It was evident that it was only a matter of time before Calvin Ridley exploded onto the scene and became one of the top wide receivers in the league. Between creating separation at a consistent rate and finding his way into the end zone with great consistency, it seemed inevitable that Ridley would be among the leaders in the main statistical receiving categories leaguewide. As Julio Jones began showing signs of aging and dealt with injury, Ridley looked ready to show what he can do as a number one wide receiver. His flashes of excellence in 2018 and 2019 proved it. For all the infuriating play-calling and personnel issues across the roster, Ridley proved to be one of the true difference makers for the Falcons.
It started with a ridiculous seven-catch, 146-yard game against the Saints where he scored three touchdowns and sent P.J. Williams to the bench. Ridley had similar big games against the Eagles and Panthers in 2019, where he played a significant role in both of their respective wins. There were games that Ridley simply couldn’t be covered by the opposing defense. Unfortunately, those big-game moments never translated into consistent production during his first two seasons. That all changed in 2020.
Ridley produced a whopping eight games of 100 receiving yards or more. That league-leading total consists of gaining 100 yards or more in the first three games of the season and from Week 13 to Week 16. The former first-round pick always possessed the tools to take over games with his sharp footwork, blazing speed, and clever movement to create separation at the top of the route. It was just a matter of receiving more targets, along with refining a few aspects of his game.
Cutting down on drops and showing better overall concentration would take him to another level. Ridley showed significant improvement in those areas while also being more physical when corners opted to press him. This all culminated into an exceptional season where Ridley led the league in receptions of 15 yards or more with 40 of them, per Pro Football Focus. He became a consistent big-play machine.
Outside of a horrific game against Green Bay where everything went wrong for the Falcons, Ridley either dominated or made a notable impact in every game. Opposing defenses had no answer for him getting loose in the open field, which he did consistently. If cornerbacks pressed him, Ridley’s remarkable release put them in a different area code. If cornerbacks backed off, Ridley would still break them off with his ability to change direction at a rapid pace. His excellent body control and terrific hands made it difficult for corners to stop him even when seemingly well-covered. Defenses are going to have to manufacture well-structured game plans to prevent him from putting up big numbers on them.
An early-season seven-catch, 109-yard, two-touchdown performance against Dallas set the tone for what developed into a monster season. With Jones battling a hamstring problem, Ridley was the focal point in helping the Falcons keep pace against one of the most talented offenses in the league. It only took four minutes into the game for the star wide receiver to make his mark.
The Falcons are using only Ridley with two tight ends in a max protection set for Matt Ryan. Matt Gono is being utilized as an extra blocker. With Todd Gurley and Luke Stocker essentially running underneath routes, it’s clear who Ryan’s primary read is. This is a long-developing play designed to get Ridley the ball. If Ridley isn’t open, the play is likely finished, or Ryan manages to connect with Hayden Hurst. Although the pass protection nearly breaks down, Ryan gets enough time to hit Ridley outside the numbers for a memorable touchdown.
The route itself is a work of art from Ridley. He runs a blaze out, which has become Jones’ signature route over the past five years. When he used it, Ryan would effortlessly connect with him for a completion of twenty yards or more. This play shows Ryan won’t be dependent on Jones to run this type of play concept. Chidobe Awuzie is lined up eight yards off Ridley, expecting to have underneath support from his fellow safety. What Awuzie initially detects is a deep post, but he realizes too late that that’s not the case.
Ridley sells the inside hard to put Awuzie in a difficult position. The hard fake inside and break back to the outside leaves Awuzie diving into thin air. His desperate lunge can’t make up for the separation that Ridley creates at the top of the route. To top this exceptional play off, Ridley maintains control of himself to extend the ball past the pylon.
There were numerous outstanding plays that Ridley made last season. This one stands out in particular because the play was designed for him. No other wide receiver was on the field. Other than Hurst, no other player was a legitimate receiving option. The coaching staff was counting on Ridley to deliver when they needed him most. It was the first of countless times where he delivered in 2020. The mentality of knowing you have the ability to do whatever you want on the field is a beautiful gift. Ridley plays with it and proves he is capable of doing anything as a wide receiver at the highest level.
As he enters his fourth season in the NFL, the star wide receiver is aware of the increased pressure ahead of him. This will be the first full season where he is the certified number one wide receiver on the Falcons. Ridley takes tremendous pride in his work ethic to be great.
Improving his footwork was a priority in the off-season, as running ladder drills regularly was designed to help improve his speed. For him to transition out of breaks faster should only lead to more explosive plays. It’s scary to imagine what Ridley could do by being even quicker. That comes with the territory of being the lead alpha in an offense. That comes with the territory of having the talent to take over the league. Ridley intends on doing both in 2021.