The NFL Draft is always full of surprises, and this year was no different. Throughout the offseason leading up to the draft, Calvin Ridley was considered the best wide receiver in this year’s class. But to everyone’s surprise, he was not the first receiver to come off the board, as the Carolina Panthers gave DJ Moore that honor with the 24th overall pick. Just two picks later, the Falcons quickly snagged Ridley with the 26th pick in the draft.
Ridley played his college football at the University of Alabama, the same place his new teammate Julio Jones made a name for himself. Now, the two receivers will play alongside one another, as the two main targets for quarterback Matt Ryan. Ridley will get a great chance to hit his stride right off the bat.
The Falcons implemented a new offense last season, and that led to a relatively sluggish campaign for Ryan and the entire offense. Steve Sarkisian can mold it to get the best out of his players. Unlike former OC Kyle Shanahan’s offensive scheme, which tends to force feed the X receiver (Julio Jones) relentlessly, Sarkisian’s offense spreads the ball around, and in order to succeed the entire offense needs to get their timing and rhythm down.
That explains the drop off in Ryan’s stats from 4,944 passing yards and 38 touchdowns in 2016, down to 4,095 yards and just 20 touchdowns a season ago. With another year to get acclimated to the new scheme, as well as a full offseason of working on their routes and timing, this offense should get back to playing their best, as they did in the 2016 season, during which they made it all the way to the Super Bowl.
Ryan was clearly in need of another playmaking receiver. Someone who can step in and win in single man coverage or beat the zone. It’s no secret that Julio Jones commands the most attention from opposing defenses that match up against the Falcons. Last season, that left Mohamed Sanu in those positive situations. Sanu was just fine in his role, but he is no star talent. He simply isn’t the type of player to make defenses pay the price for leaving a single defender on him. The evidence was in the numbers – just 653 receiving yards and a disappointing four touchdowns.
Enter Calvin Ridley, who has the talent and all the makings of a superstar. Ridley posses incredible quickness and a first-step that will be tough for any corner to keep up with. If the Falcons decide to run Ridley from the slot in 3-wide sets, it would technically put the third best cornerback on him, or even a safety or linebacker depending on the particular defensive package. Advantage – Ridley.
The Falcons also let speed receiver Taylor Gabriel walk out of town during the offseason. Gabriel is fast and quick, but he seems to be just a one-trick pony at this point in his career. He was unable to develop his route tree enough to become a consistent weapon for Matt Ryan. Gabriel’s 51 targets are now up for grabs, and Ridley should soak up almost all of them.
With the ample opportunity to succeed, Ridley is set up beautifully for his rookie season. If Matt Ryan is able to get back near the 5,000 yards mark, Ridley will almost surely be a big reason for that. In such a scenario, Ridley should easily eclipse 1,000 yards receiving on the year, and will be the top rookie wide receiver in the NFL in 2018.