Atlanta Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder enters the 2023 season as the starting quarterback, a year removed from being a third-round pick who started just four games to close the season.
"This time last year, my head was spinning," Ridder said on Wednesday. "Obviously having a year under my belt and a whole offseason, it's become a lot more comfortable. Now we're just trying to work the intricate details of it, just working the ins and outs, and knowing the exact whys of why everything is going on."
Ridder sits as the biggest wild card in a wide-open NFC South. If the second-year quarterback makes a leap, buoyed by a run-heavy offense and an -- on paper -- improved defense, the Falcons could leapfrog to the top of the division. If he struggles, Atlanta will be left looking up at its rivals once again.
Part of what has drawn the Falcons to Ridder -- and left the coaching staff confident enough not to bring in true competition this offseason -- is his natural-born leadership.
"I'm just doing what comes natural to me. Nothing's forced," Ridder said. "However it comes out for me... Sometimes it's loud, sometimes it's not. Sometimes it's just real quiet off to the side. Sometimes you'll see me out there talking to the defense, talking to whoever. That's just who I am."
The Falcons spent the offseason upgrading the defense, adding Jessie Bates, David Onyemata, Bud Dupree, Kaden Elliss and others. On offense, they extended linemen Kaleb McGary and Chris Lindstrom, then drafted first-round running back Bijan Robinson and guard Matthew Bergeron in the second round.
Perhaps the biggest coups came in convincing veteran Calais Campbell to join the club. If the team can persuade a six-time Pro Bowler desperately searching for a Super Bowl ring that Atlanta is the place to pursue that elusive goal, they may be onto something.
To reach that height, Ridder will have to be more than offseason hype and visceral projection. He'll need to be the real deal for the entire season.