Can Atlanta Falcons QB Desmond Ridder Be a Viable Fantasy Football Starter in 2023?

Atlanta Falcons QB Desmond Ridder didn't show much last season. Here's why that doesn't matter and why he could break out in fantasy in 2023.

Last season, the Atlanta Falcons waited a long time to bench Marcus Mariota in favor of rookie Desmond Ridder. Now the pressure is on Ridder to help elevate a franchise that finally has the makings of a dynamic, balanced offense. Can Ridder be a viable fantasy football starting QB in 2023?

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Desmond Ridder’s 2022 Season

Ridder is one of this season’s true unknown fantasy quarterbacks. The 2022 third-round draft pick possesses the kind of dual-threat abilities that franchises crave these days. His 2,180 rushing yards with the Cincinnati Bearcats stand out, as do his 28 rushing scores.

That doesn’t mean he’ll be the next Lamar Jackson, Jalen Hurts, or Justin Fields. And last year, he barely showed off his ground game, netting only 16 carries for 64 yards in four starts. But the potential for 400+ rushing yards is there.

Speaking of last year, after the Mariota experiment ended, the rookie closed out the season, operating pretty conservatively while getting his feet wet alongside one of the league’s most efficient backfields — so efficient, in fact, that Ridder didn’t need to do much, even when trailing.

In fact, Atlanta led the NFL with 559 rushing attempts, and their 4.9 yards per carry ranked fourth. Ridder averaged only 28.8 throws. For context, that was about two-thirds of Tom Brady’s volume.

And just as notably, Mariota averaged only 23.1 throws. It could be said that the team trusted Ridder with the ball in his hands more than they did the veteran Mariota. And this season, we’ll probably see why.

Desmond Ridder’s 2023 Expectations

Ridder enters 2023 with a much different collection of playmakers. This is key to understanding his potential as a weekly fantasy starter — if not this year, then certainly in future years. His realistic ceiling in 2023 is considerably higher than what the market believes. The strange thing is, based on ADP, his floor is probably higher, too.

The market seems to view Ridder through the lens of those four odd end-of-season starts last year when he didn’t have Kyle Pitts, didn’t have the incoming Bijan Robinson or Mack Hollins, and barely ran the ball.

Three of his opponents were No. 3, No. 9, and No. 13 in fewest points surrendered. Three opponents were among the top seven in defensive sacks. And so on.

Another factor working in Ridder’s favor is Atlanta’s schedule, which reportedly is the second-easiest in the league. In addition to several favorable matchups in their relatively soft division, they’ll get the Texans, Commanders, and Vikings at home, as well as the Bears and Cardinals.

When the season ends, we might look back and marvel at how the Falcons played eight or nine contests against bottom-10 defenses. A soft schedule is a boon for a young quarterback surrounded by one of the youngest corps of high-upside skill players imaginable (Drake London, Pitts, Robinson, and Tyler Allgeier).

Can Ridder be a fantasy starter this season? Absolutely. Presumably, not most weeks, though it’s possible he pushes for a top-12 finish if things break right. That might necessitate big steps forward for London and Pitts, as well as a well-rounded Rookie of the Year campaign for Robinson that includes 40+ catches.

More conservatively, Ridder still seems like a good bet to outperform ADP and serve as a fantasy streamer, particularly during bye weeks. He was the No. 2 QB drafted, albeit in a weak quarterback class. Now he’s flying under a lot of radars. He probably won’t be undervalued for long.

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