Desmond Ridder selected by Atlanta Falcons, ending 53-pick stretch in NFL draft without QB

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The Atlanta Falcons both ended the lengthy gap between quarterbacks being drafted and also might have answered their question at the position by selecting Cincinnati's Desmond Ridder with the No. 74 overall pick in the NFL draft.

It's not a surprise the Falcons took a quarterback, either. Atlanta general manager Terry Fontenot said Tuesday he hoped to come out of the draft with a new signal-caller as the team has only starter Marcus Mariota and second-year pro Feleipe Franks on the roster.

Three days later, Fontenot said the Falcons didn't reach for Ridder at No. 74 and that they stayed true to their draft board.

"We don't want to reach at any points," Fontenot said. "Our scouting department, led by Kyle Smith, working with our coaches in a collaborative effort, do a great job setting that board, and we stayed true to that board and took the best players off.

"He was meant to be there at that time, and we're excited to make that call."

The only other quarterback drafted before Ridder this year was Kenny Pickett, who was selected No. 20 overall Thursday night by the Pittsburgh Steelers.

It is the latest a second quarterback has come off the board in a single draft since 1996, when Tony Banks was the first quarterback selected by St. Louis at No. 42 and Bobby Hoying went No. 85 to Philadelphia.

During what had turned into a long wait on Day 2 of the draft, Ridder said he even texted with fellow quarterback hopeful Malik Willis about quarterbacks not being drafted. Willis was taken by the Tennessee Titans at No. 86.

Seeing only Pickett being drafted in the first round indicated to Ridder that he would be drafted Friday -- and he thought early Friday as well. Then the wait began.

"We get to the second round and we're sitting there waiting," Ridder said. "And we're waiting, and we're waiting and we don't get anything. You know, I finally texted Malik. Texted Malik Willis and I'm like, 'Man, what's going on? Like, they don't like us, or what?'

"He was just like, you know, let's just sit and wait, be patient, God's going to do his thing. But, you know, it was just a lot. But I'm blessed to be a Falcon."

The Falcons did a lot of work on Ridder. They met with him at Cincinnati's pro day for two hours -- including meeting with Ridder's mother -- as part of bringing a bunch of coaches and staff to his workout with the Bearcats.

Falcons head coach Arthur Smith said he wasn't surprised quarterbacks were taken where they were Friday night and that things fell similar to how they expected they might, and that the scouts did a "hell of a job" setting their draft board.

The 6-foot-4, 215-pound Ridder was a four-year starter for the Bearcats and had his best season in 2021, completing 64.9% of his passes for 3,334 yards, 30 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He completed at least 60% of his passes in three of four seasons at Cincinnati, threw at least 18 TDs in each season with the Bearcats and never threw more than nine interceptions in a season.

Ridder, in his post-pick media call, compared himself to Mariota and said when the team signed him in March, he thought maybe Atlanta would be a place he could end up because of the similarities in their games.

"It was something," Ridder said. "That I thought I fit really well into."

The selection of Ridder is the latest move in a busy quarterback offseason for the Falcons, who pursued Deshaun Watson in a potential trade with the Houston Texans, traded franchise QB Matt Ryan to the Indianapolis Colts and signed Mariota, who played under Smith when he was the Tennessee Titans' offensive coordinator.

Meanwhile, the Falcons heavily researched the entire quarterback draft class and sent a large contingent to Cincinnati's pro day to scout. Atlanta bypassed Ridder three times in favor of other players and then, in the third round, decided the value was right to take him.

Ridder joins a situation in which he could end up competing with Mariota for the starting job replacing Ryan, the best quarterback in team history. Whoever ends up being Atlanta's starter will have a new No. 1 receiver to throw to as the Falcons drafted USC receiver Drake London in the first round Thursday night.

Ridder is the second quarterback taken by the Falcons since drafting Ryan in 2008. The other was Sean Renfree, who went No. 249 in 2013.