We don’t have to tell you that Calvin Ridley is going to be Atlanta’s top receiver this year and hopefully well into the future. He was good as a rookie, very good as a sophomore despite dealing with injuries, and then truly broke out last year as the primary receiver when Julio Jones was on the shelf. Now, of course, Ridley, Russell Gage, Kyle Pitts and Hayden Hurst are going to be asked to carry the load in Atlanta’s passing game.
While Pitts is going to be expected to be special more or less right away, Ridley is the man defenses need to fear if this thing is going to run as smoothly as we’d like it to. He’s going to draw opposing top cornerbacks from any team who doesn’t strictly play those guys on one side of the field, and winning those matchups requires (at least against many opponents) both skill and guile. Few possess more of both than #18.
Ridley’s route-running has drawn praise since his years at Alabama, and that praise is one of the non-financial, non-disgruntlement reasons the Falcons felt comfortable moving Julio Jones and making him their full-time #1 receiver. It’s no surprise that when people talk about what makes him a terrific wide receiver, that’s what they tend to focus on, and it’s one of the reasons so many analysts seem comfortable projecting Ridley to be one of the most productive reasons in the NFL.
Samuel Gold at our sister site Field Gulls is one of those analysts. I thought everyone would enjoy seeing his breakdown of Ridley’s route-running and why it makes him a special player, especially for those of us still wondering exactly what this offense will look like without Julio Jones. You’ll see Ridley doing some of the things he does best, which typically includes infuriating defenders trying and failing to guess where he’s going,
As he’s not a Falcons fan and he’s approaching this with a more critical eye, Gold isn’t just putting together an ode to Ridley’s skill and route running, but taking a closer look at what he excels at and where he still has room to improve.
Gold points out drops in the video, which is a highly variable stat, though the area of improvement my eye is specifically on is yards after the catch. He was 67th in the NFL in yards after the catch last year, well behind noted receiving threat Mike Davis, and certainly there were plenty of Falcons fans complaining about his tendency to go sideways after catching the ball rather than plowing forward for extra yardage. Given that he led the league in yards before the catch, what we’re talking about is going from elite production to becoming effectively unstoppable, and it’s worth noting that as a rookie Ridley was 41st in the league in that same metric.
Of course, the list of things Ridley does well is much longer, which is why he was among the league leaders in yardage, yards per catch, yards before the catch and so forth despite missing a game in 2021. We’ve also since heard from Ridley himself that he was not 100% last year, something offseason surgery helped remedy.
In the end, Gold’s breakdown had me feeling good about Ridley despite it not just being a paean to his ability. The key takeaway here is that Ridley is already a great player, but with some tweaks to his game, improved 2021 health and Arthur Smith and Dave Ragone cooking up new ways to use him, he could take another true step forward this year.