The Falcons made one of the more surprising choices of the 2022 NFL Draft when they selected Desmond Ridder in the third round.
That Ridder was selected with the 74th overall pick wasn’t much of a surprise. He was widely expected to be a Day 2 pick at the quarterback position, so that fit his draft range perfectly. What was a surprise was that he came off the board before Liberty’s Malik Willis.
Willis was frequently mocked as a first-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft with some placing him as high as No. 6 overall to the Panthers. He ranked 28th overall on The Athletic’s consensus big board while Ridder ranked 42nd.
So, why did Willis slip behind Ridder during the draft? ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler reports that Ridder’s “signature moments” gave him the advantage over Willis in the Falcons’ war room.
After asking around, I get the sense that Atlanta felt Malik Willis, despite immense talent, lacked the signature moments while at Liberty to sway such a decision, whereas Desmond Ridder — the team’s pick at No. 74 — showcased a more complete body of work.
Plus, Ridder’s confidence and polish in the process helped. Coaches who interviewed him noted that the QB outlined his plans to unseat a veteran wherever he landed.
Atlanta’s logic makes some sense. Both Ridder and Willis played at non-Power 5 colleges, but Ridder led Cincinnati to new heights as its starting quarterback. He went 44-6 in his 50 starts and never lost at home while leading the Bearcats to the College Football Playoff during his senior season.
Meanwhile, Willis had less starting experience and went 17-6 over his two seasons at Liberty. While Willis helped the Flames establish themselves at the FBS level, he has both less starting experience and less playing time against high-end opponents than Ridder.
So, with the Falcons looking for a safe, proven quarterback, Ridder ended up being their selection. That makes sense given that they need immediate competition for Marcus Mariota. Still, there is some risk in passing on Willis. He has more upside than Ridder, so Atlanta may look foolish for their long-term decision to pass on Willis if he can develop into a solid starter in Tennessee.
For now, it’s too early to tell whether the Falcons made the right choice. What we do know is that the team had a clear picture of what it wanted at the quarterback position, and in its opinion, Ridder more closely matched that than Willis or any other quarterback available in Round 3.