With picks No. 16 and No. 19 in the 2022 NFL Draft, the New Orleans Saints can handpick their quarterback of the future, the one destined to usurp Jameis Winston as early as this season.
Kenny Pickett and Malik Willis have been the most talked-about players heading into April, widely considered the top two quarterback prospects this year. Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder, however, is a fast-rising name who has gained national recognition for his all-around complete quarterback play.
Listed by The Draft Network as a developmental starter, Ridder doesn’t ooze “franchise savior” potential like 2021’s prospects Trevor Lawrence or Zach Wilson, but then again, neither does Pickett or Willis. Rather, Ridder may fit best in a team with a sound infrastructure (like the Saints), as he “checks the boxes in terms of size, arm talent, mobility, and experience.”
This thus raises the question: if picked, could Ridder unseat Jameis Winston in 2022, perhaps in the same way Russell Wilson once knocked off Matt Flynn?
In the wake of the Deshaun Watson debacle, the Saints re-signed Winston to a two-year, $28 million dollar contract that in theory makes him the starter until 2024. Gone are the likes of Taysom Hill, Blake Bortles, and Ian Book — this is Winston’s year.
In this predicted quarterback battle between a rookie and a veteran, though, many factors come into play. As the more established heavyweight, Winston will likely assume QB1 duties…up until he starts to disappoint.
New Orleans Saints could pick Jameis Winston’s soon-to-be heir in Desmond Ridder
As much as it truly is Winston’s time to shine, NOLA’s recent draft picks trade may reveal the slightest inkling of doubt the franchise has about Winston serving as QB1. With two first-round picks instead of one, the team seems poised to select a wide receiver, offensive tackle, or quarterback early. They could use the 16th pick on someone like Chris Olave, and if the pieces fall into place, they could use the 19th pick on Ridder.
At least one NFL analyst believes Ridder carries the upside to turn into a viable starter, even an “Alex Smith” type of player:
NFL’s Dan Orlovsky recently broke down Ridder’s tape from Cincinnati’s win over Indiana:
"“[Ridder’s] got the best quarterbacking tape. That doesn’t mean I think he’s the best or most impressive, that means that he’s got the best pre-snap and post-snap operation. Getting to the line of scrimmage, understanding what the defense is doing. Maybe it’s getting in and out of run checks—maybe it’s changing to protection. You gotta communicate all that to your football team.”"
Orlovsky does a great job describing Ridder’s grasp of the fundamentals and his precocious football IQ that makes him a top-five quarterback this draft year. While Ridder could adapt well to the Panthers, Falcons, or Steelers, all QB-needy teams in 2022, he can achieve just as much success on the Saints, who boast a strong run game and are looking to rebuild their passing attack in the post-Brees era.
New Orleans picks one spot before Pittsburgh, so if Pickett and Willis are taken off the board by then, the Saints have to seriously consider going after Winston’s potential replacement in Ridder. In truth, Ridder may end up developing into just a slightly more playable Ian Book, but the harder truth to swallow is that Winston is not a long-term option for the franchise. The team needs to expect the worst from Mr. 30-30 in his first year back from injury, and Ridder has the mechanics (not to mention dual-threat ability) to take the reins mid-season if need be.
Besides, we can think of worse options.
Albeit in a draft class lacking of bonafide QB starters, Ridder exemplifies a reachable backup and promising heir to Winston in 2022, and the Saints would be foolish not to give him a go.
New Orleans clearly didn’t succeed with Ian Book, but the team has to try, try again.