2018 NFL Draft: Why Alabama receiver Calvin Ridley could be the Falcons' first-round pick

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(AP photo by Brynn Anderson)

*Editor's note: This is the third of seven prospect profiles who the Falcons could select with the 26th overall pick in the first round.  *

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – The Falcons have one of the league's most talented rosters, but there are a few positions that they may target with the No. 26 overall pick in the upcoming NFL Draft.

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While defensive tackle is considered by many to be the most pressing need, there is a chance that a run on picks at the position in the first round could leave the Falcons exploring other options. If that scenario should play out, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Atlanta add one of the top receivers in the draft, giving them a strong contender for the No. 3 receiver spot.

Late in the first round, the Falcons should still have their pick of some of the best receivers in this class, including possibly Alabama's Calvin Ridley. Ridley is considered by most draft experts to be the top receiver in the draft, and he was the player ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper had the Falcons selecting in one of his recent mock drafts. Here's what Kiper had to say about that selection:  

"Ridley is still my top-ranked wideout, but he's dropping a little bit. He didn't test well athletically at the combine, and he didn't show off the explosion I expected (a vertical jump of 31 inches was concerning). Still, the tape shows a player who consistently beats cornerbacks and is great after the catch. Ridley, Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu would form one of the most talented receiving corps in the league."

Ridley may not be one of the most athletic receivers in this draft class, but he's as polished a player as anyone at the position. Serving as the top receiving option at Alabama over the past three seasons, Ridley finished his career with 224 catches for 2,781 yards and 19 touchdowns.  

On film, Ridley's route-running truly stands out. The 6-foot, 189-pound receiver has the speed to beat cornerbacks deep, but he consistently gains separation on short and intermediate routes due to his agility and footwork.

The subtle positioning Ridley uses to gain leverage on a defender should help him succeed against NFL competition. If he finds it harder to manipulate cornerbacks with his footwork and route-running, Ridley can always fall back on his 4.4 speed to run straight past them.  

via GIPHY While there are better all-around athletes at the position, Ridley may be the most NFL-ready receiver in this draft class. Pairing him with the likes of Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu would give the Falcons a trio of receivers that would rival any in the NFL.

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