With Julio Jones now kicking it in Nashville, Calvin Ridley is poised to take over as the Atlanta Falcons’ top target. After already making the leap last season, how much room for growth is left for Ridley? He may not look like a prototypical No. 1 receiver, but Ridley has all of the tools to continue to dominate against NFL defenses.
This is an easier projection than some because we’ve already seen Ridley carry this passing offense for stretches. Now, the question is: Can he carry the offense for a season? Let’s take a look at what he’s accomplished and project what could be in Ridley’s future.
The 2020 season provided an excellent starting point for projecting Ridley as a No. 1 receiver. Jones missed seven games, giving us nearly half of a season to look at how Ridley fares when he’s the top option for Atlanta’s passing attack. Ridley missed just one game during the 2020 season, and he finished the year with 90 receptions for 1,374 yards and nine touchdowns. That breaks down to about six receptions and 92 yards per game. Also of note: In 10 career games with an absent Jones, Ridley averaged about seven receptions and 105 yards per game.
If we split the difference and set his average at about 100 yards per game, he would be expected to hit 1,700 yards in 2021. That seems a bit high, even for a player as good as Ridley, so let’s actually use 90 yards as the baseline and set his over/under at 1,530 yards for next season.
The case for the over
There are only so many targets to go around, but now Ridley should see the lion’s share of them. He’s always been an incredibly effective player in terms of yards per reception, and if he can maintain that efficiency, Ridley will once again be one of the top-performing receivers in the NFL. As I noted above, this is already a relatively conservative over/under mark given how he’s produced in the past.
While Arthur Smith gets the most credit for unlocking Derrick Henry, his offense in Tennessee produced two top-20 receivers last season. That indicates there should be plenty of opportunities for Ridley to wrack up the yards on an offense that does still have some other threats to occupy defenders. Ridley has already proven he’s one of the league’s most talented young receivers. The only question remaining is just how good he can be.
The case for the under
Stefon Diggs led the NFL with 1,535 yards last season, which is essentially where we’re setting the mark for Ridley. Diggs is actually a wonderful comparison for Ridley as a player, as they both use precise route running to separate from defenders rather than size or blazing speed. As good as Diggs was last season, he just barely reached the threshold for Ridley. Atlanta’s fourth-year receiver should benefit from the additional targets he’ll see, but it remains to be seen how he’ll fare against the extra attention he gets from defenses.
It can’t be overstated how impactful the presence of Jones was for the players around him. Ridley was the primary beneficiary of his presence. We saw that Ridley absolutely can still do it on his own, but defenses will be prepared to slow him down after his true breakout year in 2020. Barring injury, it’s a safe bet that Ridley again tops 1,000 receiving yards. Whether or not he can reach the 1,500-yard threshold remains to be seen, however.
Calvin Ridley receiving yards
This poll is closed
He’ll reach 1,500
He’ll fall short of 1,500