Calvin Ridley is a bit of a wizard as a route runner, and he’s a wizard with a golden opportunity. With Julio Jones off to Tennessee—I am still getting used to that thought—Ridley is the most established and talented receiver on a team that suddenly has a ton of targets to go around. Having proven he can be this team’s #1 receiver last year, Ridley heads into 2021 with every opportunity to put his stamp on the league and earn further recognition as an NFL great.
The 2020 2nd Team All-Pro also has an opportunity to lead the league in receiving yards. FanDuel is giving him the 3rd best odds (behind Stefon Diggs and DeAndre Hopkins), BetOline.ag is giving him the 2nd best odds, and outlets like Pro Football Focus are projecting him to pace the NFL. Having come in 6th in the NFL a year ago in that mark despite only being the #1 option roughly half the season and missing a game along the way—and with Kyle Pits in the fold to help take a bit of pressure off him—the hype feels fully justified for Ridley.
With Julio out, Calvin Ridley is projected to lead the NFL in receiving yards pic.twitter.com/3YUGuFOarN— PFF (@PFF) June 7, 2021
Will he lead the league, though? It’s worth noting that A.J. Brown and Corey Davis were #16 and #20 in receiving yards, respectively, as the 1A and 1B in Arthur Smith’s Tennessee passing offense. I’d expect Matt Ryan’s passing volume to fall as the team attempts to craft a useful running game and focus on efficiency instead of volume, and if all goes well they will not be behind and slinging it as often as they were in 2020, as 44% of Ryan’s attempts came when the Falcons were behind. That might mean a slightly reduced opportunity for Ridley, but he also averaged an extremely robust 15.7 yards per reception and is still going to be the obvious top option in the passing game. I don’t know how heavily I’d bet on him leading the league, but top five feels like a virtual lock.
Of course, you can pile up yards on a team that isn’t very good, which is what we’re hoping doesn’t happen with Ridley this year. Given that Julio is gone and the team’s second and third options are a rookie in Kyle Pitts and a very capable but not elite receiver in Russell Gage, though, the reality is that the more opportunities Ridley gets to work his magic, the better off this Falcons offense is likely to be.