It’s quite rare for a team to move on from a wide receiver the caliber of Julio Jones and have someone as talented as Calvin Ridley waiting in the wings. Jones is a future Hall of Famer who has poured his blood, sweat, and tears into the Atlanta franchise over the last decade, but he’ll ply his trade with a new team in Tennessee this season. Ridley, meanwhile, racked up 90 catches for 1,374 yards and 9 touchdowns last season as Jones missed seven games in 2020. He’s ready for the limelight as one of the most talented alpha wide receivers in the league in an offense that should see a ton of passing volume once again.
WR AirYards leaders in 2020:
Calvin Ridley- 995
Tyreek Hill- 994
D.K. Metcalf- 989
Stefon Diggs- 969
Allen Robinson- 883
A.J. Green- 845
Calvin Ridley- 982
Marvin Jones- 852
Nelson Agholor- 796
Justin Jefferson- 753
Tyreek Hill- 719
Mike Evans- 691
— Amr Gabr (@amrgaabr) July 1, 2021
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The 2020 season represented a changing of the guard at the wide receiver position as Julio Jones had fewer than 1,300 receiving yards for the first time since 2013 in an injury-shortened campaign. Ridley picked up the slack in his first 1,000-yard campaign and finally put it all together like we knew the former first-rounder could. Ridley’s production increased when Jones was out of the lineup last season, an impressive feat in and of itself with the attention Jones demands from defensive backs – Ridley had 50 catches for 763 yards and 3 touchdowns in that span, and he’s ready to roll for this season.
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Calvin Ridley is one of the most talented wide receivers in the NFL and the Atlanta offense revolves around him now. He had over 100 yards in eight of fifteen games last season and has had 7+ touchdowns in all three of his professional seasons so there isn’t a lot of speculation in these projections. If anything, the new head coach Arthur Smith should only help Ridley further showcase his talents and you have to be thrilled Matt Ryan is back with the team. Ridley finished as the WR4 in half-PPR scoring last season and is a clear-cut top-five wide receiver this season.
Yards After Catch:
1) Davante Adams (211)
2) Adam Thielen (89)
3) Calvin Ridley (39)
— Dan Edwards (@PackerEddyFF) July 6, 2021
ADP & Auction Value
ADP: 19, Round 2, WR5
Auction Value: $32
You’re not going to get Calvin Ridley at a discount this season like you did last year when the eventual WR4 in half-PPR scoring could be drafted in the fourth or even fifth round in a lot of leagues. While he won’t have that same mid-round, league-winning upside, he’s worthy of a pick in the first couple of rounds with how talented he is and how involved he’s going to be in this offense.
CALVIN RIDLEY… HOW?! 🤯🤯
— PFF (@PFF) December 6, 2020
Unfortunately, a discussion of Ridley’s floor has to include mention of the foot surgery he underwent on June 9. It’s reportedly a minor cleanup surgery, but Ridley won’t participate in minicamp for the team. However, it sounds like the team is fairly confident he’ll be good to go for training camp and won’t miss any time this season. Provided Ridley stays healthy, I have a hard time visualizing a situation where he doesn’t finish as a top-end wide receiver. Atlanta has limited pass-catching options outside of Ridley after Jones was traded, and while there is some other talent on the roster, Ridley is by far the most talented wideout on the team and is a virtual lock for almost 10 targets per game. It’s going to be a monstrous year.
Calvin Ridley ‘pretty sure’ he’ll be ready for Falcons training camp after offseason foot surgery.
— Scott Bair (@ScottBairNFL) June 15, 2021
Ridley has the upside to be the WR1 overall in fantasy football this season. Julio Jones was a top-six wide receiver in each of the past six years prior to last season, and Ridley should step right into the same role in a pass-heavy offense. In the seven games that Jones didn’t play in last year, Ridley had 11.3 targets per game. If Ridley maintains that same pace over the course of a 17-game season, that would be good for 192 targets. With his 66.2% career catch rate and 15.2 YPR, Ridley would be good for around 127 catches for 1,930 yards. Ridley has scored 0.6 touchdowns per game over the course of his career so throw in 10 touchdowns and you’re looking at a stat line of 315 half-PPR points – only one receiver had over 300 half-PPR points last season. Ridley could be the WR1 in fantasy if everything breaks his way this season.
Atlanta Falcons Offense
The Falcons scored 24.8 points per game last season, the 16th-most in the NFL. Head coach Dan Quinn was fired after an 0-5 start while Raheem Morris was not brought back after a 4-7 run as the interim head coach, and offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter is no longer with the team. Former Titans’ offensive coordinator Arthur Smith is the new head coach and he comes in with a ton of hype as an offensive mastermind – Tennessee has been a top-ten scoring offense in each of the past two seasons and was fourth in scoring last year. We’ve talked about Ridley’s projected uptick in targets with Julio Jones gone from the team while wide receivers Russell Gage and Olamide Zaccheaus will get the next opportunity to produce. Gage had 72 catches for 786 yards and 4 touchdowns last season. Mike Davis, who had 1,015 yards from scrimmage for Carolina last season in relief of an injured Christian McCaffrey, will provide much-needed stability at the running back position. Rookie tight end Kyle Pitts should be heavily involved right away after the team spent the fourth overall pick on him; the Florida product is one of the most exciting, game-breaking offensive players in this draft class. Fellow tight end Hayden Hurst will likely be heavily involved in the passing offense as well. The Falcons’ defense still projects as being quite bad, so this should be a pass-happy offense with plenty of fantasy production to go around.
Strength of Schedule
As if you needed more of a reason to love Calvin Ridley this season, the Falcons have the 9th-most friendly schedule for wide receivers in terms of fantasy points allowed to the position. Atlanta doesn’t get the pleasure of playing against their own porous defense, but Ridley will face the Saints (18th) and Buccaneers (22nd) who were both generous to WRs in fantasy. Carolina fared much better at 11th and add Jaycee Horn, a phenomenal cornerback prospect. However, all four NFC South teams have exciting offensive attacks and those divisional games could be shootouts. The Falcons do play the NFC East with the Cowboys (29th) and Eagles (25th), two defenses Ridley should eat alive, as well as Washington (2nd) and New York (9th) who were two of the better defensive teams in the league last year. Ridley will also play some beatable secondaries in the AFC East in the Jets (20th) and Dolphins (23rd), while the Bills (6th) and Patriots (12th) have more top-end defensive back talent. Finally, the Falcons play the 49ers (16th), Jaguars (21st), and Lions (31st), three below-average defenses in terms of fantasy points allowed to wide receivers. Ridley’s week-to-week success will be consistent with his involvement in the offense as there aren’t many cornerbacks who can hang with him in coverage, and this schedule is very manageable.
Matt Ryan delivers a dime to Calvin Ridley for 63 YARDS!
— NFL (@NFL) September 27, 2020
Calvin Ridley isn’t available at the same elite value as he was last year, but that doesn’t quite matter with his fantasy profile. He’s one of the most talented pass-catchers in the NFL who should absolutely dominate the target load on a pass-heavy team with a returning, reliable veteran quarterback in Matt Ryan. You can’t ask for much more than that, and Ridley is a locked-and-loaded top-five WR for me this season.
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