FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — On a night when the Atlanta Falcons focused on their defense, adding two edge rushers, the new name in the quarterback room stole the show.
Ending the NFL draft's long drought at the position, the Falcons picked University of Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder in the third round Friday night.
He likely will play behind Marcus Mariota this season while receiving an opportunity to prove he can be the future starter. Ridder was only the second quarterback taken in this draft, following the University of Pittsburgh's Kenny Pickett, who was selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first round Thursday.
Ridder agonized over the long wait and said that at one point he sent a text to Liberty quarterback Malik Willis that read: "What's going on? Man, they don't like us or what?"
The long wait paid off. Ridder said he saw the Falcons as "a perfect fit" and is especially excited to work with Mariota, a player he said he compares himself to.
"Him being my comp, I didn't want to put words in anyone's mouth, but I was like, man, if they're going to get him, why not get a younger guy just like him?" Ridder said. "That's obviously myself. So when they picked him up, that got me really excited for Atlanta."
Atlanta traded 14-year starting quarterback Matt Ryan to the Indianapolis Colts in March before signing Mariota to a two-year deal.
"Marcus being a veteran gives us a chance going forward," Falcons coach Arthur Smith said. "But as always at any position, the best player will play."
Ridder (6-foot-3, 211 pounds) was a four-year starter at Cincinnati and led the Bearcats to last season's College Football Playoff. He threw for 30 touchdown passes as a senior and set a school record with 87 in his career.
"We like his skill set," Smith said. "We like his leadership qualities, too."
Atlanta traded up in the second round to address one of the roster's biggest needs by selecting Penn State edge rusher Arnold Ebiketie. The Falcons added another edge rusher, Western Kentucky's DeAngelo Malone, with their second of two third-round picks.
The Falcons finished last in the NFL with 18 sacks in 2021 — 11 fewer than any other team.
Atlanta acquired the No. 38 overall pick used for Ebiketie from the New York Giants, who obtained the No. 43 selection in the second round and a fourth-round pick, No. 114 overall. After trading away their fourth-round pick, the Falcons will have three selections Saturday, including two in the sixth round.
Ebiketie (6-2, 250) was regarded as one of the top pass rushers in the draft, and the Cameroon native had a combined 15 1/2 sacks in his career with Temple and Penn State, including 9.5 with the Nittany Lions in 2021. Malone (6-3, 243) had nine sacks in 2021 and 34 for his career.
Later in the second round, Atlanta added more defensive help by selecting Montana State linebacker Troy Andersen, a converted quarterback. Andersen (6-3, 243) had 147 tackles, including 14 for loss, with two sacks and two interceptions in 2021.
With a nod to his pass-rush skills, Ebiketie has assigned himself the title of "Dr." on his Twitter account.
"Actually I gave myself the nickname," Ebiketie said. "A lot of people ask me why I call myself a doctor. I call myself the doctor of the pass rush, and I'm going to stick with it for a while."
A night earlier, the Falcons had selected Southern California wide receiver Drake London with the No. 8 overall pick. London (6-4, 219 ) said he uses his size, strength and background in basketball to overcome his lack of breakaway speed.
London didn't run in his workout for NFL scouts leading up to the draft because he was still recovering from a fractured right ankle which ended his 2021 season after eight games. He said his top time in the 40-yard dash is 4.5 seconds.
In his visit to the Falcons' facility on Friday, London posed with his new No. 5 jersey and was asked about his perceived lack of separation speed.
"At the end of the day, you could say I'm covered," London said, using his fingers for air quotes. "That's really not the case. I'll go over the top of somebody, and at the same time if you go watch tape, I've definitely blown by a couple people. That's all I've got to say about that."
London joins Atlanta's 2021 first-round pick, tight end Kyle Pitts, as foundation players for an offense entering a new era after the trade of Ryan last month.
"I think it's going to be fun," London said, "and I think it's going to be something special."