Surprise (n.) - “an unexpected or astonishing event, fact, or thing” — Google’s dictionary.
Will it be astonishing?
Folks, it just might be.
The draft process can involve a lot of smoke and mirrors. NFL GMs don metaphorical capes and top hats, like Harry Houdini or Hugh Jackman from the Christopher Nolan magician movie I still don’t fully understand (it’s not THAT obvious, Michael Caine voiceover), and try and distract you with a red herring before pulling off that grand trick in the form of a pick.
In years past, Thomas Dimitroff and Dan Quinn have let their cards show. Tracking the visits and workouts cycle could pinpoint right what the team was thinking, and like half-reading the Playbill plot before seeing a musical, you could kind of tell where the show was going. Let’s call this phase, “The Pledge.” They show us something, and we take it for what it is. Then, rumors begin to come out about where the Falcons might be. Last year, Charles Harris. This year? Da’Ron Payne. “The Turn.” The grand distraction that we think might lead us to the end of this magic spectrum.
But, we don’t really want to know who the pick is? Do we? We want to be surprised, right?
The first round pick could surprise you, but at least you knew that the team had general interest beforehand. It wasn’t that shocking to see Keanu Neal taken in 2016, even if it defied all of our expectations. “The Prestige” part of the trick never hits quite as hard as you remember it did.
This year’s Falcons first round pick? Abrakadabra alakazam. From under the magician’s cloth comes not a dove, but a new wide receiver.
The room goes silent. The crowd’s jaws drop to the floor.
Now, that’s how you do a magic trick.
After months of expecting Atlanta to take a defensive tackle, they went and added a guy who some think is the draft’s best receiver to a roster that boasts someone named Julio Jones. It was the shock that only Mel Kiper had dots connected to earlier in the process (we’re sorry for doubting you, Mel), and some folks even made crazy statements about doing ludicrous things if the Falcons selected Ridley with the pick.
If the Falcons draft Calvin Ridley first I will shave my head and sing show tunes to strangers on the street.— Cory Woodroof (@CoryWoodroof47) April 19, 2018
Abe Simpson goes in and out of the door while whistling.gif
Getting past the “woah” and getting down to the “why” is crucial in a moment like this. It’s easy to mourn the Falcons not taking a guy like Taven Bryan, who wound up going down to Jacksonville a few picks later, or a Maurice Hurst...who, hypothetically, *could* be at the team’s next pick, but has health flags, and also has the stirring potential to be long gone by the time the team picks again. Harold Landry also looked mightily enticing. Or, heck, even a new cornerback or a tight end.
But, a receiver? Why?
I’ll tell you why.
Julio Jones...Mohamed Sanu...CALVIN RIDLEY.
Let me try that again, just so you’ll understand the “BLGHFRFBLRGH” of this.
Julio Jones...Mohamed Sanu...CALVIN RIDLEY.
BLGHFRFBLRGH (n). the noise someone makes when they go “BLGHFRFBLRGH” at the sight of their new receiving trio.
Calvin Ridley is a dad gum stud, and could’ve been groomed to be some team’s future de-facto starter at the position. In Atlanta, he will play behind a future Hall of Famer and one of the league’s better WR2s. Do you remember that silly giggle you did when teams had to figure out who to guard in 2012? In-his-prime Roddy White or a young Julio Jones?
Well, now, amplify that giggle to the highest giggle-decibal, because, now, it’s in-his-prime Julio, in-his-prime Sanu and young Ridley. That’s who opposing cornerbacks have to take on.
One thing I thought leading up to the draft is that, if the team doesn’t end up doing what we all had assumed they’d do and take the best defensive tackle available, they’d have the potential to make a group on their roster elite. The secondary was the first thought, but foolishly, I didn’t really consider the wide receiver position.
Losing Taylor Gabriel burned, but in 2017, he did only look like what we expected he would be when he got here, though you kind of can’t blame him for all of that. Part of it was the playcalling. But, I guess Tubro was, ultimately, Shanny’s guy who only Shanny could get the most out of. You figure the team would just take a mid-round guy, or maybe someone in the second. Heck, if they’d stood pat with what they had, it’s not like all of us would’ve been that worried.
But, then, Calvin.
Getting Ridley, who OC Steve Sarkisian knows from both their times at Bama, and pairing him with an already-dangerous duo of receivers, is the move Atlanta needed to make to make people scared of its offense again. After going back and forth in the immediate moments, it’s now clear: this was the best path forward for the franchise with the pick.
No, not replacing Dontari Poe or Adrian Clayborn. No, not trying to recreate the Legion of Boom. No, not going for the guard of the future.
Getting this offense back to “sweat beads on your forehead” status with its personnel.
Make no mistake -- Jones, Sanu, Ridley, Freeman, Coleman, Hardy and Hooper is the best overall group of pass-catchers that Ryan has had in his career. He is a better quarterback when he’s either flushed with weapons or flushed with smart playcalling. The two seasons that got him closest to a ring — 2012 and 2016 — had one or the other.
In 2012? You picked your poison. In 2016? Outsmart the Shanny.
Sarkisian is not Kyle Shanahan, but he could be Dirk Koetter. With the team’s defense already on the up-and-up, the Falcons decided to give the offense a jolt of adrenaline in the tailfeather. Adding Ridley to this offense isn’t just scary; it might be a lifesaver.
As Carter wrote, Sark has little to no room for error in this stage of the team’s offense. It’s as complete as it was when Shanny was in town, if not more talented. But, really, what moron couldn’t figure out how to score points with Julio, Sanu, Ridley, Freeman, Coleman, Hardy and Hooper in tow, and a solid offensive line blocking the way. Not to mention, Sark still fielded a team, without DVOA applied, that was top ten in overall yardage in the league.
The only problem for that team was scoring...which is a problem! Well, adding Alabama’s second-leading touchdown scorer for all wide receivers in team history should help.
Sark was never as good as we all hoped he’d be, but he was never as bad as a lot of the detractors rallied against, either. There’s a “decent” medium he operated in last season, despite that horrid October stretch. He can win with the personnel he has alone. If he becomes a smarter, more creative coach in the process, all the better!
But, back to Ridley. His addition makes the Sark conversation much easier to have. He might not be who you wanted, but he might be who you need to get this offense back to elite status. Sure, the former Tide man isn’t a finished product, but he doesn’t have to be. It’s greedy to add him next to Julio and Sanu. But, it’s also brilliant.
No matter how Atlanta actually wanted this draft to go, they would up making the move that might set them apart and get their offense back on track in a big way.
This might be the team’s new draft masterstroke.
At the very least, it makes for a heck of a magic trick.