Falcons: Where does Calvin Ridley rank among NFL route runners?

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With Julio Jones no longer in Atlanta, this team is at a crossroads. While losing Jones would hurt any franchise, the Falcons still have an amazing skill-position group that added the best player in college football last season — Kyle Pitts. Calvin Ridley isn’t the same type of receiver Jones is; he uses his smooth technique and quickness to get open rather than freak athleticism. One thing that Ridley did exceptionally well in 2020 was beat guys one-on-one, which begs the question — is he one of the best route runners in the NFL?

If you zoom in, you’ll see Ridley trails only Stefon Diggs, Davante Adams, Justin Jefferson, and Robby Anderson in receiving yards against man coverage for wide receivers. Diggs is a fantastic receiver, but he also had the benefit of defenders worrying about Josh Allen breaking the pocket and scrambling, in addition to his absolute rocket arm. Davante Adams was playing with the MVP. Not to take anything away from Matt Ryan, because he placed many passes right in Ridley’s breadbasket, but you would think that a lot of Ridley’s yards were more difficult. In that same breath, the Falcons passed more than any team in the NFL.

In short, Ridley might not be the best route runner in the league because it is hard to quantify such an arbitrary statistic. Routes against man coverage are different from routes against zone coverage, relying more on instincts and timing than the physical ability that man coverage routes require. There is no debating what he did against man coverage last year, so it would be hard for someone to argue that Ridley isn’t in the elite, upper-echelon of route runners. You still have to consider a guy like Travis Kelce as well. In terms of pure ability for wide receivers, I would still probably put Adams, Diggs, and maybe someone like Keenan Allen ahead of Ridley — but he’s in the conversation for top-five.

Still, the point remains that Calvin Ridley’s smooth technique is a valuable weapon for Arthur Smith, who had success with AJ Brown against man coverage. It will be challenging for teams to guard Kyle Pitts one-on-one, so hopefully, Ridley will still get the opportunities he got when Julio Jones was healthy and commanding a lot of attention.

I have high expectations for Ridley in 2021; I expect him to eclipse 1200 yards at least. I imagine he will also make his first Pro Bowl based on volume alone. Hopefully, he continues to get these looks because nearing the end of his rookie contract, he will be looking to cash in on an extension with the Falcons.

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