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Calvin Ridley is a weapon

Calvin Ridley has all of the tools necessary to make a defensive back’s life a nightmare.

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

I came across an interesting stat when doing a bit of research on the performance of Atlanta’s offensive players the past couple of years — one that showcases Calvin Ridley’s prolific excellence in the 29 career games he’s played in so far. It’s a stat that should get you excited for next season.

Ridley finished seventh in the NFL in quarterback passer rating when targeted last year, among wide receivers who played at least 50% of their team’s snaps, with a mark of 115.9. This means that Matt Ryan’s passer rating (with Matt Schaub contributing to this for a game) calculated out to 115.9 when targeting Ridley last year.

What’s more impressive is that Ridley’s passer rating when targeted was even better in his rookie year of 2018 — he was second in the NFL with rating of 125.8 when targeted. When Matt Ryan throws the ball to Calvin Ridley good things happen; the statistics back this claim up.

Ridley was instantly a perfect compliment to Julio Jones after the Atlanta Falcons used the 26th selection in the 2018 NFL Draft to secure his services. He took full advantage of the added coverage Jones demands and turned that into a rookie season which saw him secure 821 receiving yards and 10 receiving touchdowns.

Teams were having to match CBs on Ridley one on one, thinking he could be handled while Jones received necessary added attention. Number 18 quickly proved that with the use of his 4.4 speed and exceptional route running ability, he would be a difficult assignment for any corner.

In his second year, which was cut short due to injury, Ridley had 866 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. Pretty impressive considering the fact that he pretty much missed the last quarter of the season.

Let’s look at a few examples of what makes Ridley such a lethal weapon for Ryan on the opposite side of the best wide receiver on the planet.

A few of these following examples of Ridley’s incredible display of route running were taken from an article I wrote last year looking at how Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, and Mohamed Sanu each use their respective tools to create loads of separation. A few of these examples are not present in that article, however.

Footwork and Acceleration

This is Ridley’s first career touchdown reception. The way Ridley sells the possibility of him running outside before breaking inside makes him look like a 10-year vet and not someone playing in his second career NFL game.

It’s the subtleness which sells a route like this. Pay attention to Ridley’s eyes — he stares directly at Donte Jackson and never looks to his left until after he makes the decisive cut. Jackson is left completely guessing which way Ridley will go, and through the use of explosive footwork number 18 paralyzes him for just a second. That’s enough time to put the Panthers DB on the back foot and, a few seconds later, in the end zone.

Two weeks later we see an almost identical route play out on the other side of the field, against Cincinnati’s William Jackson III. This time Ridley switches it up and beats his man right off the line of scrimmage with a little skip step which propels him to the inside of the play and leaves Jackson just a split step behind. Both plays showcase Number 18’s incredible acceleration as well.

One again, Ridley doesn’t give the route away with his eyes and instead leaves his man guessing as to which side of the field he will go. On his first step he looks like he will actually lean toward the outside but the little hop step opened Jackson’s hips for just long enough to where he couldn’t recover.

This one could have actually gone in either the footwork section or the hip movement section of this article. Ridley completely paralyzes P.J. Williams on the double move and runs right by him for the first of three touchdowns he would secure against the Saints on this particular afternoon.

Eight yards down the field Ridley uses his footwork and fluid hip movement to leave Williams guessing as to where he’ll go. He could have stopped on the curl, cut to the outside, ran a post pattern on the inside, or turned the hesitation into a stop and go to the outside. Williams has no choice but to commit, and he’s left helpless after opening up his hips and stepping forward to defend the curl as Ridley makes the decisive cut and runs right by him.

You will never see Calvin Ridley run a lazy route. He completely sells every single possibility that he can in the moment and that leaves DBs helpless when left alone on an island with him.

Head and hip movement

From later on in that aforementioned Bengals game, this is arguably Ridley’s most famous touchdown. With no safety help to his side of the field, Number 18 completely sells the out right to Dre Kirkpatrick before viciously cutting upfield and leaving his fellow Alabama alum spinning like a top.

Pay attention to Ridley’s head movement on this play — his eyes are completely to the outside of the field before he uses his hips to completely change direction and cut upfield. Kirkpatrick is beaten the second he steps forward. The speed at which Ridley makes a cut like this is unnatural, almost as if his hips are made of titanium.

This subtle use of the head to sell routes dates back to Ridley’s college days, and it’s never more prevalent than on this particular play.

Ridley sells the slant perfectly with his eyes — he’s staring directly at QB Jalen Hurts for a moment (with his pointed toward the QB’s direction) while running an initial slant route, and it’s enough to make the DB step up on the play. Before the defensive player knows what hit him, Ridley uses his hips to quickly change direction and cut upfield. He ends up wide open while the DB ends up on all fours. Hurts does a fantastic job with a pump fake as well.

Body Control and Field Awareness

On his touchdown against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 2 of last season, Ridley was basically invited to accelerate right past Andrew Sendejo into an opening of space and to use his 4.4 speed to create separation. In truth, this decision to run quarters defense was terrible by Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, especially since the Falcons had burned it on a couple of plays but didn’t score because Matt Ryan had just missed a couple of passes against it earlier in the game.

Ryan connected with Ridley successfully on this play, however, and Number 18’s ability to leap and make a contorting grab at the highest point in which he could is what resulted in the touchdown. Ridley’s wonderful body control is a weapon in of itself, and it makes him lethal with all of the separation he can create with his other tools.

I don’t think there’s a better example of Ridley’s exceptional body control than on this play against the Houston Texans in Week 5 last season (apologies for the video freezing momentarily but there is a great slow-motion replay which follows the initial video of the play).

As Ryan escapes the pocket after the play breaks down, Ridley (who looks like he’s running a short route on the play) changes the route and makes himself open for his QB by running away from the DB toward the end zone. Showing incredible field awareness, he narrowly avoids stepping out of bounds (which would have made him an ineligible receiver) and makes a twisting catch in the end zone while dragging the right toe before falling out of bounds.

Ridley goes about this entire play with the grace of a ballerina. The escape from the DB after the play breaks down showcases his football intelligence, and the body control helps him overcome the extra defender known as the sideline.

Run After the Catch:

Ridley has the speed, the footwork, the ability to make unnatural cuts, and the athleticism you would want in an ideal wide receiver. All of this is stirred up to create the recipe for a lethal run run after the catch ability as well. It’s nearly impossible to take Ridley down one on one in the open field.

In this play from Week 6 of last year, a great schematic play call matched Ridley up against linebacker Jordan Hicks. The play was essentially over as soon as Ryan saw this matchup, and Ridley made a quick inside cut to easily get away from his man before diving into the end zone.

This is maybe the most famous instance of how lethal Ridley’s run after the catch ability is, coming against Mississippi State in the 2015 college football season.

Ridley makes the initial catch about 53 yards away from the end zone. The DB meets him two yards later and Ridley makes him look like a child with an incredible cut (using that footwork and hip movement we talked about earlier) before taking off upfield and using his speed (and a great downfield block) to escape the rest of the defense. The initial DB ends up on his hands and knees from how explosive the cut was.

Calvin Ridley sometimes makes the fanbase go crazy after he runs backward following his initial catch, but he does so in an attempt to always turn a play into a home run. You have to take that very slight bad to get the good that is him running with a full head of steam and making defenders miss.

Through the use of all of these tools, Calvin Ridley has proven to be a lethal weapon on the opposite side of Julio Jones. He’s a WR1 whom the Falcons have the luxury of playing as a WR2 because they happen to have the best WR on the planet already on the roster.

When Matt Ryan looks Calvin Ridley’s way good things happen. Only two years into the league, Ridley will get even better as he learns the savvy tricks of the trade that come for veteran receivers over time. In the meantime, we get to enjoy the show and watch his development progress every Sunday in the Fall.