It was certainly surprising to see Calvin Ridley slide in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, falling all the way to the 26th-overall pick, where the Atlanta Falcons happily snapped him up. In his first two seasons, Ridley has looked very much like the player who earned the label of top receiver in the draft after a stellar college career at Alabama.
Quickly stepping into a prominent role in Atlanta's offense, Ridley has caught 127 passes for 1,687 yards and 17 touchdowns since the Falcons drafted him. Prior to an abdominal injury that forced him to miss the final three games of the 2019 season, Ridley was on pace to top 1,000 yards for the first time in his career.
What should frighten NFL defenses, however, is that for as well as Ridley has played thus far, Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter believes his ceiling has yet to be reached.
"Calvin has just exceptional speed and quickness," Koetter said. "His quick-twitch body movements are exceptional. I think Calvin will do nothing but get better the more he works with Matt [Ryan], the more he gains Matt's trust. I think there's some little things that Cal can work on that will really help him elevate."
To put into greater perspective the promising start Ridley has had with the Falcons, consider these facts: Ridley's 1,687 yards are the third-most by any Atlanta receiver in his first two seasons, behind only Julio Jones (2,157) and Bert Emanuel (1,688). Ridley had just one fewer yard than Emanuel, despite playing in three fewer games. Ridley's 17 touchdowns are just one shy of tying Jones's franchise record, and his 10 touchdowns in 2018 are the most ever by a Falcons rookie. Furthermore, Ridley set an NFL record with six touchdown receptions in the first four NFL games of his career.
Perhaps even more impressive are what the advanced analytics say of Ridley. According to Football Outsiders, Ridley ranked second among all NFL receivers in DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) in 2019 behind only Chris Godwin. He also ranked fifth in DYAR (Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement), coming in two spots higher than Jones.
Ridley's unique combination of elite speed – he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.43 seconds – and dancer-like balance and coordinator have made him a nightmare for opposing defenses. Those athletic traits have benefited Ridley so far, and Koetter believes with just a bit more polish in some advanced areas of the game he will be able to fully unlock his potential.
"I think he's always been able to beat his man just by pure speed and athleticism, and I think as he gets a little more consistent in his route running and understanding what is landmarks are, his depths of his routes are, I think you're going to see a jump in his game," Koetter said. "Now, you say that, but we're also talking about a guy who, in his first two years in the league, has put up some pretty substantial numbers. But I think his talent is even higher than that."
When the Falcons selected Ridley with the 26th pick in 2018, receiver was not considered among their most pressing needs. However, Atlanta clearly believed his talent was too great to pass up, and the Falcons have been proven right so far. Ridley hasn't been just a good compliment to Jones, he's had one of the best starts to a career of any Falcons receiver outside of No. 11.
If Koetter is right, and Ridley's talent is even greater than what we've seen so far, the Falcons will have two of the league's elite receivers on their roster.