Since being taken 26th overall by the Falcons in the 2018 NFL Draft, Calvin Ridley has flashed elite potential. He comes from Alabama, which has produced such legendary fantasy receivers in recent years as Amari Cooper and Julio Jones. Ridley has future Pro Bowl potential in Atlanta, although he has yet to catch for over 1,000 yards in a season. We’ve seen plenty of receivers breakthrough in their third professional season – could this be the year it happens for Ridley?
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Ridley earned just a 15% target share from Matt Ryan in 2019, but he was able to turn that into a top 24 fantasy season. The Alabama product has scored 17 touchdowns in just 29 career games. He showed that right away in his rookie season, scoring six times in just three weeks early on in 2018. Ridley’s best game in 2019 came in Week 11 against the Panthers when he put up eight receptions for 143 yards and one touchdown. He has top-end wide receiver talent, and had he played all 16 games; he likely would have finished with over 1,000 yards last year.
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The Falcons have 235 targets up for grabs after losing Austin Hooper, Mohamed Sanu, Devonta Freeman, and Justin Hardy over the past several months. While offseason acquisitions in Todd Gurley and Hayden Hurst will take on some of those targets, Ridley’s target share could jump up to about 20% in his third season. Matt Ryan has thrown over 600 passes in each of the past two seasons with the team’s defense struggling to compete, and that number should stay high as they haven’t made significant strides toward improvement on that end. With Ridley’s touchdown-scoring capabilities and career 13.3 yards per catch average, he should be able to put up borderline WR1 numbers in 2020.
Average Draft Position
Auction Value: $10
Ridley’s ADP currently has him below guys like Robert Woods, DeVante Parker, and Julian Edelman, which I think would be a massive value. Ridley has a higher touchdown potential than those guys, and he is going to get a ton of targets in a pass-happy offense. He’s also an incredible talent at the wide receiver position, and this is the season we see it in full form. I would consider taking him with a third-round pick, so if you can get him in the fifth, that’s a steal.
Calvin Ridley’s career 16-game pace would be about 70 catches for 930 yards and nine touchdowns. Those numbers would have made him a clear WR2 in 2019, and that’s probably his entire low-end production if he’s going to play 16 games. Ridley has never suffered any significant injuries, so he should be able to stay on the field this year. With the baseline of a reliable WR2 option, his draft value is very palatable.
The ceiling for Ridley could be otherworldly this season. Let’s say he picks up 25% of the vacated targets from last season – admittedly, a high number, but let’s play this out. On his 16-game pace previous season, he would have had 114 targets. Add in another 58, and he skyrockets up to 172 targets. On that target share, with his career catch average, he could get up to 117 catches. He averaged 13.3 yards per catch in his first two seasons so that he could approach 1,500 receiving yards this season. I’m not saying that will happen, but there are very few players who have a clear-cut statistical path to that kind of production. Add in his enormous red-zone potential, and Ridley could be the steal of fantasy drafts in 2020.
Atlanta Falcons Offense
The Falcons ran on just 33% of plays in 2019, the lowest mark in the NFL. They will likely hope to up that mark in 2020 with the addition of Todd Gurley to their offense, but there’s a massive gap between them and even the league-average offense in that regard. Instead, Atlanta was heavily reliant on the arm of Matt Ryan. With the vacated targets I mentioned earlier, somebody will have to step in and take on more of the share. Julio Jones is the top wideout in Atlanta, and he’s arguably the best receiver in the NFL, but there’s plenty to go around past his 157 targets from last season. Laquon Treadwell and Hayden Hurst were brought in this spring, and we could see the Falcons dip into this immensely deep receiver class in the draft.
Strength Of Schedule
The Falcons play in the NFC South, which features some generous pass defenses. The Buccaneers allowed the most points to fantasy wide receivers in 2019, while the Saints allowed the 4th-most points to the position. The Panthers fared better last season, but the list of guys departing from their defense is wildly concerning for them – James Bradberry, Mario Addison, Vernon Butler, Gerald McCoy, Bruce Irvin, Eric Reid, and of course their leader Luke Kuechly. It will take some time for Carolina to recover from all those critical losses on defense. The Falcons will take on the NFC North in 2020, which is a mixed bag of defenses – the Lions and Vikings figure to struggle against opposing wide receivers, while the front-seven talent on the Packers and Bears helped them fare better against the position in 2019. The NFC South will also take on the AFC West this year, which features three of the top-ten defenses in terms of fantasy points allowed to receivers in 2019 – the Chiefs, Broncos, and Chargers. Those matchups will be a bit more complicated, but the Raiders will be friendlier to Calvin Ridley. The Seahawks and Cowboys figure to have robust defenses again in 2020. Still, the Falcons’ lack of defensive talent will put them in a lot of higher-paced, offensive-oriented games that will benefit the passing attack and Calvin Ridley.
Calvin Ridley is primed for a classic 3rd-year breakout in 2020, and all the factors figure to be in place to support his success – poor defense leading to positive game script, a massive number of vacated targets, and the talents of Matt Ryan and Julio Jones around him. Ridley is an awesome red-zone weapon, which could lead him to 10-12 touchdowns in 2020, and this should be the season he puts it all together and makes his first Pro Bowl. If you can get him in the 5th round, take it and run – he could be a Chris Godwin type steal this season.
— Apex Fantasy Leagues (@ApexFFML) April 20, 2020
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