As we move toward the 2023 NFL Season, I’m turning my focus to a series of sleeper candidates. I’ll be offering four players at each of the positions—QB, RB, WR, and TE—that I think can make a positive impact for you in fantasy. This will be a list of veteran players, as we already have our expectations set for the class of 2023. Today, I continue with a look at Desmond Ridder.

The Atlanta Falcons moved into a new era in 2022 as they bid farewell to franchise quarterback Matt Ryan. To fill the void, the Falcons signed veteran Marcus Mariota. In the third round of the 2022 NFL Draft, the team also selected Cincinnati quarterback Ridder. He got his shot to end the season and now appears to be the main candidate in 2023. But should we be optimistic about Ridder? Let’s consider the evidence.

The Case for Desmond Ridder

Ridder was a third-round pick who started four games as a rookie. He went 2-2 in those starts, putting up 708 yards and two passing touchdowns, throwing for 63.5 percent and going without an interception. He didn’t rush for much and didn’t make a big fantasy impact. But he got his feet wet, which gives him a leg up heading into the new season. And there’s some opportunity for him with the Falcons.

Quietly, the Falcons have put together a strong set of skill position players. The team has Drake London, in his second year, at receiver and Kyle Pitts, heading into year three, at tight end. They added veteran Mack Hollins and Scotty Miller at receiver while drafting Bijan Robinson at running back. Last season, through his 13 games as a starter, Marcus Mariota was fantasy viable. He sat as QB12 through 13 weeks. Mariota did more of his damage as a runner, but with weapons in place, Ridder could have a solid fantasy impact, especially for those looking for a reliable option in Superflex leagues.

As a senior at Cincinnati in 2021, Ridder put up some impressive numbers. He completed nearly 65 percent of his passes, throwing for 3,334 yards and 30 touchdowns in 14 games. If you look at his collegiate stats, he also wasn’t afraid to use his legs. He rushed for 2,180 yards and 28 touchdowns in his four years. All those things bode well for a player heading into his second year with a full off-season as the starter.

The Case Against Desmond Ridder

College production is no guarantee of NFL success. Additionally, while Ridder had strong passing numbers in his final season, for the three years prior, he never threw for more than 2,445 yards and 20 touchdowns. In fact, those numbers came in his first season, with him posting lesser yardage and touchdown numbers in 2019 and 2020. He did have stronger rushing numbers those seasons, but the Falcons already have plenty going for them in the ground game with Robinson, Tyler Allgeier, and Cordarrelle Patterson on the roster.

Ridder slid to the Third Round. The 2022 quarterback class wasn’t particularly heralded, and Ridder’s performance in his four starts was sturdy but unimpressive. From Week 16 to Week 18, he was just QB22, averaging 10.3 points per game. That’s hardly robust. There is no guarantee he can replicate Mariota’s performance—or better it—in 2023.

The Bottom Line

So, what are we doing with Ridder? He’s currently going as QB31. That means most don’t have high hopes at this point. I think Ridder can be better than that. I like Atlanta’s core of players and Ridder’s potential. In his last year as Offensive Coordinator for the Titans in 2020, Falcons’ Head Coach Arthur Smith ran a solid offense with veteran Ryan Tannehill, who finished as QB7. That offense featured a couple of receivers and a bell cow workhorse back in Derrick Henry.

The Atlanta Falcons’ offense in 2023 has a similar composition. Ridder is going to have to grow into the job and take a step forward, but I think he could surprise many and provide a solid return on his current ADP. To me, he’s worth taking a shot at for the right price.

Matthew Fox is a die-hard NFL fan and Broncos’ homer. He’s a member of the FSWA. You can find more from him on Twitter @knighthawk7734 or as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast, a part of the Campus2Canton Network.

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