This year’s quarterback class is significantly weaker than years past. Many mock drafts have teams selecting a quarterback in the top 10. This is mostly due to positional value and not the talent of the players themselves. These QBs wouldn’t rank as first round picks in most years, yet the media continues to fawn over Liberty QB Malik Willis and Pittsburgh QB Kenny Pickett. However, it is possible that neither of these two are the top QB in the class. The quarterback with the most NFL-ready tools in this class is Cincinnati QB Desmond Ridder.
At 6’3, 211 pounds, Ridder has the long frame that fits the profile of an NFL QB. He has a good base in the pocket, allowing him to drive off his back foot to deliver the ball to his receivers. He has the ability to throw the ball accurately outside of the numbers, which is a key attribute that NFL scouts look for. Ridder can extend the play well when the pocket breaks down and excels at throwing while off-platform. He has good speed as well, allowing him to beat defenders even when they have good angles in the open field. Ridder won’t make anyone miss with his elusiveness, but he can beat defenders with his straight line speed, as evidenced by his 4.52 second 40-yard dash.
Ridder’s most valuable asset is his ability to read a full field. Most college QBs operate in RPO-heavy systems that rely on predetermined reads. They select their primary target and lock on to him before the play begins, then either force the ball to a crowded window or panic in the pocket if that receiver is not open. This was apparent on tape for Tua Tagovailoa and Jordan Love, who have struggled to catch on in the NFL. Ridder was not in a system that limited his reads. He clearly goes through full progressions on tape, which will ease his transition to the next level.
However, Ridder is not a perfect prospect. He can be sped up mentally when there is consistent pressure in the pocket, which leads to some jumpiness in his decision making. He occasionally will lead his receivers too far on deep balls. Ridder also misses throws high with relative frequency, which is problematic at the next level. That will lead to interceptions more often than not in the NFL. This tends to serve as a red flag for NFL scouts, and is likely why the media has him ranked lower than other QBs in this class. However, there are many other prospects that have been selected higher than Ridder's current late-second round projection with far greater mechanical concerns. Ridder's issues can be addressed with proper coaching.
Additionally, some analysts have concerns about the level of competition Ridder faced in college. However, Ridder was 6-3 against Power 5 opponents, including important wins against Notre Dame and Indiana last season that bolstered the Bearcats' resume to become the first ever non-Power 5 team to make the College Football Playoff. Once in the playoff, Cincinnati faced Alabama, arguably the toughest opponent of Ridder's career. His stat line was just 17 for 32 with 144 yards and no touchdowns, but the stats don't tell the full story. Ridder had little help, with many drops by his receivers and frequent breakdowns by the offensive line, leading to 6 sacks and 3 pass deflections at the line of scrimmage. Ridder tried to make something out of nothing multiple times for the Bearcats, leading two drives for field goals, but Cincinnati's roster was overmatched, not Ridder himself.
In my opinion, Ridder has all the tools necessary to become the best QB in this draft class. He has the size and speed to compete and is not afraid to take hits. His tape reminds me of Justin Herbert’s when he came out of Oregon. While Herbert was a bit more of a refined prospect than him, Ridder possesses some similar attributes that can be molded in the right setting.
Ridder is also a proven winner, taking home back-to-back AAC championships and going 26-0 at home during his college career. He trails just Colt McCoy and Kellen Moore for most wins as a starter in NCAA history (43). Ridder will not be able to step in and start right away, but if he is taken by a team like the Colts or Buccaneers in the late 1st/early 2nd round, he could sit behind an experienced veteran and hone his skills. I believe that Desmond Ridder can be a serviceable starting QB in the NFL.