FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- He had four starts, and the question remains: Is that enough of a sample to evaluate the potential future of quarterback Desmond Ridder?
Yes, there were weeks upon weeks of practice to look at, too. There was development unseen by anyone except those who watched practice, but still, is that enough? In what Ridder did in those four games for the Atlanta Falcons, was there any type of full answer to whether he can be the starting quarterback in 2023 and beyond for the Falcons, or someone who ends up as a stopgap?
The answer might not yet be known, but by the end of April there will be a much clearer understanding of how the Falcons view Ridder based on other moves they make.
So far? He’s done enough to at least remain prominently in the conversation.
“We are certainly encouraged by the progress that he’s made,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said. “But there is a lot of work ahead of us before we are ready to declare anything like that right now.”
The good? Ridder improved in every game he played -- the Falcons were 2-2 with him as a starter, winning home games against Arizona and Tampa Bay and losing on the road to New Orleans and Baltimore.
The Saints, Buccaneers and Ravens were all in the top half of the league in defensive efficiency, in the top 13 in points allowed per game and the top 10 in total defense. The Saints and Bucs were also top 10 pass defenses.
In his four games as the starter, the Falcons had only two penalties that could be considered operational or procedural -- a false start against the Saints and an illegal shift against Baltimore. From an operational perspective, Ridder was basically clean.
From Weeks 15-18, which is when he started, Ridder was No. 14 in QBR (49.7). He didn’t throw an interception -- only Ridder and Jared Goff were without an interception in that span. His 63.5% completion rate was right at the league average.
His connection with rookie receiver Drake London was notable. London caught 25 of his 72 passes for 333 of his 866 yards in the final four games and was targeted 36.7% of the time with Ridder in the game compared to 28.9% when he wasn’t. He caught 69.4% of his targets when Ridder threw to him compared to 58% when Marcus Mariota was quarterbacking Atlanta.
Smith mentioned how Ridder played in pressure situations as a positive, too. His numbers back that up, as he completed 68.6% of his passes on third and fourth down along with both of his touchdown passes.
Ridder faced 57.8% zone and 41.5% man defense and saw disguised coverage 16.4% of the time. Against zone, Ridder complete 62.3% of his passes, No. 24 in the league. Against man, Ridder completed 64.5%, No. 8 in the NFL. Both of Ridder’s touchdowns were against man defense.
It echoes what Ridder felt he learned as a starter, where figuring out how to remain calm was part of the growth.
“Just be patient. Take what’s there,” Ridder said. “Don’t try to do too much. Don’t try to force anything. You’re going to have guys open. You’re going to see guys. Just make it there.”
There was nothing objectively bad about what he showed in his four starts, so even that’s a positive. While he didn’t throw any interceptions, Ridder did have one potential pick dropped. The Falcons, at least in Ridder’s first two games, started slowly. Ridder threw for 708 yards, No. 17 in the league, and his 6.16 yards per attempt were No. 22 in the NFL. He took nine sacks, tied with Andy Dalton at No. 23 in the league.
He was off-target on 20% of this throws, No. 24 behind Mac Jones and ahead of Allen. Of quarterbacks who started all four games to end the season, Ridder was off-target more than any thrower in the league (Allen, Jalen Hurts and Derek Carr, who he was ahead of, either played two or three games in that span).
Were Ridder’s performances enough for the Falcons to trust him in the future? We don’t know. And some of it may also come down to who else is available. Is there a quarterback Smith and offensive coordinator Dave Ragone fall in love with during the draft? Does a free agent intrigue them enough to make a move? Would Atlanta be willing to get into the Lamar Jackson conversation if Baltimore were to franchise tag him and then make him available for trade?
These are all unknowns as of now, but answers will start to shake out which will tell us whether the four games they saw was actually enough to make a concrete decision.
“I don’t know if there’s a perfect science to, ‘Hey, he played this many snaps. He’s played this many games. Oh, I’ve got the evaluation,’" Ragone said. “I think guys grow at different rates. I’ve been around young quarterbacks that it clicked right away. I’ve been around young quarterbacks that it’s clicked later, and I’ve been around young quarterbacks that never clicked at all, but you keep waiting because you’re like, ‘Hey, there’s this amount of games.’
“Just no different than when you’re evaluating a quarterback coming out of college.”
A year ago, that was Ridder -- a quarterback Atlanta did a lot of research into and liked out of Cincinnati. Much of what he did with the Bearcats translated to his four-game debut in the league.
Was it enough? Even Ridder might not know.
"You know, that's not my call, and I'm going to go out there and play my game and do what I do,” Ridder said. “At the end of the day, I don't care about stats and what it looks like, but at the end of the day I want to win. That's who I am as a person.
“I want to be a winner. I want to be a competitor, but like I said, it's not my call. I just want to win.”
Information from ESPN Stats & Information was used in this post. Follow Stats & Info on Twitter @ESPNStatsInfo.