The Rise of Ridley the Route Runner

If you’re anything like me, there are fewer things in this world more satisfying than watching a wide receiver dismantle a defensive back with a nasty, precise route on his way to scoring a touchdown. You know exactly what I’m talking about, don’t you? You can picture it in your head – the receiver aggressively comes off the line and forces the cornerback into a frantic back peddle. Next, the receiver breaks hard towards the middle of the field…the defender’s hips turn…and suddenly you can feel the six points coming from your couch. The receiver turns upfield and is immediately so open, you wonder if the defender was ever there. The quarterback hits him in stride as he crosses the goal line while the defender is left behind. Simply beautiful.

Now, maybe there are a few things in this world that are more satisfying than what I just described, but you have to appreciate the technical effort that goes into making that play happen in only a matter of seconds. One of the best young route runners in the league, and arguably the most exciting rookie wide receiver last year, is Calvin Ridley, and he is quickly making a name for himself in the league.

Coming out of college, his Draft Profile Analysis started with the following statements from NFL Analyst Lance Zierlein, “Ridley has game-changing talent complete with blazing speed and rare route-running ability for a college prospect. 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.” Prior to him even stepping onto the field for a professional game, he was already known for his incredible route running abilities.

Before I dive into the numbers and analysis, if you haven’t yet seen some of Calvin Ridley’s proficient route running, go do that and then come back and finish reading this. Better yet, check out some of my recent tweets and you’re sure to see some Ridley routes in there. Here’s one that should whet the appetite, as I want you to be able to picture the greatness in your mind as I convince you that he is one of the most dominant young wideouts in the game.

All set? Alright, let’s dive in.


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Rookie Review

Since a little refresher is always nice, here’s your reminder that Ridley led all rookie wide receivers in every major category last year. He was first in targets (92), receptions (64), yards (821), and, most memorably, touchdowns (10). All of that was good for 22nd in PPR scoring. While I think it will be tough for him to match his touchdown total this coming year, I still expect him to be one of the most dominant young wide receivers in the game moving forward.

I’m a big fan of efficiency, and Calvin Ridley made the most of his opportunities on the field, especially with his route running. Per PlayerProfiler.com, Ridley ranked sixth among all qualified wide receivers in target separation with an average separation of 1.84 yards. In addition to that, quarterback Matt Ryan had a passer rating of 129.0 when targeting Ridley which was also good for sixth at the wide receiver position. Finally, if that wasn’t enough, he was also in the top ten among wide receivers in fantasy points per target, coming in at 2.25 which was good for ninth. In all, Ridley leaned on his route running to make himself valuable to his quarterback and his team while on the field.

Calvin Ridley’s ceiling is limited primarily by the presence of Julio Jones. It’s no secret that Jones is one of the most physically dominant receivers in the game and he will always command extra defensive attention when he is on the field. Besides, fellow receiver Mohamed Sanu, who is under contract until 2021, will also continue to absorb a fair amount of targets as well. Toss in tight end Austin Hooper, Devonta Freeman and the rest of the Falcons backfield, and you’d be right to wonder just how great Ridley can be with all of those mouths to feed on a deep and talented offense. However, Ridley is simply too talented to be ignored.

Future Outlook

When I look at the talent of Calvin Ridley, and the development he made last year, I couldn’t help but make a fairly bold comparison in my head. Ridley is to Julio Jones what Jones was to Roddy White several years ago.

Once a dominant wideout, White faded the mantle of WR1 in Atlanta to Jones over a couple of seasons. Simply looking at the timeline, everything is lining up for a similar transition of power within this offense. Take a look at the comparison in production between Jones and White when Jones was a rookie in 2011 and the comparison in production between Ridley and Jones this past year when Ridley was a rookie. The results are strikingly similar.

20112018
Roddy White (Age 30)Julio Jones (R)Julio Jones (Age 30)Calvin Ridley (R)
Targets18095Targets17092
Receptions10054Receptions11364
Catch Rate55.656.8Catch Rate66.569.6
Yards1296959Yards1677821
TDs88TDs810

For the sake of argument, let’s look at the five years where Jones played with White and extrapolate those numbers to Ridley playing with Jones. (Full disclosure, I’m not saying Ridley is as good as Jones, but bear with me). In the five years Jones played with White, he averaged 130 targets, 83 receptions, 1,240 yards, and 6.8 touchdowns. I think five more years is the most Jones will play, depending on his age, health, and the outcome of his looming contract extension. If Ridley can even hover around that level of production, he will be very relevant for fantasy owners for a long time.

Speaking of age and health, Jones is entering his age 30 season and has a history of lower-body injuries. This about the time when whispers start coming out about the potential “cliff” for NFL players. While he has only missed three regular-season games in the past five seasons, one has to wonder how long he can sustain his high level of production. During the past few seasons, Jones has been no stranger to missed or limited practices, and he has deftly navigated through various stages of the injury report.

How Ridley runs his routes, you can tell he’s got a great feel for the game at the pro level. Whether that has to do with his time in Alabama, similar to Julio Jones, or his older age in coming out of college, he seems very mature on the field. He makes veteran moves in open space and has a knack for getting around defenders without having to outmuscle them either at the line of scrimmage or at the point of the catch.

Potential Downside

From a dynasty perspective, he might be a bit tough to buy heading into his second year. Any current Calvin Ridley owner will look at his touchdown production from last year, coupled with his role on a high powered offense, and (rightly or wrongly) ask for more than you may be willing to pay. Also, two big knocks against him from the analytics side of the equation are his college production and his age.

Coming out of Alabama, Ridley’s Dominator Rating (33.5% / 62nd percentile) and Breakout Age (20.7 / 45th percentile) did not put him among other elite prospects. Just using his Breakout Age and rookie production, his closest comparisons are Justin Blackmon and Torrey Smith; not the greatest comps. There’s no getting around it Ridley, at 24 years old, is older than many other rookies who go on to have successful and productive careers. A comparison I have used previously with Ridley is Brandin Cooks. Cooks just came off of his fourth straight 1,000-yard season and he is only 25 years old.

The other potential downside to elite production is what I mentioned earlier – the presence of a likely future Hall of Fame wide receiver in teammate Julio Jones, who is clearly in his prime. Besides looking to sign what will likely be one of the most lucrative contracts for a wide receiver in history, he also happens to be coming off a season where he averaged more than 100 receiving yards per game. This puts a bit of a damper on the prospects of Calvin Ridley. There is a case to be had if you either wanted to avoid Ridley altogether in your drafts or if you wanted to capitalize on his historic rookie production by selling high to someone who believes in him.

Looking Ahead

Calvin Ridley may not be the de facto WR1 on his team for at least the next couple of years, but I’m okay with that. If Ridley can become a bit more consistent with his production, I am very happy having him as my mid to backend WR2 for the next few seasons. He will continue to see single coverage from opposing defenses as long as Julio Jones is on the field, and he will continue to grow as one of the most proficient route runners in the league.

In the meantime, he’ll still have the ability to pop off a winning performance for your team as his 4.43-sec. 40-yard dash speed is no joke. There is no greater way to learn how to be a prolific wide receiver than to lineup across from one of the best in the game for a few years. When he does emerge as the clear number one in Atlanta, I believe that Calvin Ridley will continue to dominate the league for quite some time.

Thanks for checking out my article! For more fantasy football content, follow me on Twitter @Samuel_DFF.


If you haven’t already become a Factory Sports member, we hope you will consider doing so. If you’re looking for a site that covers Dynasty, Redraft, IDP, Devy, and DFS you have found it. Sign up today for just $29.99 for a full year, and we’ll also give you the 2019 Factory Fantasy Redraft Guide, the Rookie and the 2019 IDP Rookie Guides (this special is ending very, very soon!).

If you don’t want the guides, you can become a member for a year for just $19.99. Become a Factory Sports subscriber today! If you want to try us out for a month, you can do that too, right here. Each of these memberships also gets you instant access to our Factory Conveyor Belt Slack community, our Video Mailbag series, and much more to come!

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