Is Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder a first-round QB in 2022?

As he prepares to face the biggest game of his Cincinnati career, does Desmond Ridder have first-round potential in the 2022 NFL Draft?

Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder already holds a place in school history and has his eyes set on the NFL Draft. On Saturday afternoon, he’ll lead the Bearcats out at Nippert Stadium, looking to secure the program’s place in College Football Playoff history. While his performances in the present have emulated the Bearcats’ past, it’s his future that holds the biggest question. Can Ridder be a first-round quarterback in the 2022 NFL Draft?

Examining Desmond Ridder’s NFL Draft prospects

Can Ridder be a first-round quarterback in the 2022 NFL Draft? It seems like a straightforward question with a routine yes or no answer. However, nothing about the Cincinnati quarterback’s journey to the near pinnacle of his profession has been straightforward.

An underrated, under-recruited, and underappreciated high school athlete, Ridder held just two college offers coming out of St. Xavier high school. Even his early career for the Bearcats was underwhelming, sitting under Hayden Moore as he redshirted his freshman season and began his second year in Cincinnati sat aside the pine on the sidelines.

Yet, from the moment he leaped from the sideline to guide the Bearcats to victory over UCLA in the 2018 season opener, Ridder has been on an upward trajectory. Cincinnati’s ascent to the verges of the college football elite is inextricably linked to the distinctive figure under center sporting the No. 9 jersey.

Ridder’s influence on the success of this program is difficult to put into words. If this article contained a word for every yard he’s contributed or record that he’s broken, it would resemble a novel rather than a mere piece of prose to whittle away the short hours until kickoff of the most important game in Bearcats history.

Desmond Ridder rewriting Cincinnati’s record books

Ridder holds the program record with 84 career passing touchdowns. His 9,905 passing yards are second in program history only to Gino Guidugli. After hitting 3,000 passing yards for the first time in his career this season, Ridder needs just 273 yards against Houston to sit second in single-season passing yards for the program. Guidugli holds that record with 3,543, an easily attainable figure should the Bearcats survive on “Selection Sunday.”

The passing records only tell a small story, however. Ridder’s dynamic ability on the move has enabled him to run his name through the annals of Cincinnati history. His 12,061 total yards are not only a program record but a conference one too. A total of 112 touchdowns has achieved the same status. Ridder owns four of the top 10 all-purpose single seasons in Cincinnati history. It goes without saying that he holds the program record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback.

It is this creative ability that has helped propel Ridder to the precipice of the 2022 NFL Draft. That, and a cannon for an arm that has shown the ability to drive the ball downfield, raining bombs on opposing defenses that have been simply too hot to handle.

He received some consideration as a mid-round prospect in the 2021 cycle. But his return to Cincinnati for this season has propelled Ridder into the conversation as a first-round prospect. Is the attention a result of a genuine first-round skill set? Or is it simply a desperation to find a contender on which to hang a hat in a murky quarterback class.

The 2022 NFL Draft has many quarterback question marks

There is no denying that is what NFL teams are faced with this year. Last year’s unprecedented quarterback class was always going to be difficult to emulate. However, this group of potential professional passers has drawn parallel closer to the widely derided class of 2013 than to the array of aces in 2021.

Despite the feeling that there isn’t a quarterback worthy of a first-round grade in the class, the demand at the position will ensure that we will see the position selected on Day 1 of the NFL Draft. There are simply too many teams with a need at the position. The demand is great, even if the supply isn’t. As recently reported by Ian Rapaport, there could be multiple Round 1 quarterbacks selected.

“After speaking with 10 NFL general managers or top executives, the resounding belief is that at least three quarterbacks go in the first round of next year’s draft, with some expecting a fourth to go in Round 1 as well.”

Does Ridder have what it takes to be one of those first-round quarterbacks in the 2022 NFL Draft? Once upon a time, some NFL teams steadfastly believed in the Bill Parcells rule for successfully drafting a quarterback. Parcells’ rule included achieving a set number of starts, playing a specific number of years in college, and completing a set percentage of passes.

Does Ridder pass the NFL quarterback test?

Ridder would have met each of the seven requirements of the Parcells rule. His 62.3% completion percentage is above the threshold, as is his 84:28 touchdown-to-interception ratio. A three-year starter with 48 games under his belt and just six defeats, Ridder would have been laughing all the way to Round 1.

Yet, there’s a reason the Parcells rule is outdated. We have to break beyond the numbers and to the tape to determine whether a quarterback can be successful at the next level. Of course, arm strength is a component of this. Yet, simply being able to throw a ball far isn’t enough.

Can a quarterback place the ball to put his receivers in the best position to succeed? Can he be poised in the pocket, delivering a pass on the money with a defensive player bearing down on him? Does he play the game with mental awareness, reading pre and post-snap coverages? Will his footwork allow him to demonstrate escapology but also to throw off-script too?

There’s no denying that Ridder possesses several of these qualities. There aren’t many passers in college football that can throw the ball downfield like the Cincinnati quarterback. The very first play of this season was an 81-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Scott that traveled a good 60 yards in the air. Those throws aren’t “one-offs,” either. Ridder can routinely launch the ball at will.

Arm talent, creativity, and competitive toughness

Ridder has shown that he can fit the ball into tight windows with velocity. He zips the ball extremely well on occasion, showcasing not just his arm strength but impressive arm talent.

Then there is the creative ability with his legs. Ridder has a distinctive, long-striding running style that allows him to eat up yards on the ground. Sure, he’s been less productive this season, but 28 career rushing touchdowns are a testament to his ability as a runner. Additionally, he uses his athletic ability and elusiveness to maneuver within the pocket.

Alongside arm talent and creativity, Ridder possesses high character and leadership skills that will prove alluring to NFL teams. He’s a gritty competitor on the field that puts his all into dragging his team over the finishing line. Even in games when he’s struggled at the start, his resilience allows him to grind out a result as the game progresses.

Unsurprisingly, this has led to him being considered a first-round talent by some analysts. In my very first mock draft of this cycle back in March, I had Ridder as a potential first-round prospect in 2022. However, when you dive into his previous tape, there are some glaringly obvious issues that limit his draft stock. Moreover, those haven’t improved a great deal during the 2021 college football season.

Round 1 may just be out of Ridder’s reach

Although he has improved his completion percentage this season, Ridder is still wildly inaccurate compared to some other quarterback prospects. There are too many throws that are either overthrown, underthrown, or wide of the target. Rather than lead his receivers with anticipation and placement, he too often relies on chucking it up field and hoping a receiver like Alec Pierce comes down with it.

Ridder can also appear to be flustered under pressure in the pocket. This is more apparent earlier in games, settling in as the game progresses. When flustered, he is prone to ill-advised throws. Conversely, the Bearcats QB is quick to bail out of a clean pocket and utilize his legs rather than wait for a play to develop.

The accuracy issues, and lack of apparent development in this area, make it difficult to envisage Ridder as a Day 1 prospect. It would be risky for an NFL team to strike for him as an immediate starter at the next level.

Nevertheless, the NFL-ready arm and athletic ability may prove too alluring for a team to pass up on if QBs start flying off the board. Ridder will also have the opportunity to elevate his draft stock by impressing at the Senior Bowl. If four quarterbacks really do hear their name in Round 1 of the 2022 NFL Draft, Ridder could take advantage of health issues around Carson Strong and sneak in as the fourth man.

Oliver Hodgkinson is an NFL Draft and College Football Analyst for Pro Football Network. Check out the rest of his work here, and you can find him on Twitter: @ojhodgkinson