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Calvin Ridley, Russell Gage named among NFL's best young players

It wasn’t a noteworthy season for the Atlanta Falcons but Ridley and Gage turned in truly spectacular breakout years.

It wasn't a noteworthy season for the Atlanta Falcons, who finished 4-12, but two players turned in truly spectacular breakout years.

Wide receivers Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage each took on new roles in 2020, with Ridley taking over the No. 2 spot opposite Julio Jones and Gage becoming the team's permanent third receiver In those roles, they flourished.

Ridley led the Falcons with 90 receptions for 1,374 yards – fifth-most in the NFL – and nine touchdowns. Gage ranked second on the team with 72 catches for 786 yards and four touchdowns. The duo also connected on a touchdown pass against the Los Angeles Chargers when Gage completed a 39-yard bomb to Ridley.


For their performances this season, they've earned recognition from CBS Sports's Chris Trapasso. He included Ridley and Gage on his list of top NFL players under the age of 25. Trapasso's awards are distinct for each player, and he explains why.

Gage, 24, fittingly was named the league's Most Improved Skill-Position Player.

"Gage had the quietest 700-plus yard receiving season in NFL history in 2020," Trapasso writes. "No one outside of Falcons fans seemed to notice. Well, the Young Player Superlative Committee sure did. While we know what we're getting with Gage -- gadget, possession wideout -- and there's nothing to be ashamed about with that role. Because Gage wasn't strictly schemed to 786 yards. He displayed lightning-quick agility and good contact balance to absorb hits and continue forward."

When the Falcons drafted Gage in the sixth round of the 2018 NFL Draft, they viewed him as a future star on special teams with the potential to possibly work into an offensive rotation. He's become much more than that, improving with each season and now looking like a future star at wide receiver.

Nobody tell Trapasso, but Ridley is actually 26 years old. He was 25 for nearly all of the 2020 season, however, and Trapasso lists members of the 2018 draft class as eligible for inclusion. His superlative for Ridley was a bit obvious: Third-Year WR of the Year.

"It didn't matter the cornerback or which type of defense he faced -- Ridley was a reliable, big-play option for Matt Ryan," Trapasso writes. "He had eight 100-plus yard receiving games. A lot of people -- including me -- believed the former first-round pick's previous production was mostly thanks to playing opposite Jones and facing No. 2 cornerbacks. He proved that not to be the case with his 1,347-yard, nine touchdown-grab masterpiece in 2020."

There's not much more to be said about Ridley's season, because we've been talking about it all year long. He looks to be nothing short of the next superstar receiver in line for the Falcons.

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