NFL Rumors: Why Falcons Passed on Malik Willis for Desmond Ridder During 2022 Draft

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured Columnist IVMay 9, 2022

CINCINNATI, OH - OCTOBER 08: Cincinnati Bearcats quarterback Desmond Ridder (9) runs off the field after the game against the Temple Owls and the Cincinnati Bearcats on October 8, 2021, at Nippert Stadium in Cincinnati, OH. (Photo by Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Liberty star Malik Willis "lacked the signature moments" in college in the eyes of the Atlanta Falcons, which led them to target Desmond Ridder instead, according to ESPN's Jeremy Fowler.

Fowler added that Atlanta thought the Cincinnati signal-caller "showcased a more complete body of work."

"Plus, Ridder's confidence and polish in the process helped," per the report. "Coaches who interviewed him noted that the QB outlined his plans to unseat a veteran wherever he landed."

After the Falcons traded Matt Ryan to the Indianapolis Colts, many expected them to target a quarterback in the 2022 draft despite them having signed Marcus Mariota. Ridder was the second QB off the board when Atlanta selected him 74th overall in the third round.

Willis' potential is obvious.

In two years at Liberty, he threw for 5,107 yards and 47 touchdowns and ran for 1,822 yards and 27 scores. He possesses the raw tools to thrive at the next level.

NFL Network @nflnetwork

Unbelievable throw. Great celebration. <a href="https://twitter.com/malikwillis?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@malikwillis</a> is doing it all. <br><br>📺: <a href="https://twitter.com/LibertyFootball?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@LibertyFootball</a> Pro Day on NFL Network <a href="https://t.co/9M30Nw39Te">pic.twitter.com/9M30Nw39Te</a>

Willis is widely viewed as a long-term project, though, and a riskier bet than others in the draft class.

Ridder, on the other hand, was a four-year starter at Cincinnati. He threw for 10,239 yards and 87 touchdowns and added 2,180 yards and 28 touchdowns on the ground.

The Falcons' assessment of the two ultimately aligned with that of Bleacher Report.

Ridder was the top quarterback and the 17th player overall on B/R's final big board, while Willis was the No. 2 QB but No. 48 overall. B/R NFL scout Nate Tice's NFL comparisons drew quite the contrast as well. Tice likened Ridder to two-time Pro Bowler Dak Prescott, with Willis put in the same breath as Tyrod Taylor.

In a down year for quarterbacks, one could argue the Falcons should've taken the biggest swing. The upside of Willis far outweighs the downside of a third-round pick yielding little long-term value.

With Ridder, however, Atlanta still found a prospect who can be a genuine successor to Ryan under center.