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Atlanta considered moving up in draft for WR Calvin Ridley

Ridley might’ve been the team’s top guy all along.

NFL: Combine Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

With the 2018 NFL Draft come and gone, the Falcons have a new first-round selection in tow: Alabama WR Calvin Ridley.

It was the pick heard ‘round the Branch, with the team opting to leave Florida DT Taven Bryan be and add Ridley to the team’s receiving core.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Jeff Schultz pulled up the curtain to show what led up to the Ridley pick, and it really sounds like the dangerous route runner was in Atlanta’s plans all along.

It all starts with a chance phone call to Ridley’s agent.

The first clue Pat Dye Jr. had that the Falcons were genuinely interested in drafting Calvin Ridley came the afternoon of Thursday’s first round when his phone rang and he looked down and saw it was Thomas Dimitroff.

“He said something like, ‘This may seem crazy, but: Calvin Ridley,’” Dye, Ridley’s agent, said. “I said, ‘Thomas, you’re not going to see him where you’re picking.’ He said, ‘I’m contemplating moving up. Where do you think we’d have to get to?’”

Dye proceeded to tell Dimitroff potential landing targets for the wide receiver from Alabama: Baltimore at 16. Dallas at 19. Carolina at 24. Dimitroff pondered trading up eight to 10 picks, but determined it likely would’ve cost a second-round pick – too expensive. So he opted to sit back and wait. It worked. Dye said he was “stunned” when Carolina took wide receiver D.J. Moore over Ridley. When the Falcons’ turn came up at 26, they were staring at two players who had been given almost identical grades by the Falcons’ scouting staff: Ridley and Florida defensive tackle Taven Bryan.

Defensive tackle was the Falcons’ biggest need. Wide receiver second. But they went with Ridley because they viewed the drop-off in available wide receivers significant after him, while the cluster of the best defensive tackles were closely bunched on the team’s draft board.

“In our minds, we were looking at two very talented and legit contributors coming in as young guys on the team,” Dimitroff said.

It really sounds like Ridley was Dimitroff’s covet in this draft, and it’s rather remarkable that the former Bama WR fell as far as he did. Even Ridley’s camp was surprised to see him make it past division rival Carolina. Getting him where Atlanta did, as many have said, is as good of value as you can find in this process.

Some might fret at the idea of Ridley and Bryan having similar grades on the team’s board, which might indicate the team does hold the former Gator in high esteem. But, make no mistake, if they really felt Bryan was the guy to take the defense over the top, they’d have made that pick. Ridley is more pro-ready, and gives the Falcons a potentially elite trio of receivers.

The fact that Atlanta was comfortable with waiting until round three to address the nose tackle spot should give you an idea about how bunched together this position might’ve really been in this draft in terms of quality.

If TD wanted to trade up for Ridley (which also bucks the pre-draft report that fellow Bama player DT Da’Ron Payne was the ultimate target), then chalk getting him where they did as a mission accomplished.

Schultz’s column also has this interesting quote from Quinn about the team’s headspace heading into this offseason. Hint: it’s easier to do your job when 28-3 isn’t so fresh.

“It’s emotionally lighter,” Quinn said. “Members of the media and others were talking about the difficult ending to ‘16, which was emotionally hard. How could it not be? But I would also say this offseason has been different than last offseason. I saw this group work out for the first time this week (in the voluntary offseason workout program). I was extremely impressed.”

So, all looks to be clicking as hoped for the Birds going into the summer.

There’s no doubt that Falcons fans will be watching to see how Bryan does over the years, and if the team was indeed correct in passing on him for Ridley. Such is the nature of the beast. But, with the team’s success with first rounders under TD what it is, the move already feels somewhat justified.