|Left Outside||Left Middle||Right Middle||Right Outside||Total|
|1-5||5/5 (TD)||4/6||7/7 (TD)||0/1||16/19 (2 TD)|
|Total||6/8 (TD)||6/8||10/14 (TD)||1/2||23/32 (2 TD)|
Outside the Pocket: 4/5 (TD)
Under Pressure: 6/8 (TD)
Red Zone: 3/4 (TD)
3rd/4th Down: 2/4 (2 conversions)
Forced Adjustments: 1
Explosive Plays (25+ yards and/or touchdown): 4
Cincinnati is this year’s overwhelming Group of Five program. Granted, you can make the case this year has a few of those, but Cincinnati is ranked as a borderline playoff team and look unstoppable on both sides of the ball. On offense, a good chunk of that unstoppability lies on QB Desmond Ridder’s shoulders.
Ridder is as versatile as they come. Not only has Ridder shown growth as a passer this season, but he is one of the most productive rushing QBs in the country right now. He can do work on designed runs such as option plays and QB power, while also providing a degree of unpredictability on passing plays with his ability to scramble. From a tools perspective, Ridder has it all and it’s not hard to see how a player with his talent is beating up on the Group of Five.
Last weekend, UCF were the latest opponent to suffer at the hands of Ridder. Ridder accurate on over 70% of his pass attempts, only one of which was behind the line of scrimmage, and regularly allowed good yards-after-catch opportunities for his guys. He also punched in a couple of red zone rushing touchdowns, one of which he was able to waltz in off a zone read pull. By the end, Ridder had earned more than 10 yards per pass while scoring four total touchdowns, two apiece through the air and on the ground.
That being said, though the box score ended up eye-popping, it is hard to watch Ridder and ignore how volatile his process as a passer is. Even with his clear growth this season, Ridder is not yet a complete quarterback. There are enough flashes of critical thinking to suggest Ridder is not a moron out there, but there are also enough lapses in judgement to suggest he is not yet ready for the pros. Potential and a workable baseline are there. The desired consistency for a top quarterback prospect, at least for now, is not.
Let’s start with the good. Ridder had a handful of plays on Saturday that prove he can think like a quality quarterback prospect, even if he doesn’t always do it.
To the left hand side, Cincinnati are running a simple Stick concept. The two inside receivers run five-and-out (inside receiver has the option to “sit down” instead of go out) and the outside receiver clears vertically. That is the QB’s read side every time this concept is called. As Ridder opens to his left, though, he sees UCF’s slot defender step forward and look to jam UCF’s #3 (inside receiver) through the route. Now Ridder has a good inclination that this is man because a zone defender would not normally step up like that. Ridder brings his eyes back and catches the mike linebacker cheated over towards the left because he was following the QB’s eyes, which prompts Ridder to immediately throw to the running back on the angle route. Easy pitch and catch in the red zone.
This time around, Ridder sniffs out a blitz from the weak side of the formation and capitalizes on it. Though tough to actually see from this broadcast angle at first, upon motioning the outside receiver to the slot, Ridder catches the safety creep towards the box while the slot cornerback shows clear inside leverage with eyes on the QB. Both are indicators of blitz, so Ridder can assume at least one is coming. Ridder looks that way immediately and sees both players blitzing, leaving a ton of ground between the weak linebacker and the slot receiver running the out route. The only other thing Ridder would have needed to worry about is whether the outside cornerback could “fall off” and trap this out route, but Ridder sees him committed to carrying the vertical, which allows the throw to the out route. Quality blitz replacement from the redshirt junior passer.
Sometimes smart quarterback play is about where a passer places the ball, too. One route can be thrown four different ways depending on the coverage shell or leverage of certain defenders. Ridder threw another out route in this game that proved he is thinking about this on some level.
Between UCF’s two-high shell and the weak safety yelling at the linebacker to scoot outside to play the flat, Ridder can operate off the assumption that this is some sort of quarters (Cover 4). As such, that linebacker will try to jam / re-route the vertical #2 (slot receiver) before flying to the flats. In all honesty, the linebacker does his job very well. He gets a bit of a re-route to pass the vertical off and takes a good, fast angle towards the out route. Ridder makes sure to leave this ball high and outside, though, making it very tough for the linebacker to play from that position. Conversely, there will be instances of throwing this route where the outside CB falls off to play the flat in Cover 2 and the QB has to throw it low and inside, so Ridder throwing this route the way he did shows some degree of him understanding what UCF is trying to do schematically.
The problem is, Ridder has just as many moments where he seemingly goes brain dead. More specifically, Ridder regularly loses track of underneath defenders. Sometimes that results in him looking away from a spot that should be vacated, other times it results in him throwing directly at a zone defender he forgot to account for.
Cincinnati are running a “Drive” concept from the field. In most offenses, the shallow crosser is the intended target. The players on the opposite side of the field will get vertical to clear space, while another receiver from the shallow receiver’s side of the field will run a square-in to high-low the defense. Ridder starts off the read correctly, too. He checks the weak slot defender, who turns his hips immediately and runs in man coverage. This should signal to Ridder that the shallow crosser is free so long as he clears the Mike linebacker, even if a defender is still trailing him in man coverage. Drive is supposed to beat man converge anyway. The problem is, when Ridder brings his eyes back, he sees the Mike creeping up and directly in the window where the shallow crosser currently is. Ridder should be able to anticipate the shallow crosser will clear this Mike in a couple steps and throw the ball out in front, but that is not what happens. Ridder instead moves on and throws the checkdown willy-nilly, resulting in an incompletion.
I legitimately do not know what Ridder is doing in this clip. It looks as if Ridder sees this Mike linebacker, but chooses not to respect him. It is possible Ridder thought the Mike would continue gaining depth, but if the Mike is opening weak and sees the only vertical threat is the outside #1, why would the Mike continue gaining depth rather than come back to play the middle of the field? Had a pass-rusher not gotten a piece of Ridder as the ball was coming out, this would have been an interception that hit the linebacker dead in the chest. Ridder has to be more careful than this. There is zero reason to be making this kind of a blatant error.
This same double-edged sword nature to Ridder’s game shows up just the same when he is outside the pocket, too. On the one hand, he has a clearly creative and confident mind for making plays when things break down. That is valuable and can be built upon. On the other hand, Ridder’s occasional blindness shows up and he will have instances where he hits a defender right in the hands trying to throw back across the middle.
At this stage in his career, Ridder is a clearly interesting prospect. Ridder is mobile, has a good enough arm, displays decent accuracy, and has shown some signs of life as a processor. It is equally as clear that he needs more time to develop, though. Ridder’s game is far too inconsistent right now for him to be considered even a Day 2 prospect.
That is not to say Ridder cannot or will not get there, but the risk vs reward on what he has shown to this point is too high to bet on him with a valuable pick. Hopefully Ridder can round out this season with some strong play before really catapulting himself to the top of the 2022 NFL Draft class.