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Desmond Ridder interview: Idolising Ray Lewis, breaking grandma's windows, a media-savvy daughter and what makes him QB1 at the 2022 NFL Draft
Meet potential first-round quarterback Desmond Ridder, who speaks exclusively to Sky Sports' Cameron Hogwood about his route to the NFL ahead of the 2022 Draft. Watch all three days of the NFL Draft live on Sky Sports NFL, starting on Thursday night.
Last Updated: 27/04/22 3:09pm
Desmond Ridder once envisioned a career of cracking quarterbacks with soul-snatching hits, unveiling his best Ray Lewis impression along with the signature dance to complete the ensemble.
The Desmond Ridder of today prides himself on shirking and swerving the punishment he once sought to dish out as one of the leading play-callers at the 2022 NFL Draft. THE leading play-caller, if you were to ask him.
"It was hit like Ray (Lewis) and throw like Peyton (Manning)," he tells Sky Sports in an exclusive interview.
"I just remember back when I was 11 they switched me to quarterback, but before that I was playing linebacker and I was a hitter, I was one to lay the boom on people, I was always bigger, I was always faster, always stronger, a lot of kids were scared of me so I always remember the big hits in grade school football that I used to lay on kids but can't do so much today."
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He smiles at the thought of how his Cincinnati coaches might have reacted to the sight of him lining up a Ray Lewis barnstormer, admitting he had "probably done something wrong" were he tackling like Ray Lewis in college.
It maybe explains the elusiveness as a ball-carrier, the off-platform proficiency on the run, the freelancing mobility, the outer-pocket slickness; for Ridder not only draws on the shutdown speed and lateral agility of a linebacker, but appreciates the no-punches-pulled occupational hazard they pose to people like him.
"I definitely think my time as a linebacker kind of helped, in terms of running angles," he said. "I have deceptive speed, I have long strides, people don't think I run that fast but then I'm running fast and it kind of makes defenders take a weird angle on me and I usually blow right by them. When I get out there and scramble outside the pocket, I'm athletic so I'm trying to make a play but I'm also trying to make a smart play, not put the ball in any harm."
Before then, Ridder was a kicker. Sort of. Not really.
His earliest memory of football is duck-taping bed mats onto the cherry glass windows of the wooden back doors in his grandma's house in order to protect the integrity of them as he pretended to kick off or take a field goal from his living room.
"Grandma made me put them up because I broke a couple of windows that she had to replace with flexi glass so that's why the cots had to go up," he explains, before joking that an NFL paycheck would allow him to reimburse her.
It was growing up in grandma's house where football first presented itself, Ridder recalling how his uncle's shoulder pads always lying around had initially piqued his interest.
Desmond Ridder career highlights
- 2x AAC Offensive Player of the Year (2020, 2021)
- AAC Rookie of the Year (2018)
- 2x First-team All-AAC (2020, 2021)
- Birmingham Bowl MVP (2020)
Grandma's house was where football began, but it was also where Ridder was moulded as a leader and a man as he matured in unison with his mother, who had given birth to him at the young age of 15.
"I've seen her good times and seen her bad times, she's seen mine," he says. "Throughout those times we truly grew together, grew as a mother-son combo and as friends really.
"Now obviously myself being a parent I take after some of the lessons she taught me when I was younger and I'm fortunate enough to have my step-dad in my life and I have a little sister who is 15, when I was eight or nine I was taking care of her as well.
"That kind of helped me prepare for Leighton (his daughter) right now. I love my mother, she's my rock and she's really there for me through good times and bad and whenever I need her."
Desmond Ridder NFL Scouting Combine results
His daughter Leighton. A superstar in her own right, who captured hearts and upstaged her dad by playing with the press microphones during a media session after his pro day, and whose crying he can be heard at the beginning of our interview while partner Claire tries to get her down for an afternoon nap.
"She kind of attracts herself to the camera, if she heard me out here on a zoom call she would want to be right here in front of the camera," Ridder laughs. "Any time we're FaceTiming someone she's got to be in front of the phone talking to them, it's pretty funny seeing her attracted to the cameras."
Ridder admits he is fortunate to be a "heavy sleeper", meaning it is often Claire that is first to wake at the sound of Leighton stirring in the night. Smart cover story.
From putting up her little water play-set in the garden to carrying her out onto the field at Cincinnati, it is a scenario he had always imagined in some ways.
"It's very special for me, more so for me than her obviously at this stage," he says. "She's not going to remember these moments in 15/20 years but I will and my girlfriend will and we'll have the memories and the photos to show her one day.
"This is something I dreamed of since I was younger, having a child at a younger age and in a couple of years when she can walk and run, for her to be out on the field pre-game and post-game is something I've envisioned in my life."
He believes the challenges he witnessed his mother overcome as a young parent have helped to shape him as the young parent he is today.
When Leighton is old enough to understand, the third most successful quarterback in college football history hopes to tell her the story of how he would go on to galvanise an NFL franchise and its entire fanbase.
"Any NFL organisation that gets me is going to get a leader, a person that is going to be able to bring an organisation, a city, a community together to be able to achieve a common goal which is obviously a Super Bowl," he explains.
"I feel I'm able to lead by being adaptable and by action with what I do both on and off the field. They're also getting an athlete, a competitor, a winner, a person that is going to leave it all out on the line to be able to go and win for a team.
"An athlete that can make plays, extend plays with his legs and be able to make explosive plays both inside and outside the pocket."
In a polarising quarterback class, Ridders puts himself top of the list.
"I see myself as the No 1 quarterback in this class. I think if you're coming in this process and talked about as one of the top guys I don't see why you wouldn't see yourself as the top quarterback. I know I am, I'm a winner, I'm a person that goes and gets it, I'm a champion, I'll get the job down, I can make plays when plays are needed to be made. I think what sets myself apart is my leadership and my ability to bring a team and men together to go win a Championship."
Desmond Ridder on why he is QB1 at the NFL Draft
Desmond Ridder measurements
A starring factor to the overall sell with Ridder is the leadership and personable demeanour displayed and developed across his career as a four-year starter in Cincinnati.
As much has been vindicated by rave reviews of his official team interviews throughout the pre-Draft process, at the end of which he finds himself as a serious first-round contender and arguably the most ready-now quarterback on the board.
One theme to character-testing interrogations has been his approach to disgruntled superstars.
"They'll have a question like 'we have these star players, we've got Alvin Kamara, Stefon Diggs, what are you going to do when you're not throwing them the ball and they come over and yell at you?'.
"I talk about my leadership, we're going to have already built a relationship before that point. If it's going to come to that point I'm going to be able to respond to them in a nature such as 'I'm going to get you the ball, I'm not purposely not throwing the ball to you, but I'm going to go through my reads, obviously you're one of our big playmakers so you need to get the ball and I'm going to find a way to do that'."
And as far as getting the ball to his primary weapons is concerned, Ridder considers himself pretty handy at that, too.
Desmond Ridder college passing stats
The Ridder process
During his 2021 season at Cincinnati Ridder lead an aggressive Bearcats offense that would mix between the kind of 2x2 empty formations, 3x1 iso concepts or athleticism-reliant read-option plays that demanded a swift and composed progression of reads in the face of linebacker spies and the pre and post-snap motion defenses would employ to alter his field diagnosis.
Ridder notes that it was in his second and third year when his ability to decipher schemes and glide through reads with conviction really began to emerge as one of his most prominent strengths, to the point where he describes the difference as 'night and day' between now and his arrival at college.
He goes on to break down his step-by-step process, from pre-snap alignment to taking the snap to dropping back and re-reading what lies ahead of him.
"It can be whatever formation, for Cincinnati we would get the signals from the sideline, I would go up and give to the o-line, whether that be a pass protection or a run play," he explained. "If it's a pass play I'll give them that, walk back about five yards behind the center and then I'll ID the front, whether it's even, whether it's odd, whether it's a bear front, whether it's an overload.
"Then I'm going to go check the safety and see whether it's middle-field open or middle-field closed, then check the leverage of the corners and the nickels to see where they're playing at, whether it's 2x2 or if it's one-high, whether it looks like man, or if the corner's eyes are inside to where it's telling you it's zone, or are they locked on the receiver to tell you it's man?
"That's my kind of pre-snap routine and then I get the ball snapped, get going and make my post-snap read. Usually you game plan throughout the week and each defense will have one defender that's going to tell you the picture, so really honing in on those Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays of film studying, game prep to figure out who that guy is."
Desmond Ridder college rushing stats
The read-option became a trusted wrinkle for Cincinnati's offense such was Ridder's expertise as a ball-carrier, which amounted to 2,180 yards and 28 career touchdowns on the ground.
At the heart of that was not only speed and agility, but countless hours of ensuring keepers and hand-offs share identical appearances while crafting the clinical decision-making required for Ridder to identify the right moment in which to punch the lane or escape the pocket himself.
"It doesn't even have to be just with zone read plays, but as far as our play-action pass and inside zone, all those footworks have to look the exact same so the defense doesn't know whether it's a pass or a run, whether I'm keeping it or handing it off," he continues.
"We work endlessly, thousands and thousands of reps in the offseason through camp just the base inside zone track footwork for a quarterback and running back so it all looks the same. Then when it comes to game time, things are that much quicker and it all happens right there in your face so just being able to break down and see what the defense is doing post-snap."
Perhaps lost on some amid recognition of Ridder's rushing talents, though, has been the exceptional pocket poise, beautiful mechanics, solid ball placement and refined rhythm passing of a player that can hurt you with his arm.
"I would say the biggest misconception is I can't just stand in the pocket and deliver a ball," he said. "That's when I tell them to turn on the film this past season.
"I feel like over the course of my four or five years at college this past season was the main season where I stood in the pocket and made plays and delivered balls down field instead of escaping the pocket and extending plays and just using my legs.
"That would be a misconception I have. I like to say that one, you can turn on the film and two, I'm always continuing to work on in-pocket movement, being stable and balanced and delivering a ball."
Ridder enters the NFL on the back of leading Cincinnati to the best season in the programme's history as they became the first team to reach the College Football Playoff from a non-Power Five conference after going 13-0 before their eventual defeat to Alabama.
He recalls head coach Luke Fickell telling the team upon Ridder's arrival in 2017 to 'leave a place better than what you found it'.
It stuck with him. And will continue to stick with him as he looks to carry his success over to the NFL.
Watch all three days of the 2022 NFL Draft unfold on Sky Sports NFL, April 28-30, starting with live build-up to day one from 9pm on Thursday, April 28, with the first picks expected to be made just after 1am.