For much of the last decade its often been Matt Ryan or Julio Jones who has stood out as the Falcons' clear MVP in a given season. This fall, however, Around the NFL writer Dan Hanzus believes a new player could emerge in that role.
In a piece on NFL.com, Hanzus picked third-year receiver Calvin Ridley to become Atlanta's MVP in 2020. There's been a lot of hype surrounding Ridley this offseason, and understandably so. Hanzus lays out the case for why Ridley is poised to capitalize on that hype.
"This feels like the year Ridley 'makes the leap' from quality starter to breakout star," Hanzus writes. "The 2018 first-round pick has been a consistent source of production in his first two seasons, totaling 17 touchdowns and close to 1,700 yards while lining up across from Julio Jones. At 31, Jones will continue to command double-teams -- and Atlanta's lack of a proven third wideout (hi, Russell Gage) or the presence of tight end Austin Hooper (off to Cleveland in free agency) means a healthy Ridley should easily surpass 100 targets for the first time. Jones hasn't had a running mate with this talent level since Roddy White, a member of the Falcons' Ring of Honor."
Prior to suffering a season-ending abdominal injury in Week 14, Ridley was on pace to top 1,000 receiving yards for the first time in his career. He ultimately finished the year with 63 catches for 866 yards and seven touchdowns. In his first two NFL seasons Ridley has gained 1,687 yards and 17 touchdowns – one shy of tying Jones' franchise record for receiving touchdowns in the first two seasons of a career.
Ridley ranked second among all NFL receivers in DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average), according to Football Outsiders, finishing behind only Chris Godwin. The emergence of players like Ridley and Godwin has made the NFC South even more daunting for opposing defenses. If the Falcons are going to compete in what could very well be one of the toughest divisions in 2020, they'll need an offense firing on all cylinders.
That will involve Ridley taking yet another step forward in his game, but his track record so far suggests that's possible. And, more importantly, Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter believes that's possible.
"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."
Emphasizing the fundamentals of the game for his second year of camp. Here are the best photos of Falcons' receiver Calvin Ridley