Ever since the first night of the 2018 NFL Draft, Calvin Ridley and D.J. Moore have been linked. In some ways, that link extends even further.
Throughout the draft process, Ridley was largely viewed as the top wide receiver in the draft class. The few times Ridley's name wasn't at the top of the list, however, Moore's was. When Moore was selected by the Carolina Panthers with the 24th pick in the draft, two spots ahead of where the Falcons selected Ridley, that connection in the minds of fans and the media was solidified.
In the coming years, Ridley and Moore are sure to be compared constantly to one another. Whether that's fair or not, it's the nature of their situation, especially because they play in the same division.
With the season coming to a close, let's take a look back at how the two rookies have fared in their first year in the NFL.
Who has been more productive?
Through 14 games, Ridley and Moore have produced at a similar clip with touchdowns being the notable exception. Moore has caught 49 passes for 688 yards and two touchdowns, and Ridley has caught 56 passes for 699 yards and eight touchdowns – tied for the 10th most in the NFL.
Both rookies have had one game in which they've gained over 140 yards. Ridley caught seven passes for 146 yards and three scores in Week 3 against the Saints; Moore caught seven passes for 157 yards and a touchdown in Week 11 against the Lions.
While Ridley jumped out to a faster start this season, gaining 264 yards and catching six touchdown passes in weeks 2-4, Moore has been more productive recently. In their last five games, Moore has gained 371 yards and caught one touchdown pass while Ridley has 199 receiving yards and a score.
Raw stats only tell part of the story, however, as their on-field play has some similarities and differences as well.
Who is better after the catch?
Both players have nearly identical speed – Moore ran a 4.42-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine; Ridley ran the 40-yard dash in 4.43 seconds – but they use their speed in slightly different ways.
Moore is a terrific runner with the ball in his hands, proving to be both elusive and tough to bring down.
"It's his run and catch ability," Falcons coach Dan Quinn said of what stands out about Moore. "I think it was against Detroit he had an 80-yarder where you saw the speed part of it and I think everybody already knew he had the speed, but it's his ability to break tackles I think that's what jumped out to us on the catch and run games."
The Panthers utilize Moore in a variety of ways. They line him up in the slot, on the outside and they occasionally motion him into the backfield. Given Moore's versatile skillset and prodigious ability as a ball carrier, it makes sense to get him the ball in a multitude of ways.
Breaking down their unique skillsets
Coming out of Maryland, NFL.com analyst Lance Zierlein's player comparison for Moore was Vikings receiver Stefon Diggs, and they noted his talent in gaining yards after the catch:
"Moore doesn't have the height and length teams look for outside and may become a full-time option from the slot," Zierlein wrote. "He clearly has the short-area quickness and talent after the catch to handle those duties, but his route-running needs to become more focused and fast to unlock his potential."
Moore's route running has become a bit crisper, but he has mostly been used on simpler patterns that allow him to get the ball in space at a run.
Ridley is different. For the Falcons' rookie, route running is something that is already a major staple of his game.
The suddenness that Ridley displays coming out of cuts often generates several yards of separation between him and the nearest defender.
Zierlein noted Ridley's route running and speed coming out of Alabama, and the rookie receiver has improved considerably in the areas that were marked as possible weaknesses.
"Ridley has game-changing talent complete with blazing speed and rare route-running ability for a college prospect," Zierlein wrote. "He ran the full route tree at Alabama, has experience working in a pro-style attack and is a plug-and-play starter on day one. He must improve his ability to defeat press corners off the snap or he'll become a feast or famine target. Ridley's elite speed and separation talent gives him the potential to become one of the more productive and dangerous receivers in the league."
It's not just the raw talent that has helped Ridley make an impact in his first season with the Falcons. Upon arriving in Atlanta, Ridley drew frequent praise from the coaching staff for his borderline obsessive desire to improve on the practice field.
That passion has lasted throughout the season, as he catches dozens of passes off of the jugs machine every day after practice. If there is one problem to point out with Ridley as the season has progressed it's dropped passes, but it's clear he's taking measures to correct those problems.
The way defenses are playing Ridley has also changed as the year has gone on. His deceptive speed allowed Ridley to beat defenders over the top early on, but teams have adjusted to not let him get behind the secondary.
"Maybe some of the ones down the field, the big shot plays," Quinn said of defenses adjusting to Ridley. "When you put those on tape and saw OK, read the scouting report, this guy can haul ass, so you better make sure that you stay on top and you do those. So, when that happens, how do you adjust? How do you make more plays? He has the compliment to do that, so I anticipate him finishing strong."
Moore and Ridley will share the same field on Sunday with their rookie seasons nearly complete. With the way they've played this year, both teams have to be pleased with their choice in receiver and excited about what they will see in the future.