New summer series for Steelers Depot highlighting a handful of 2022 NFL Draft hopefuls and options for the Pittsburgh Steelers we could be talked a lot more about nine months from now.
Desmond Ridder / QB / Cincinnati – 6’4, 215lb
-Has the height and long frame you want in a QB prospect
-Impressive athleticism in terms of mobility and speed
-Has 22 career rushing TDs, most ever for a UC QB
-Often utilized on zone read/RPO runs with the option to give or keep it based on the defense
-Has good ball carrier vision and is fairly elusive as a runner in the open field
-Is a long strider that has good build up speed
-Moves fairly well within the pocket to evade pressure coming at him
-Has a powerful arm that can launch the football well over 50+ yards down the field
-Can throw the ball on a rope to the sideline on a tight spiral
-Can place the ball well over the middle of the field well with touch on his throws
-Has moments where he fits the ball into tight windows over the middle of the field or dropping into this receiver’s hands over a defender
-Very competent at throwing well on the run off-platform
-Can work outside of the pocket and extending the play for his receiver to come open downfield
-Does a good job keeping his eyes down the field when pressure is in his face
-High-character kid with the leadership qualities and desire to get better you want to have in your signal caller
-Doesn’t have the bulk as a runner to break through tackles and get out of the sack
-Isn’t a sudden, dynamic athlete with elite long speed and burst as a runner
-Will run to the sideline to avoid getting hit instead of going through contact or sliding to pick up extra yardage
-Deep ball placement/accuracy needs to improve and be more consistent
-Will have to improve his ability to go through his reads and take what the coverage is giving him rather than try and force the issue
-Footwork in the pocket needs to clean up as he tends to stand tall often and will slip when lacking a solid base
-Needs to have better ball security in the pocket when taking pressure or getting hit
-Can do better at sensing pressure coming at him and throwing the ball away to avoid taking so many hits
-Dealt with a shoulder injury in the 2019 campaign
-Senior prospect from Louisville, KY
-Labeled a three-star prospect by most recruiting agencies as a dual-threat QB
-Redshirted his first season on campus in 2017
-Burst onto the scene in 2018, starting 11 games and completing 194-of-311 attempts (62.4%) for 2,445 yards and 20 TDs to five INTs while adding another 583 yards rushing along with five more scores on 149 carries
-Started all 13 games played as a sophomore, completing 179-of-325 passes (55.1%) for 2164 yards and 18 scores to nine INTs, adding in another 650 yards and five TDs on the ground
-Lead the Bearcats to an AAC Championship and the team’s first New Year’s Six appearance since 2009 as a junior, completing 186-of-281 passes (66.2%) for 2296 yards and 19 TD to six INTs, adding in 98 carries for 592 yards and 12 scores on the ground in ten starts
-2020 American Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year, 2018 AAC Rookie of the Year
-2019 AAC All-Academic Team, earned his bachelor’s degree on Dec. 12, 2020
Desmond Ridder of Cincinnati is one of the many intriguing names of draft-eligible QBs that will be competing this season to hear their names called early on draft day come next April. Ridder wasn’t a highly touted recruit coming out of Kentucky but has made the most of his time with the Bearcats, showing improvement both on and off the football field in his time on campus. One of my fellow co-workers at the University of Florida has been on the coaching staff for the Bearcats the last couple of seasons, working with Ridder daily and has had an opportunity to help him develop as an athlete, football player, and a man in society. When asked about Ridder’s character and work ethic, this is what he had to say:
“Desmond has great leadership skills, he’s not afraid to hold everyone to the standard that the coaches set. He’s a kid that loves the process and loves to train. No matter what we do he likes to compete, it can be smallest thing he still wants to win and be the best.”
Hearing this come from one of the members of the coaching staff can be expected when addressing their starting QB, but I fully believe it based on the success the Cincinnati program has had the last several years with Ridder at the helm and how emotional he was when they won the AAC Championship Game this past season.
Ridder the football player combines superb athleticism at the QB position along with stellar arm talent to be an enticing prospect to a lot of NFL teams. As a runner specifically, Ridder is a long strider that eats ground quickly when he decides to tuck the ball and use his legs. He doesn’t possess freaky burst or elite speed, but he still is a threat to break a long one should he see open grass. For example, on this paly against Houston, Ridder gets pressured inside the pocket and escapes up the middle, covering ground quickly as he runs his way to the end zone, angling toward the pylon as he waves through traffic and gets to pay dirt for six.
He is more than capable of running the zone read/RPO system that has become so popular over the last several years in the league, making the defense have to commit defenders to him at the handoff to either take pressure off of the back or make the defense pay by keeping it and picking up yardage himself on the ground like on this play from the same game where Ridder keeps the ball and scoots into the end zone on the zone read.
Ridder isn’t the most dynamic dual-threat QB out there, but he has good vision in the open field and can be elusive enough to make defenders miss in space. Take this run against SMU for example has he tucks and runs up the middle on the QB draw, hitting the stiff arm and leaping out of the diving tackle attempt as he accelerates to the sideline, getting the corner on the defensive back in pursuit for the score.
While he doesn’t possess a rare second gear as a runner, Ridder’s long strides do help him outrun his opponents in the open field when he sees daylight. In the same game against SMU, we see Ridder fake the give on the zone read and run to the left, getting a key block from his TE near the sideline that springs him into the open field. Sure, he doesn’t really pull away from the field, but his long strides do enough to keep the defense catching him from behind on the long touchdown run.
His mobility also is a great asset when flushed out of the pocket to extend the play and allow for his receivers to break open downfield against coverage. Here against Georgia, we see Ridder get pressure coming to his side, forcing him to the right. However, he does a great job keeping his eyes downfield as a passer squares up his feet, and throws across the field while getting sandwiched in-between two defenders to his man coming back from the corner of the end zone on the diving catch attempt for the score.
In terms of arm strength, Ridder is not lacking in this area as he has the throw power to sling it deep down the field. He has a smooth release and can place a lot of arc on his passes to give his guy a chance to either run underneath the ball in the air or climb the ladder and go get it against contested coverage. Check out this deep heave against UCLA back in 2019 where Ridder is able to step up in the pocket and deliver this bomb nearly 60 yards in the air to his man in single coverage, placing high for his man to go up and win the contested catch and come down with the ball inside the red zone.
Along with the arm strength, Ridder possesses impressive touch on his passes down the field, being able to zip in in there on a dart over 40 yards away like we see on this TD pass against ECU where he hums it in on a line to his receiver on the right sideline who edges out the defender in coverage for the walk-in score from midfield.
His play action passes can be extremely difficult to defend given the threat of the running back taking the hand off or his ability to simply tuck and run the ball should he see green grass. This forces defenses to play him honest, resulting in a good amount of single-man coverage looks. Here against ECU we see him execute the play action well and step up to deliver a strike down the field, looking like a laser to his man from 35 yards away.
While he has the arm strength, Ridder throws the ball with a fair amount of touch as well. He has good ball placement over the middle of the field and recognizes when he needs to put more on his throws or take some off. Check out this pass over the middle to his man on the slant pattern where he puts it on his receiver in-stride around the linebacker dropping into zone coverage. This just shows good anticipation and awareness from Ridder to make a clutch throw to move the sticks.
While Ridder has some impressive qualities as a passer, he still is pretty raw when it comes to a throwing aspect and needs more work to hone in his consistency from pass to pass. His deep ball placement and accuracy especially can be shaky at times as he will tend to rely too much on his arm talent rather than stepping up in the pocket to step into his throw. Like on this pass against Memphis, we see Ridder swing his back foot forward and try to shoulder the ball to his receiver on the go route, ultimately underthrown his man to the inside and right into the hands of the cornerback in coverage on the inside for the easy INT.
Here is another example against the Cougars where Ridder feels pressure coming from the backside and seemingly short-arms his pass to the right sideline, not getting enough power on his throw and thus places it short and inside for the defender in coverage to run underneath for the interception.
While his ball placement can be impressive at times, his overall consistency has to improve at all levels of the field. Ridder needs to do a better job of making his reads through his progressions and deliver an accurate ball on time to his man in tight windows. Case in-point here on this pass over the middle against Houston where he has a receiver breaking open over the middle of the field, but places the ball behind his intended target, making it easily defensible by the defender in coverage to knock down the pass.
Overall, there is a lot to like from the physical perspective of Ridder’s game. He has the mobility inside and outside of the pocket, the dual-threat capability with his legs, and the arm talent to challenge defenses from a variety of different facets of the game. He also has a good head on his shoulders from a character standpoint and has shown a willingness and dedication to improve as a passer from when he first arrived on campus.
However, he will need some refinement from a passing standpoint to be more consistent with his accuracy and ball placement on his deep throws. Ridder also needs to be able to sense pressure better in the pocket and be able to protect the football better when he is going to get hit or be willing to throw it away and not force an arid pass where it shouldn’t go.
Initially I wanted to compare Ridder to a smaller, less dynamic version of Colin Kaepernick coming out of Nevada, but watching recent draftee Trey Lance next to Ridder, there are a lot of similarities between the two. Both are from smaller schools and played mostly questionable competition but managed to dominate with the arm talent and ability to gash defenses on the ground with their legs. Both excel in run-first offensive systems but are fairly raw as passers that can struggle with deep ball accuracy and consistently going through their progressions.
Sure, Lance has about 10lb on Ridder and is a more physical runner, but both have similar frames, play styles, and upsides in terms of dual-threat QBs with impressive arm talent that needs some seasoning.
Ridder will have a chance to hone his skills this upcoming season as a passer and show scouts he has truly developed into a well-rounded QB. Still, given what I have seen thus far and his projection to the NFL, I would still like to see him get drafted to a team with an incumbent starter in-place where he can sit the first half, if not the full season, to learn the system and develop instead of being thrown to the fire. He will be a good fit for a West Coast offensive system that wants to execute zone reads and RPOs with their passer but has the potential to develop into a capable pocket passer as well.
I’m excited to see how Ridder plays this final season at Cincinnati and mark your calendars for the October 2nd when the match up against Notre Dame to see him pitted against NFL-caliber defensive talent. He needs development, but in today’s league and with the skills and mindset he has, I do think he can become an NFL starter.
Projection: Late Day One-to-Mid Day Two
Games Watched: vs Georgia (2020), at SMU (2020), vs Houston (2020)