There has been no shortage of words written about the quarterback class of 2022. But where the past couple of drafts produced gushing over no-doubt No. 1 overall picks in Trevor Lawrence and Joe Burrow, this year has brought hand-wringing over the relative lack of talent at the position. In Mel Kiper's latest mock draft at ESPN, not a single signal-caller resides in the top 10 picks.
Now, when April 28 rolls around, that's not going to happen—there are at least three teams picking in the top 10 with a glaring need under center in the Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers and Seattle Seahawks. And while it's hardly unanimous who the cream of this year's crop is, the majority of draftniks appear to have settled on Liberty's Malik Willis as "the guy." There has been speculation that Willis could go as high as No. 2 overall to the Detroit Lions.
Willis has arm strength, athleticism and upside galore. With some time to adjust to the pro game, he could have a fine career. But five years from now, Willis won't be looked back on as the best quarterback of the class of 2022. Neither will Kenny Pickett of Pitt. Nor Matt Corral of Ole Miss. Nor Sam Howell of North Carolina.
The player who will wind up being the best signal-caller from the 2022 draft doesn't have the strongest arm of the group. Or the most elusiveness. What he does have is both of those qualities in more than ample measure. Plus leadership skills. And a history of winning.
That quarterback is Desmond Ridder of Cincinnati (B/R Scouting Report).
Ridder is coming off a dream season with the Bearcats, having led the team to a berth in the College Football Playoff. Playing with a top-10 wide receiver prospect in Alec Pierce, the 6'3⅜", 211-pound Ridder completed 64.9 percent of his passes for 3,334 yards with 30 touchdowns against just eight interceptions. He also did damage with his legs, picking up 355 more yards and six scores on the ground.
As Bleacher Report's Nate Tice wrote, Ridder showed excellent ability to both operate from the pocket and use his 4.49-second 40-yard-dash speed to extend plays when things go awry.
"Overall, Ridder is a competitive player who showed a leap in improvement throughout the 2021 season. He's athletic but doesn't just rely on his legs to make plays happen and constantly showed an advanced understanding of Cincinnati's offense with his pre- and post-snap operation. His ability to operate from the pocket with his polished movement and balance, while still maintaining the athleticism to create plays when things break down, is a fun package. Ridder is able to operate on time and has the arm strength to drive throws and balls to the field, which allows him to attack all areas of the defense."
Tice isn't the only scout impressed with Ridder's arm talent. Oliver Hodgkinson of Pro Football Network recognized his penchant for making the big play while also possessing the arm strength to throw into traffic:
"Ridder continued to demonstrate excellent arm strength this season. He drops bombs downfield with unerring regularity, making at least one play each game that takes your breath away. In addition to his ability to push the ball downfield, Ridder can generate tremendous velocity on short throws while zipping the ball from far hash to the sideline. This velocity also allows him to fit passes into tight windows."
There's also the matter of Ridder's game experience in Cincinnati's pro-style offense. Ridder was a four-year starter for the Bearcats, starting 48 games in a system that is more similar to NFL schemes than many collegiate offenses. Per Tyler Wise of Steelers Depot, during an impressive showing at Senior Bowl practice, Ridder said be believes that experience can only help his transition to the NFL:
"Our offense was more of a spread offense. Early on in my career, it was a run-heavy offense using the run game to set up the pass game. And then, later on, it got more spread out, like I said, where it might have been a pure progression or it could have been man/zone read, so you know, it was kind of all over the place. There are a lot of similar concepts. We have a lot out here [at the Senior Bowl] that I had back in college and you know, it's made it easy for the transition. I had great coaches that helped me along the way to obviously learn and master offensive at Cincinnati, and it's just made it easy for me."
Ridder also isn't short on confidence. Per ESPN's Jeremy Fowler, he has already set his sights on dethroning the starting quarterback for whatever team drafts him and earning playing time as a rookie.
"I talked to a team who interviewed Ridder, who said that he had a plan outlined for how he was going to beat out a veteran in a training-camp setting and become a starter in this league Year 1," Fowler reported.
Ridder went one further when asked by Chris Rosvoglou of The Spun why he should be the first quarterback drafted in 2022.
"I would say because [I'm] a winner, [I'm] tough, [I'm] a great leader, and [I make] plays when plays aren't there to be made. That's why teams should choose me as the No. 1 quarterback. I'm going to help an organization win a Super Bowl."
At this point, it's cold-water time. The reality is that Ridder all but certainly isn't going to be the first quarterback whose name is called on April 28. Nor the second. He probably won't be the third. And for all the things Ridder does well, his game isn't flawless.
Ridder's accuracy can be prone to fits of inconsistency. He'll connect on a beautifully thrown 30-yard post route and then miss on a 10-yard out. He also needs to improve his anticipation—to get better at seeing where the window will be and throwing his receivers open.
But those are areas in which Ridder can improve with additional coaching and experience. And in some respects, not being drafted earlier in Round 1 could be a blessing in disguise. Were Ridder to land with a team like the New Orleans Saints (Nos. 16 and 19) or the Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 20), he'd benefit from both a solid supporting cast and the potential for a "redshirt" year. Heading to Detroit at the end of the first or early in the second would at least offer the latter. And if the Seattle Seahawks were to select Ridder In Round 2, he'd get his wish to compete to start in short order and a pair of dangerous wide receivers in Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf.
Again, no one is arguing that Ridder has the biggest arm of the 2022 class. Or that he's the most dangerous scrambler. But while Ridder may not be the best at any one thing, he's really good at them all.
Size? Check, although he could stand to add a little weight.
Arm strength? Ridder has plenty.
Accuracy? It's there, and with improved consistency, it could be a real strength of Ridder's game.
Athleticism and escapability? You bet.
Experience? More than any other signal-caller in the draft.
Confidence and leadership ability? In spades.
Ridder might not have the sky-high ceiling Willis does, but he is infinitely more NFL-ready, has an exponentially higher floor and is a more complete package as a player. Getting compared to Dak Prescott of the Dallas Cowboys (as Ridder was by Tice) isn't the worst thing to be said about a prospect.
Bleacher Report's NFL draft scouts have pored over countless hours of video of all this year's top collegiate prospects. They have watched Willis. And Pickett. And Howell. And Corral. And Ridder.
After doing all that research, they ranked Ridder as the No. 1 quarterback in the class—a full 31 spots ahead of Willis (the No. 2 QB) on their big board.
It's not an opinion held by the majority of the draft community.
But it's shared by this writer.
And with the benefit of a few years' hindsight, it's one that will prove to have been spot-on.