The Falcons shocked us all when they selected Alabama WR Calvin Ridley with their first round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. A common belief among fans and analysts was that Atlanta was high on the DT class, and with Taven Bryan available at 26 the fit made perfect sense. The team, however, had other plans—instead taking the player who was widely considered the best WR in the 2018 draft class. Ridley is a great talent, but WR wasn’t a position of great need for the Falcons with Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu in place.
Only time will tell if the selection of Calvin Ridley was a luxury the team could afford. The pick makes plenty of sense, though, when considering that it was a move geared towards shoring up the WR depth chart over the long haul. Julio is fast approaching age 30, and Sanu’s cap hit could be too expensive for Atlanta to hold on to in 2019 and beyond. Ridley could help with both of those problems over the course of his career, but what might his contributions be in his rookie season?
The things that stood out to me the most about Ridley’s game were his technical refinement and route running ability. Both attributes are very good indicators of early success at the NFL level, where creating separation is the key to generating production. Combine that with Ridley’s very good deep speed and impressive hands and you’ve got a very intriguing receiving option on your hands.
Ridley will have to compete with Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Justin Hardy, and whoever else ends up making the roster at WR for snaps. Logically, Ridley seems most likely to seize control of the WR3 role behind Julio and Sanu—and that might be a perfect fit for him during his rookie season. He’s versatile, can play both in the slot and on the outside, and can run just about every route in the book with ease. That gives Atlanta a lot more flexibility with their WR3 than they had in 2017 with Taylor Gabriel—who was excellent at a few specific routes, but was otherwise unable to separate consistently.
I’d wager that we’ll see the trio of Julio, Sanu, and Ridley on the field a lot more often than we saw Julio, Sanu, and Gabriel. Expect Julio to see the bulk of the coverage, as usual, but where the team lines up Sanu and Ridley will be interesting to watch. We could easily see the offense capitalize on more match-ups with a versatile WR3 option. If opposing defenses have a nickel that struggles with size, Sanu might kick inside. If a defense has a big CB2 that struggles with speed, Ridley could line up outside opposite Julio. Can you imagine a bunch formation with Ridley, Julio, and Sanu? That’s the stuff of nightmares.
Overall, I’m excited for Ridley’s rookie season—but don’t go crazy thinking he’ll have 1000 yards and 10 TDs. Giving him the chance to contribute early on in a smaller role might be the perfect way to ease his transition to the NFL. Having an inside/outside option like Ridley behind one of the better starting duos in the NFL only makes this offense more difficult to defend—it all depends on if Sarkisian can iron out some of the schematic weaknesses that plagued the unit last season.
What are your thoughts on Ridley’s role during the 2018 season? Do you see him as a high-level WR3, or perhaps something more? Any thoughts on his fit into the WR depth chart and where he might line up?