Every offseason players change teams through free agency and see their stock change one way or another but sometimes it the players left behind that benefit the most. Whether its vacated targets, new opportunities, or just expanded roles, many players are provided with new opportunities to thrive.
Calvin Ridley of the Atlanta Falcons is in the perfect situation of talent meets opportunity coming into the 2020 season. He entered the league as a polished wide receiver from Alabama. He was selected in firsst round pick by the Atlanta Falcons at pick 26 and did not disappoint as a rookie in 2018. Ridley exploded, proving to be one of the most productive young pass catchers in the game with 64 catches, 821 yards and 10 touchdowns. This broke the Falcons’ rookie record for touchdowns and tied for tenth best all time for a rookie in NFL history; Odell Beckham and Mike Evans are the only active players to best that number during their rookie campaigns. He did this on only 92 targets as the third or fourth option on the offense at times. While he showed promise as a rookie, he did struggle with 10 drops, a 10.9% rate which was near the top of the NFL. He improved drastically on this in 2019 with only 2 drops, which was a 2.2% rate.
He came into his sophomore season with a very similar receiving corps around him with Julio Jones, Mohammed Sanu, and Austin Hooper competing with him for targets. Ridley finished the season improving on nearly every statistical category in only 13 games season, compared to his 16 game rookie year. In less games, he produced 63 receptions for 866 yards, up from 51 to 66 yards per game. His average depth of target went up to 13.4 yards and targets per game improved to 7.15 per game, but its the splits below which have Ridley on the radar for a true breakout.
Calvin Ridley 2019 game splits
With Austin Hooper active
With Austin Hooper inactive
Austin Hooper just left for the Cleveland Browns, leaving an opening for 88 targets. Calvin Ridley is now the clear cut number two option behind the prolific yet aging Julio Jones. Ridley only garnered 17% target share in 2019, which ranks 51st in the NFL alongside Curtis Samuel, Hunter Renfrow, Nelson Agholor, and a struggling Juju Smith-Schuster. He finished the season as WR18 in points per game, and WR14 overall from Weeks 1-14 before his injury. Reports say he is fully healed from his abdominal injury and primed for a major breakout season. Ridley struggled to produce as a viable WR2 with Austin Hooper in the lineup. If we take a look at what he was able to do with Hooper on the sidelines, he produced elite numbers on a per game basis which would extrapolate to 116 receptions, 1694 yards, and 10 touchdowns. This came over a small sample size but Matt Ryan - who has attempted over 600 yards over the past few seasons - mixed with vacated targets of Austin Hooper, Mohammed Sanu, and Devonta Freeman leave a lot of room for Ridley to thrive.
Calvin Ridley will be just 25 years old coming into the 2020 season, his third in the NFL. The Falcons offense was #1 in the league in pass play percentage at a whopping 66.97%. Todd Gurley recently signed with the team, which should help open up opportunities due to defenses needing to pay more attention to a run game which was near the bottom of the league in rushing efficiency. He is primed for a breakout with his route running skills matched with the ripe opportunity. With many of the WR1s approaching that dreaded 30 year old season in the next few years, Calvin Ridley is primed to breakout and could become one of the dynasty top 12 receivers by year's end.
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