It was inevitable. Whenever a Hall of Fame quality player leaves a team - whether by retirement, trade or being cut - fans look toward the player taking his place and begin to make comparisons. Every tight end the Falcons had after 2013 was compared to Tony Gonzalez—and, it goes without saying, none of them were Gonzo—and now we’re heading down that road with Julio Jones.
I get it. Julio was a fan favorite and one of the greatest Falcons ever. We don’t want that to end. Others want it to end as soon as possible, and are latching on to Ridley as the man to make Falcons fans forget about #11 entirely.
Unfortunately, his heir apparent is already on the roster, which makes the comparison easy to jump to. We have three years worth of games and stats to comb through. In some cases, people are already rendering verdicts either indicting or praising Calvin Ridley in the wake of Julio being traded to the Titans.
“He’s not a true WR1.”
“He won’t be as good without Julio on the field.”
“He can’t do what Julio did.”
Or even “Who needs Julio, we have Ridley!”
We haven’t even gotten to the preseason games yet. While I understand the desire - the need - to compare players I also want to say this:
Stop it. Stop comparing Calvin to Julio.
Replacing generational players
Let’s get this out of the way up front: replacing a player like Julio Jones is nearly impossible to begin with. Big, physical receivers with elite speed that can run the entire route tree do not come out every year, and even those who do emerge are not as good as Julio. There’s a reason we talk about guys like Randy Moss and Calvin Johnson and Julio Jones in a very special light: they are generational players and spectacular talents. You simply do not have a Julio 2.0 waiting for you in every draft class. Frankly, you may go 5 or 6 years between draft classes before you find another player that is even comparable.
Calvin has a ton of potential and has already begun to demonstrate that, yet it’s easy to see that he’s not Julio 2.0. He doesn’t need to be. Guys like Larry Fitzgerald, Roddy White and Steve Smith had remarkable careers and were true number one receivers without having to be the physical freak that Jones is. Comparing Ridley to Jones only takes away from how good of a player Calvin can be. He - like most guys in the league - will always come up short in those comparisons and it’s a toxic way to evaluate players.
Replacing a generational player with one who is simply great should never reflect poorly on the new player.
Multiple ways to win
In some ways, this particular comparison is coming about because the idea of still having Julio on the team makes it feel like the offense is missing out on some Madden-like pipe-dream we all had going into this season. To be clear, having Julio and Calvin along with Pitts and others would have been amazing. Having a player like Julio on the field undoubtedly makes an offense better, and not having him diminishes the offense. That’s simple.
But we may also be forgetting that there are a lot of highly successful offenses in the league that did not have their own Julio Jones, including the one that Arthur Smith just ran in Tennessee.
I am a firm believer that the NFL is still about talent, but it’s also about finding the right guys to use that talent effectively. I will spare you another rant on Dirk Koetter, but many of us are optimistic that the upgrade at offensive play-caller is going to be significant for Atlanta this year. While losing Julio is painful, it’s quite possible that Calvin’s potential hasn’t even been fully reached due to the coaches he has played under the past 3 years. Again, he’s not a clone of Julio, but under Arthur Smith he may be incredibly effective and quite dangerous as the team’s new lead receiver. We certainly hope so.
With Julio now in Tennessee and the dreams of a juggernaut offense now put to rest, it’s probably time to put the Calvin vs. Julio comparisons to rest as well. It hurts losing a player like Julio, but we should be grateful that we do have someone like Ridley waiting in the wings.
At this point, fans should hope for Calvin to continue to grow and develop into the true number one receiver he’s shown he’s capable of being, even if that means he is not just like the guy he’s replacing.