Falcons fans aren't the only ones expecting big things from Calvin Ridley in 2020 – his own expectations are sky-high.
Ridley was on pace to reach 1,000 yards in his second NFL season, but he missed the final three games of the 2019 season and fell short of that milestone. He still put together another noteworthy season, however, finishing with 866 yards and seven touchdowns on 63 receptions.
Yet, as he prepares to enter his third season, Ridley has much bigger things in mind.
"I'm not going to lie, I'm real hungry to show people that I'm easily a 1,000-yard receiver, easily - and even better," Ridley said after an on-field strength and conditioning session on Tuesday. "I think that's what it is for me. I'm always confident in myself, and I'm just really hungry and want to help the team win as much as I can."
The abdominal injury that cut Ridley's 2019 season short also provided him some perspective on just what he can accomplish in this league. He recalled a conversation with his agent in the hospital the same day he sustained the injury about how close he had come to reaching that important 1,000-yard threshold. Instead of allowing that missed goal to demoralize him, Ridley is using it as a target to fuel his motivation. He's already proven he has what it takes, now he wants to see how good he can be, and the world has started to take note.
This offseason, the Falcons receiver made waves after reigning NFL MVP Lamar Jackson commented on a video of Ridley running routes during a workout session.
Ridley has demonstrated some impressive route running during his first two seasons in Atlanta, but it's not a skill he feels he's fully mastered just yet. During an offseason unlike any other in NFL history, Ridley focused on improving his leg strength, which he believes will help him make even further strides in his ability to manipulate opposing defensive backs.
"I've really been working on pretty much everything but really my legs," Ridley said. "Getting my legs a lot stronger, trying to get my knees up more to be a little faster. … My cuts are really good, I'm really strong in my legs. I want to be running through [my cuts] and that has to do with me doing it all year long. So, all season I have to continue to squat and do a lot of leg work to keep my legs and my cuts really crisp. You know, so I can run fast."
For the first time in his career, Ridley enters the season as the Falcons' No. 2 receiver. Atlanta traded Mohamed Sanu midway through the 2019 season, opening up the door for Ridley to become a greater part of the offense alongside Julio Jones. He has shown every indication of being more than capable of stepping into that role, and more touches for Ridley, who is an explosive playmaker after the catch, could prove very beneficial for the Falcons' offense.
The presence of Jones has been invaluable for Ridley early in his career. Well on his way to the Hall of Fame, Jones is not just one of the greatest receivers to ever play the game, but he's the consummate teammate and leads by example. For Ridley, who says he wants to be as good as Jones, he says it's easy to get better by following the example the seven-time Pro Bowler sets every day in practice.
Jones has surpassed 1,300 receiving yards in each of the last six seasons, but Ridley is ready to join him at that level of production and give the Falcons a pair of 1,000-yard receivers for the first time since the 2012 season. Dirk Koetter was Atlanta's offensive coordinator during that season, when the Falcons reached the NFC Championship game, and Ridley is confident there will be enough balls to go around for that to happen again.
Everything is in line for Ridley to have the breakout season many, including himself, expect. He's been good, even great, in his first two seasons, but Ridley has put in the work to be even better, and he's ready to show it.
"I should be elite this year," Ridley said.
We are counting down the top 10 Falcons players our writers believe are most likely to have a breakout season in 2020. The definition of breakout, for the purpose of this list, is a player who shows sudden significant improvement.