action Yardage Rate (Play Action Passing Yards/Total Passing Yards). To contrast, Marcus Mariota ranked 20th and 21st in those categories in 2022. However, Mariota was first in both RPO Attempt Rate and RPO Yardage Rate in his lone season as Atlanta Falcons quarterback. Ryan ranked 25th and 18th, respectively.

Smith was tasked with creating two entirely different offenses based on his quarterback’s strengths and weaknesses. He has not yet got a chance to truly solidify an identity for his offense. That is, until now.

Building Around The Quarterback

This off-season, with both money and draft picks to utilize, the Atlanta Falcons started truly building their identity. They essentially bought a brand-new defense for new defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen to mold. Headlined by star acquisitions — that’s right, plural — Jessie Bates and Calais Campbell.

While they were at it, they decided to deal a couple of their late picks to the Patriots and Lions for tight end Jonnu Smith and cornerback Jeff Okudah, respectively. Both coming off of lackluster years and looking to bounce back in pivotal years in their careers.

To cap off the spending spree, they get human highlight reel, Bijan Robinson, in the first round of the draft, while also adding first-round talent, Matthew Bergeron, to help solidify the line in the second round.

Ultimately, this regime has done everything it can to make sure they get a full evaluation of their second-year quarterback. They have surrounded Ridder with plenty of talent on both sides of the ball. Not just that, they have surrounded him with talent that will emphasize the strengths of his game, just like Smith’s scheme did Mariota and Ryan.

How Desmond Ridder Wins

To answer this question, you have to go back to Ridder’s days at the University of Cincinnati. According to Benjamin Solak of The Ringer, Ridder was one of the more accurate passers in the 2021 class and a lot of that has to do with his pre-snap process.

One thing pundits gushed about when it came to Ridder was the command he had over the offense and the freedom he was given by his coaches. He was able to get his guys in the right spots and get them the ball in more advantageous spots so they could show off their skill sets.

Alec Pierce was Ridder’s favorite target, and for good reason. Ridder sometimes struggled with his accuracy. During the pre-draft process, that was the main knock on Ridder’s play. However, with the 6’3″, 213 pound Pierce, it was tough to miss him over the top. Especially on those sideline fades that that offense liked to spam as they got closer to the endzone.

Now, Ridder has 6’5″ Drake London and 6’6″ Kyle Pitts to hit towards the sideline.

One of Ridder’s comparisons coming into the NFL was Alex Smith and I think it came from the standpoint that he just did everything like it needed to be done. There’s not a lot of flash outside of a few scrambles out of the pocket. While Ridder has more than enough athleticism to make the most out of those scrambles, he’d rather sit in the pocket and allow his pass-catchers to beat you downfield.

Which leads me to my last point. Arthur Smith has outfitted this team with not one, not two, but three first-round talents that exist to make the extraordinary out of the ordinary. Most notably the newest addition in Bijan Robinson.

While we should be trying our hardest to make “I-985” a nationwide slogan for the trio of Ridder, London, and Pitts, it is worth noting the impact that Robinson should have on this offense immediately. Having this type of impact as a receiver from the running back position should be unfair.

And we haven’t even discussed Tyler Allgeier or Cordarrelle Patterson’s role in the offense.

Will This Work?

It should. This is very similar to what the Eagles did prior to their historic run last season. It is worth noting that Jalen Hurts had an entire year with Shane Steichen before that run to iron out what worked and what didn’t. Ridder has only had four games with Arthur Smith. So, Atlanta Falcons fans should be looking for this year to be similar to the 2021 Philadelphia Eagles. A team with a veteran defense that keeps them in games as the quarterback and play-caller get on the same page.

That being said, there will be some bumps and bruises along the way. Ridder and Smith will be looking to understand their own strengths and weaknesses as the season goes on. Understanding what route concepts Ridder likes best, and which ones he doesn’t. Finding that balance between RPO/play action and drop-back passes that keep defenses honest.

These are all aspects of the offense that are going to be addressed throughout the season. And at the end of the season, when we close the door on 2023 and look towards 2024, we should have a clear answer at the quarterback position. We will know whether the faith in Desmond Ridder paid off for the Falcons.

Favorite Day Three Prospects

Day two of the NFL draft is in the books, and we look forward to the top prospects left for day three. I surveyed some of our own NFL draft experts, along with experts from some popular draft outlets to get a sense of some of the favorites still left on the board.

JP Acosta – SB Nation: AT Perry, WR, Wake Forest
AT Perry favorite day three prospects
Photo Credit: AP Photo/Gerry Broome

“Perry is a senior coming from a gimmicky Wake First offense, but he provides a nice blend of speed and size. He can stretch the field as an outside receiver and has a bit more finesse to his route running than other receivers. He’s limited in the amount of routes he ran, but for a team who wants speed on the outside, AT Perry is a solid pick on Day 3.”

Zack Dietz – Giants Country: Darius Rush, CB, South Carolina

“One of my favorite remaining prospects is South Carolina CB, Darius Rush. Blessed with great size, length, and athleticism, the former Gamecock is an experienced defensive back who would be an ideal in press-heavy schemes. Many analysts saw him as the better SC corner over Smith, who Miami selected in the second round last night.”

Tyler Forness – Vikings Wire: Darius Rush, CB, South Carolina

“Darius Rush is my favorite defender in the draft class and a member of the All-Forno team. A freaky athlete that can make up ground in coverage, Rush needs to work on staying with the receiver early on in the route to become a capable starter.”

Saivion Mixson – ATB Network: Darius Rush, CB, South Carolina

“The fact that Darius Rush is here is insane. Rush has what it takes to be a corner for a LONG TIME in this league. His ability to recognize a receiver’s routes and a receiver’s hips into and out of routes was on display at the Senior Bowl and I thought would be enough for someone to take him in the third. Oh well, someone is going to get a good immediate depth piece that could become more later in his career.”

Eric Edholm – Clark Phillips III, CB, Utah

“He’s small, sure, but his reaction skills, ball skills, and competitiveness all stand out. Maybe he’s only a slot, but less-talented, smaller corners were taken before him.”

Devin Jackson – Philadelphia Inquirer: Jalen Cropper, WR, Fresno St

“Cropper is more quick than fast, using varied route tempo with natural hands to attack the ball over the middle of the field while having the versatility to be used all over the field, creating chunk yardage plays on pop passes and jet sweeps. I believe he can be a high-end WR3 in an offense with how savvy he is exploring zone coverage.”

Mitch Wolfe – Eagle Insider/Still Curtain: Kelee Ringo, CB, Georgia

“This time last year, if you would’ve tried to tell anyone that Kelee Ringo would be a Day 3 pick in the 2023 NFL draft, they would’ve assumed he suffered a catastrophic injury or (had) done something terrible off the field. But neither of those things happened and yet, Ringo remains.

The 20-year-old CB from Georgia started for two years on one of the best defenses in college football history. He even ran in the 4.3s at the Combine. But there were concerns about his lateral agility and ability to consistently mirror quicker receivers. Some even predicted that he would move to safety.

These concerns were well-founded when it came to Ringo as a first-round prospect. But on Day 3, even if he does have to move to safety, his physical tools are simply too enticing to pass up.”

Ian Cummings – Pro Football Network: Isaiah McGuire, Edge, Missouri
Isaiah McGuire day three prospects
Photo Credit: David Carson, Post-Dispatch

“My favorite remaining prospect on Day 3 is Missouri EDGE Isaiah McGuire. He’s 6’4”, 270 pounds, with near-34” arms. High-end explosiveness off the snap and elite power capacity, but also has underrated bend for his size, and a working pass-rush arsenal around the apex. Stacks a high motor in both phases on top of it all. He’s my 40th overall prospect.”

Aaron Freeman – Locked On Falcons: Isaiah McGuire, Edge, Missouri

“We have seen recent years produce capable pass-rushers on the third day of the draft including Maxx Crosby, Josh Sweat, Carl Lawson, and Matt Judon. If there was somebody in this year’s class that I would bet on that could turn into that type of pro, McGuire would be my pick. He possesses the size, power, and a well-developed array of moves and his dominant tape against first-round Georgia tackle Broderick Jones is more than enough to sell you on his upside.”

Cory Kinnan – Browns Wire: Tyler Scott, WR, Cincinnati

“Scott slipping to day three is criminal. One of the more explosive receivers in the class, Scott has an underrated ability to throttle down seamlessly and create blind spots. Not just a speed guy, Scott will make the NFL pay.”

Brian Maafi – ATB Network: Adetomiwa Adebawore, DL, Northwestern

“Day three is typically about two different type of players, either a guy with traits and upside you take a shot on, or someone who has a decent floor, but maybe not much upside but can contribute in a specific role. Adebawore is the former. He has the highest ceiling of all the players left in my opinion and is a player I think would be worth the shot.”

Daniel Olinger – The Draft Network: Christopher Smith II, S, Georgia

“Watching Jalen Carter’s film the last two days, Smith pops immediately too on Georgia’s tape. He’s a maniac who loves nothing more than getting a 20-yard running start before blowing someone up in the backfield. I know safety isn’t a premium position, but Smith was a starter on the national champion team’s defense for a reason. He can definitely work his way to being a starter at the next level.”

Alex Katson – Neptune Scouting/Chargers Wire: Andrei Iosivas, WR, Princeton

“An NCAA record-setting heptathlete on the track, Iosivas should be appealing for teams looking to add developmental speed on Day 3. He played in the Ivy League and skipped spring practice every season to run track, but he flashes legit ability at all three levels of the field on tape.”

Honorable Mentions:

There are many others that deserve mention as favorite players left on day three. Here are a few others that weren’t mentioned.

Jay Ward, S, LSU

Jay Ward is a versatile piece for any secondary. He can play as either a nickel or as a deep safety. He’ll be equally good at either and will be able to carve out a role as a third or fourth safety for a team. I believe he can be a budget version of Quan Martin, who the Commanders drafted at pick 47.

Nick Herbig, Edge, Wisconsin

Nick Herbig is a very intriguing player. There is not a consensus on where he will play at the next level. Some think he’s best as an edge rusher, others as an off-ball linebacker due to his size limitations. Either way, Herbig is a round 3 caliber player who fell. His skill set as a pass rusher is what is most enticing for me.

Daniel Scott, S, Cal

Daniel Scott is one of my favorite day-three safeties. He impressed me at the Senior Bowl where I thought he was one of the top safeties there. On his physicality there, Scott noted “We got full pads on… obviously got a little bit of jitters so you want to play a little faster, compete a little bit, but I just wanted to show, you know just cause I’m not six-five… and 200 something pounds I can still bang with people, still cover, show my versatility.” Overall, I think he will be a good value for whoever selects him.

Luke Wypler, iOL, Ohio State

Luke Wypler is one of my favorite centers in the draft. In fact, I like him more than some interior linemen draft on day two. He has very good movement ability and should have enough anchor to hold up at the next level. I believe someone is getting a starting caliber player on day three, given he goes into the right scheme.

Bryce Baringer, P, Michigan St

Bryce Baringer is the top punter in the draft this year, and whoever drafts him will get immediate improvement at that position (and won’t spend a 3rd rounder on it… 49ers). Baringer boomed punts for the Spartans this past season but has been working to improve his hangtime. Baringer talked about the switch from college to the NFL where there aren’t three or four guys that release on the snap, stressing the need for added hangtime, saying “If they can’t return it, I did my job”.

NFL Draft: Browns Day Two Recap

For the Cleveland Browns, day two of the NFL draft was pretty quiet, with just two selections in the third round and no trades. They attacked value with the first selection and attacked a need with the second selection. Overall, it was a fairly successful day two for the Browns. It could have been better, but it was still solid.

74: Cedric Tillman, WR, Tennessee

Cedric Tillman Browns Day Two
Photo Credit: AP Photo/Mark Humphrey

The Browns add another outside playmaker in Cedric Tillman out of Tennessee. Tillman battled injuries this past season, but he was extremely productive in 2021. In 2022, Tillman had 37 receptions for 417 yards and 3 touchdowns, for 11.3 YPR. However, in 2021 he had 64 catches for 1081 yards and 12 touchdowns, averaging 16.9 YPR.

If Tillman can stay healthy, he will be a productive outside receiver. Tillman ranked as the 62nd overall player and the 7th ranked receiver according to PFN’s consensus big board.

98: Siaki Ika, iDL, Baylor

Siaki Ika Browns Day Two
Photo Credit: John E. Moore III via Getty Images

With their second pick on day two of the NFL draft, the Browns add a big bodied nose tackle who can be a good asset in run defense for Jim Schwartz’s defense. Ika comes in at 6027, 335lbs. His athleticism does not match up with what the Browns typically take, but the awful performance stopping the run last year may be a cause for this drastic departure from their typical selection.

Ika was the 73rd overall player and the 2nd ranked nose tackle, and the 6th overall defensive tackle according to PFN’s consensus big board.

Day Three Selections

  • Round 4, Pick 111
  • Round 4, Pick 126 (from Minnesota)
  • Round 5, Pick 142 (from L.A. Rams)
  • Round 5, Pick 144
  • Round 6, Pick 190
  • Round 7, Pick 229

With these picks, the Browns have the flexibility to move around on day three, as well as to accrue future capital. The Browns still have needs to fill, but there are a ton of players left that can be contributors to the team.

Thoughts On The Green Bay Packers Picks: Day One And Two

So, my thoughts on the Green Bay Packers picks from both day one and two of the NFL draft. They are very Gutekunst-esque, and I knew a lot of those “rumors” that came out the day before and the day of the first night didn’t make sense and were smokescreens.

Of course I have made some of my thoughts public already on Twitter, and the live stream I did on day two, but I will get all my thoughts out here organized. So let’s get to it, and don’t forget to check out my other writings.

Round one, Pick 13: Lukas Van Ness – ED – Iowa

From as far back as a month or two, he was one of the players I was predicting the Packers would draft. I kept saying either Van Ness, Myles Murphy, or Broderick Jones. He just made too much sense. The former Hawkeye is young, highly athletic, plays a premium position, has long arms, and plays with power. That’s why the JSN or Michael Mayer, or even Dalton Kincaid, talk that popped up last minute never made sense.

He will play a good chunk early on until Rashan Gary is back, but we should still see a lot of Kingsley Enagbare, as well. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were packages with him standing up over the center like Za’Darius Smith used to.

Round two, Pick 42: Luke Musgrave – TE – Oregon State

Musgrave was a player that I had identified as a potential fit for the Packers awhile ago. My only question was if LaFleur would want to — or know how to — use him? Since Gutey has been GM, the only tight end he has drafted was Josiah Deguara, who is more of an H-back. So that was a bit of an unknown.

Musgrave is an athletic freak, but you have to know what type of player you are getting when you draft him. I’ve made this comparison many times, but he is similar to Mike Gesicki in the sense of how you use him, and his skill set. He is not the type of tight end you line up at the Y 100% of his snaps. He is tall, long, and a bit linear. He’s not much of a blocker, although he can improve.

The former Beaver is a seam stretcher who wont get a lot of YAC unless he has a open lane. The best way to use him is probably detached 70-ish% of the time.

Round two, Pick 50: Jayden Reed – WR – Michigan State
Photo Credit: Nic Antaya/Getty Images

Reed is an interesting one. Out of full transparency, he wasn’t on my Packers draft board. I debated with myself on whether to have him on or not; I liked his film, but his arms were only 30 1/2″. The Packers typically like their receivers 32″ or longer, but of course Amari Rodgers had 30 1/2″ arms. Otherwise he hit all their benchmarks and his low RAS was mostly due to size and a not-so-great vertical.

The former Spartan also played bigger than his measurements. He dropped some weight for the combine, weighing over 190 at the Senior Bowl. He will be a weapon on offense and special teams.

Round three, Pick 78: Tucker Kraft – TE – South Dakota State

Kraft was another player that I had earmarked early on as a good fit with Green Bay. He is the type of tight end the Packers usually go for. Good size, good athleticism, and a solid all-around player as both a receiver and blocker. He has a wide body and can box out defenders. Kraft can also play inline or split out.

The former Jackrabbit of course still needs to be a better blocker and work on his routes, but he should develop into a solid Y tight end. Some have compared him to a better Dallas Goedert.

Favorite Day Two Prospects

With round one of the NFL Draft in the books, we look forward to some of the top day-two prospects left. I surveyed some of our in-house NFL draft experts, along with experts from some popular draft outlets to get a sense of some of the favorites still on the board. Check out additional draft coverage at

Brian Maafi – ATB Network: Michael Mayer, TE, Notre Dame
Michael Mayer
Photo Credit: Chad Weaver/BGI

“He is one of probably two players in this class with the highest floor. Him and Bijan Robinson. He should come into an NFL offense and immediately contribute as a rookie both as a receiver and blocker. His ceiling may not be as high as some of the other tight ends in the class, but you know you are getting a guy who can come in and start from day 1.”

Saivion Mixson – ATB Network: Adetomiwa Adebaware, iDL, Northwestern
Adetomiwa Adebaware Day Two Prospects
Photo Credit: Tony Quinn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

“When Kancey went off the board and other names like Campbell and McDonald flew off earlier than we thought, I thought Ade was surely next. Man is electric, can play him all over the line, and is a specimen athletically. I don’t see him lasting very long in the second.”

Daniel Olinger – The Draft Network: Adetomiwa Adebaware, iDL, Northwestern

“Obviously I’m biased because he’s a Northwestern guy and a player I first tweeted about when he was just a true sophomore getting his first start back in 2020, but the dude can play. Unbelievably explosive off the line of scrimmage, versatility to play on both interior and at EDGE, build like an overly swole fire hydrant, and has one of the coolest names in the draft. Any team should be happy to take him in round two.”

JP Acosta – SB Nation: BJ Ojulari, Edge, LSU
BJ Ojulari Day Two Prospects
Photo Credit: Jacob Reeder/LSU Athletics

“What I love about Ojulari is his refined ability to get after the passer. He has great bend and flexibility, and a repertoire of counters to go with his speed. He’s a little undersized, which causes a problem in the run game, but if you want a Day 2 player who will immediately give your pass rush some juice, take Ojulari.”

Alex Katson – Neptune Scouting/Chargers Wire: BJ Ojulari, Edge, LSU

“An injury prevented Ojulari from testing at his full potential, but his bend is second-to-none in this class. His tape shows a ready-made NFL pass rusher with plenty of athletic upside.”

Cory Kinnan – Browns Wire: Brian Branch, DB, Alabama
Brian Branch Day Two Prospects
Photo Credit: Andrew Wevers/USA Today Sports

“Sure, he played exclusively in the nickel this past season and did not test well at the NFL Scouting Combine. However, Brian Branch is a straight-up football player and willing to do the dirty work. Some team is going to get a top-15 talent at a bargain.”

Tyler Forness – Vikings Wire: Brian Branch, DB, Alabama

“While he’s not a sexy pick for a lot of people, Branch is a do-it-all player on the back end who pairs good athleticism and versatility with elite football IQ. My 13th-ranked player in the 2023 class should come off the board quickly”

Aaron Freeman – Locked On Falcons: Brian Branch, DB, Alabama

“I see shades of Minkah Fitzpatrick and Tyrann Mathieu when watching Branch, given his consistency, discipline, and play-making ability. His ability to be a plug-and-play nickel with lots of potential as a deep safety, somebody is going to get a very reliable component of their defense for many years to come.”

Ian Cummings – Pro Football Network: Brian Branch, DB, Alabama

“Top 15 prospect for me. Doesn’t quite have elite long speed and has a niche as a nickel DB, so those could be reasons for his slide out of Round 1. Ultimately, I think Branch still has high-level short-area mobility and fluidity, to go along with clean off-man coverage technique, instincts, playmaking ability, and biting physicality in both phases. He’s a tremendous value deal wherever he goes today.”

Hunter Thompson – Neptune Scouting: Keion White, Edge, Georgia Tech
Keion White Day Two Prospects
Photo Credit: Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

“Dude is a baller. He’s got awesome power. The size is everything you want at the NFL level. And he gives the defensive line some major versatility. He was a top 15 player on my board, so him falling into the second is insane. Someone’s getting a steal”

Honorable Mentions:

There are a few others that deserve mention as favorite players on day two. The guys mentioned are some of the top players left, so I’ll give a few lower additional guys who I really enjoy.

Quan Martin, S, Illinois

Quan Martin is an extremely versatile player in the Illinois secondary. He can play either as a nickel or as a deep safety. He has good coverage upside and is solid in the run game. Martin totaled three interceptions this past season. He is also an elite athlete for either a safety or a cornerback.

Drew Sanders, LB, Arkansas

Drew Sanders is one of the top linebackers in the draft, and projects to come off the board early on day two. Sanders provides versatility as both an off-ball linebacker and an edge rusher. While his coverage skills are lacking, he provides passing-down capabilities as a pass rusher.

Gervon Dexter, iDL, Florida

Dexter is a upside swing at the defensive tackle position. He had limited production, but there are a number of explanations for why. One reason may be the lack of help along the rest of the Florida defensive line. Another may be his egregious snap counts this past season. But, it could also be that he is slow off the ball despite having elite athleticism for the position. It’s definitely a risk, but one that I like in round three.

Darnell Washington, TE, Georgia

Darnell Washington is a freak athlete at the tight end position with the upside to be a dominant force as both a blocker and a receiver. He needs work at both and hasn’t produced heavily at the college level, but that can be attributed to playing behind the best tight end in college football Brock Bowers. Washington showed flashes of brilliance, and has a chance to be one of the most physically dominant players in the NFL.