As we head into the most boring time of the year on the football calendar, it is time to begin looking ahead. Over the next couple months, we are going to take a closer look into some of the prospects in the 2022 draft class that would make sense for the Steelers.
Headed into next year, the most likely needs for the Steelers are quarterback, cornerback(s), safety, defensive line, guard, and wide receiver. Simply because it is going to be the primary headline for the Steelers next offseason, we are going to begin with a few quarterbacks, but we may touch on a few other positions as well. If you are visiting the BTSC website but you are a fan of another team, I will let you know that although these breakdowns are going to be partly based on their fit specifically with the Steelers, they will also contain analysis that you can use to determine how well each prospect will fit with your own team.
Last time, we broke down Nevada quarterback Carson Strong. Today, we are going to take a closer look at Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder, who was mocked to the Steelers in Todd McShay’s way-too-early 2022 mock draft.
Ridder is a three-year starter for the Bearcats, who were ranked inside the top 10 of the final College Football Playoff Rankings in 2020. In 36 collegiate games, Ridder has compiled over 1,800 rushing yards and nearly 7,000 passing yards while throwing for 57 touchdowns and 20 interceptions. Only rated as a two-star recruit by Rivals.com, Ridder recorded 49 overall touchdowns in two seasons as the starter, but 30 of those were rushing touchdowns. In 2016, he led his team to the KHSAA finals, but it was not enough for Ridder to get offers from a ton of Power Five schools. After redshirting in 2017, he was named AAC Rookie of the Year the following season, as he passed for nearly 2,500 yards and 20 touchdowns. In 2019, he was never fully healthy, but he battled through the injuries and still managed to throw for over 2,100 yards and run for 650 more. This past season, Ridder became much more efficient both as a passer and and as a runner, boosting his completion percentage to 66% rushing for nearly 600 yards on fewer than 100 carries.
Ridder’s best attributes are his arm strength and athleticism. He puts good velocity on all his passes, whether they be short, intermediate, or deep. He struggled to accurately throw the ball when he was banged up in 2019, but he was much more accurate in 2020 and placed balls where only his guy could get them. He did not turn the ball over as much in 2020, and ball placement was a big reason why. Much like we talked about with Zach Wilson this past season, Ridder can effectively deliver the ball from many different arm angles, which allows him to make the most difficult throws with ease. There is a lot of upside with Ridder as a passer, but he is also lethal as a runner, as evidenced by this clip below.
Not all his rushes were that easy, but you can see his speed in the open field. Ridder is also physical as a runner. He would prefer taking on a linebacker to potentially gain three extra yards rather than sliding to protect his body. He may want to learn to avoid contact better once he is in the NFL, but in college, it has been a joy to watch him fight for every single yard he can get when he is running the ball. He is not afraid to get hit, but at the quarterback position, that can be a double-edged sword.
Although Ridder’s arm strength is a positive, there are times when he takes risks downfield when he has other receivers open underneath. Learning to choose the short and intermediate passes when there is nothing open downfield will help him become a more efficient quarterback. I would also like him to become less predictable with where he wants to go with the football. Oftentimes I feel as if he eyes his receiver down too long, allowing the defender to potentially make a play on the ball. He seems to be a bright young man, which is why I expect to see him process things quicker mentally in 2021. He also needs to go through all his progressions rather than trying to run if his top receiver is not open. He is dangerous as a runner, but he needs to learn to only use that ability when no receivers are open and there is an open field in front of him.
Below is a video of Ridder against the Houston Cougars. Ridder displayed his dual-threat ability in the Cincinnati win. The play around 3:32 is a perfect example. Ridder does not force the ball into traffic downfield, but rather steps into the pocket when the pressure comes, sees a wide open field in front of him, and takes off for his second rushing touchdown of the game. At 4:36, we see that patience again, which is something he did not display in every game. Ridder picks up 12 yards on the ground on 3rd and 8 after realizing that none of his receivers were open. Houston was in man coverage, and the middle of the field was left open. Ridder took advantage of the opportunity and got the first down.
At 4:12, Ridder displays his excellent touch. He lines up under center and sees that his 6’6” tight end Josh Whyle, who could be a day two pick next April, is matched up against 6’0” safety Gervarrius Owens. Ridder places the ball up high where only Whyle can grab it, and the play results in a touchdown.
Unfortunately, there are times when Ridder has an open receiver but opts to run instead. He trusts himself more as a runner at this point in his career, and at 6:09, it comes back to bite him. Cincinnati wide receiver Jayshon Jackson runs a slant over the middle of the field, and the nearest defender is five yards away from him. Ridder has a chance to get it to him, but once Houston defensive lineman Olivier Charles-Pierre gets loose, he chooses to run the other way instead. It results in no gain.
We also see several inaccurate passes in the second half. At 6:29, Ridder, wanting to get rid of the ball quickly, looks to only the right side of the field and tries to sling it to his preferred target. He rushed the throw and forced it to a receiver who was not really open, although there may have been a miscommunication between Ridder and his receiver. Nonetheless, it was a wasted down and resulted in an incomplete pass.
At 7:30, Cincinnati runs a trick play. Tight end Leonard Taylor is running wide open downfield, but Ridder gets too excited and overthrows him. The touch on deep balls improved in 2020, but he needs to become more consistent in that aspect in 2021.
Here is the full video.
If you want to take a deeper dive into Ridder, here are his games against UCF, East Carolina, and Georgia. He put up impressive numbers against UCF and East Carolina, but he was sacked eight times against Georgia. He still threw for over 200 yards and 2 touchdowns, but the constant pressure prevented Ridder from leading Cincinnati to a Peach Bowl victory.
If highlights are more your thing, here are Ridder’s best plays from the 2020 season.
NFL Comparison: Trey Lance
Yes, the man that was just taken third overall is the best comparison I have for Ridder. Much like the way we talked about Lance during this past draft, Ridder has a big arm and a ton of mobility, but he sometimes gets too excited and overthrows open receivers. Both Ridder and Lance have experience playing under center, but they lack consistency as passers. One negative on Lance’s scouting report was that he looks to run when his primary receiver is covered. The same is true with Ridder. However, Lance got drafted by a team that is going to develop him and run a system that fits his strengths. Ridder may not be that fortunate. But based on tape, he and Lance share many of the same traits, both positive and negative.
How would he fit with the Steelers?
Although Ridder primarily played out of the shotgun, he does have some experience playing under center, which is something that would be a positive coming into Matt Canada’s offense. Outside of Josh Dobbs, the Steelers do not have any quarterbacks that are considered to be athletic. Ridder’s skills as a runner would allow Matt Canada to expand his playbook. The Steelers also like quarterbacks with prototypical size, and Ridder checks that box as well. There are several areas in Ridder’s game that need to improve, but if he continues to show progress as a passer, he could be exactly what the Steelers need to remain a Super Bowl contender after Ben Roethlisberger retires.
But what do you think? Is Ridder worthy of first round consideration? Do you see him as a potential fit for the Steelers? Be sure to light up the comment section with your thoughts on Ridder and all things Pittsburgh Steelers!