2021 NFL Draft | Cincinnati QB Desmond Ridder looks the part

11/16/2020
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It’s been pretty evident that going into the 2021 NFL Draft that Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields are the top two quarterbacks. That being said, there’s been plenty of buzz surrounding quarterbacks such as Mac Jones from Alabama and Zach Wilson of BYU. These aren’t the only quarterbacks playing well and improving their stock. Staying in the state of Ohio, you can head to Cincinnati and find another quarterback on the rise.

His name is Desmond Ridder.

Quietly, he’s been playing his best football of his football career over the last two seasons. It wasn’t always like that for the junior quarterback. In high school, he played well but only had nine passing touchdowns and 13 interceptions as a junior at St. Xavier High School in Louisville, Kentucky. But his growth as a quarterback is just as remarkable as his overall growth spurt he had going into his sophomore year of high school. Ridder was only a 5-foot-10 and 135-pound freshman quarterback and has since sprouted to 6-4 and 215 pounds. Credit his high school coach who suggested he eats peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Ridder’s recruiting profile featured a three-star recruit with one offer: Cincinnati.

“This isn’t a one-man sport,” Ridder said heading into his senior season in high school. “It’s focused on the team. I didn’t really want to draw the process out too long.”

Essentially, that’s why he chose Cincinnati; plus, it was just a natural fit for him and was exactly what he was looking for. There was an offer from Eastern Kentucky as well but, ultimately, the Bearcats made the most sense.

Now playing some of the best football of his career, it’s clear that Ridder is a quarterback to consider for the 2021 NFL Draft.

Zone-read and scrambling ability 

It’s no secret that run-pass options and zone-read plays have become popular for quarterbacks. Teams look to have mobile quarterbacks to match the speed on defense and it provides a spark. The key is to have smart quarterbacks that can move to the open field. Ridder has shown his ability to do that. In high school, he had 30 rushing touchdowns for his career and he’s currently on pace to match that for the Bearcats. In his college career, he has 19 rushing touchdowns and is averaging 8.8 yards per carry this season.

Watching the play above, Ridder executes a zone-read. As the ball is snapped, Ridder takes the ball and fakes the exchange with the running back. By watching the defensive end crash down hard, Ridder keeps the ball and gets to the open field where he’s able to get the first down. Meanwhile, the H-back gives a split-zone look but releases to the flats to help make the block.

When watching this offense, it’s common to see Ridder and this offense to execute a zone-read a few times per game. According to Sports Info Solutions (SIS), Ridder has recorded 14 carries for 210 yards and four touchdowns on designed quarterback runs this season. For all recorded quarterbacks on their database, that’s eighth best in total yards for that category.

It’s important to see a quarterback have the ability to evade the pocket and scramble if there are no open receivers. Watching the play above, Ridder stands tall in the pocket, scans the field and as the pocket starts to collapse, he tucks the football and takes off. This doesn’t just lead to additional yardage, this leads to a huge touchdown. According to SIS, Ridder has scrambled 21 times for 215 yards and four touchdowns this season.

Pocket mobility, throw on the run 

Having quarterbacks evade pressure in the pocket and extend beyond it to make an incredible throw is so common in the game today. Obviously we see players like Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes do it regularly but plenty of quarterbacks can do it across the league. In college, there’s hundreds of quarterbacks that can do it and Ridder is one of those players.

It’s crucial that a quarterback can extend these plays when the going gets tough. It’s important for additional time to be bought so a wide receiver can get open downfield. On the play above, it’s no different for Ridder and the Bearcats. They’re in a twins left formation and once Ridder gets the snap, he takes his three-step drop and immediately feels the pocket collapsing. He steps up and extends out of the pocket to his right and looks downfield to find an open receiver. Throwing on the run to his right, he delivers a strike that leads to a first down for the Bearcats.

Spot concept for the first down 

We can all gush about the deep passes completed by a quarterback but completing passes in the quick game is just as important. Being able to move the sticks and keeping offensive drives alive is pivotal to the success of a quarterback. Per SIS, Ridder has completed 73 passes on 92 pass attempts for 668 yards and five touchdowns on passes that have air yards from 0 to 8 yards. Whatever you want to classify as the yardage for a quick pass is fine for me but you get the picture: Ridder is fairly accurate and efficient when throwing the ball quickly.

Above is a spot concept run by the Bearcats. They’re aligned in a trips left formation with a levels concept at the top of the screen But look in the direction of where Ridder throws the football. The spot concept is being run from the wide receiver and running back. With much of the defense in the area to the trips side, Ridder finds the open wide receiver to his right and this leads to a first down.

Trying to do too much 

Young quarterbacks trying to do too much. It happens and in fact, it happens to veteran quarterbacks. It’s part of a quarterback taking ownership. He puts the team on his back and tries to make a play. I’ve watched Matthew Stafford do it for years and there’s a strong chance we could see Ridder do this at the next level. Fortunately for him, it’s fixable and if drafted to the right fit, it’ll get corrected.

In the play above, its it’s early in the game in a first-and-10 situation. Aligned in 11 personnel, Ridder is flushed out of the pocket and starts running towards the sideline. That’s great to see. But what isn’t great is how he continues to run and rather than throw the football away, he throws across his body and right to a running back that’s covered by the linebacker. With a poor throw, this leads to the interception and ultimately, it’s Ridder just trying to do too much. With a fresh set of downs and a plenty of football left in the game, he needs to live for another down. This is fixable for the junior quarterback and I feel confident that this will be fixed at the next level.

Flawless throwing motion when throwing downfield 

With his long, skinny but athletic frame, Ridder stands tall in the pocket and has the ability to take one to three steps and deliver an absolute dime down the field. Consistently in every game, he delivers a strike down the field. However, it’s the throwing motion that I want to focus on with Ridder.

His statistics on throws that travel more than 20 yards, aren’t as flawless as players like Wilson (BYU) or Fields (Ohio State). Per SIS, Ridder has completed eight passes on 32 attempts for 288 yards. That’s only good for a 25% but seeing the tools from Ridder is promising and will encourage plenty of teams.

I know the statistics aren’t exactly pretty but seeing how well Ridder can spin, he’s promising. Watching the play above, it’s a simple three-step drop and a flick of the wrist. Granted the wide receiver makes a great job high pointing the football and completing the catch, but Ridder puts this throw where only his receiver can make a play. Everything about his delivery on this pass was flawless and it should help him transition to the league.

Closing thoughts 

It’s still early in the process and I’ve only watched three games from the broadcast angles plus a live showing on ESPN last Friday night. That being said, I’ll still need to watch some of the All-22 on Ridder. I really like what I’ve seen from him. One of the biggest takeaways is how he’s so calm and collected with every drive. Regardless of struggling against South Florida this year with three interceptions (one of them came early in the game — shown above), he still bounced back and threw two touchdowns and got the win.

That’s the other thing, he’s a winner. In the 33 games that he’s played in at Cincinnati, they’re 29-4. Regardless of the talent on the other side of the field, they’re winning and Ridder has been a big part of that success. He’s not as polished as other quarterbacks but as you’ve seen, he’s got the tools with a strong arm that will make him an intriguing mid-round option for the 2021 NFL Draft. Regardless of what some statistics show, watch the tape and you’ll see a quarterback that doesn’t just look the part, he plays the part.

National Scout for Cover 1. Host of Cover 1 | The NFL Draft Podcast. NFL Draft Enthusiast. X's and O's. Heard on ESPN Radio, FOX Sports Radio and CBS Sports Radio.

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