Under-recruited, under-appreciated, under the radar, all can be used to describe Desmond Ridder. But now, he’s under pressure. Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder has positioned both himself and his team for success this season. Ridder is the best quarterback in the AAC, and I also believe he’s one of the best eligible quarterbacks for the 2020 NFL Draft.
Ridder wasn’t heavily recruited coming out of highschool. He was ranked a 2 or 3 star prospect by the major recruiting outlets, and was only viewed as a top 50 passer in his class. Now you can make the case for Ridder as one of the 3 best from that class.
After redshirting his first year, Ridder competed for the job in 2018. He didn’t start the Bearcats week one game against UCLA; he instead entered on the team’s third offensive drive. He didn’t give the job back after that. He started the season hot, leading the Bearcats to their best start ever, going 6-0 thought their first 6 weeks. Throughout the rest of the season, the Ridder-led Bearcats dropped only two games. Ending the season with a victory in the Military Bowl over Virginia Tech, it was the best year Bearcats football had enjoyed in almost a decade.
As a redshirt freshman, Ridder showed a maturity and understanding for the game that is rare. Despite producing over 3,000 yards and 25 touchdowns of total offense, he only threw 5 interceptions. Ridder’s play was acknowledged by many as he earned the 2018 AAC Rookie of the Year. Throughout the season, he showed an innate ability to make the big play and was crucial on third down. Whether it was with his legs or his arm, Ridder led the Bearcats offense to the 7th-highest third down conversion rate in the nation.
After last season’s performance, Ridder is on the national radar. His first test? Week 1, prime time, Friday night against college football legend Chip Kelly and the UCLA Bruins. A game the Bearcats knew they needed to win. Ridder needed to prove he was the guy that can lead Cincinnati to national recognition. In an AAC that is very competitive, what type of game would the Bearcats start the season with? Ridder led them to a victory, playing their brand of football: A strong rushing attack, stout defense, and efficient passing from their play caller.
Ridder finished the game with 242 passing yards and two touchdowns, while adding on 34 rushing yards. He had an interception, but also managed a 70% completion percentage. Ridder also continued his third down dominance, leading the team to a 50% conversion rate. He was everything the Bearcats needed him to be, and that looks to be the story for most of the season. The biggest question remaining is this: what happens when they need more?
Ridder has yet to show the ability to really take over a game. Whether it’s because he can’t is an unknown because Cincinnati plays a brand of football that doesn’t ask him to. They’re going to be a team the runs the hell out of the football, and play strong, stout defense. It shows in the fact the Ridder only averaged a bit above 23 pass attempts per game last season. To put that in perspective, Oregon’s Justin Herbert averaged over 30 attempts a game. Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa averaged about the same amount of attempts as Ridder, but also sat the second half of nearly half of his games. If Cincinnati expects to truly compete in the AAC with teams like UCF and Memphis, it will be on the back of Ridder. Can he do it? It remains to be seen.
Ridder has some really intriguing physical skills. He possesses excellent size at 6’4 and weighs in at 215, but has a frame he can fill out a bit. He’s an excellent athlete and a dangerous runner. However, he also possesses a live arm that can get the ball downfield and to the sidelines with strong velocity. His ball placement when throwing to the seam is excellent and he’s very comfortable throwing on the run, usually with good accuracy. What really excites me is how comfortable he looks under duress. His decision making under pressure rarely hurts the team and his eyes consistently remain downfield. He’s also excellent on third down, a testament to his decision making.
With all the being said, Ridder does have his flaws. He’s a good runner but can tend to take unnecessary hits and doesn’t always have the best grip on the ball. His ball placement, while at some points is excellent, can be inconsistent. He tends to miss high when throwing the boundary. He also lacks any real touch on deep passes. He occasionally gives a good back shoulder spot, and can put air under the ball to give his receiver a chance, but rarely does he hit his man in stride.
Ridder has upside, but I think he projects favorably to an Alex Smith-type player. Not a guy who’s going to consistently win you games himself, but someone you can absolutely win with. He’s a dual threat, and with the right talent around him, he will be an excellent passer. This season will be telling, is he a QB that Cincinnati wins because of, or wins with. I currently grade Ridder as a high Day 3 pick, but I believe he can move up with a strong season.