Why Calvin Ridley Can Be This Year's WR1

Calvin Ridley could be this year's top fantasy wide receiver.

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Let's dig right into it. Calvin Ridley has the opportunity and talent to be the top fantasy wide receiver in 2021, and here's why.

Ridley finished with career highs in targets (143), receptions (90), and receiving yards (1,374) in 2020. He also added nine touchdowns to give him 26 scores in three years (44 games) which is a 60% chance of scoring a touchdown in all games played. For a wide receiver, that is outstanding! By comparison, the per-game touchdown percentages for Tyreek Hill is 64%, Davante Adams 62%, DeAndre Hopkins 48%, and Michael Thomas 46%. Julio Jones surprisingly wasn't a big touchdown-scorer in Atlanta, but now that he is removed from the equation, Ridley should benefit even more.

With Atlanta's decision to trade standout wide receiver, Julio Jones, to the Titans, Ridley is the team's unquestioned top target by a wide margin. Yes, they also drafted stellar rookie tight end Kyle Pitts, but Ridley should and will be the biggest beneficiary of Jones' vacated targets. After Ridley, the next best receiver on the roster is Russell Gage. Gage exceeded 100 targets in 2020 and should see a bump in productivity, but he's not on the same level or target-share expectancy as Ridley.

Can Kyle Pitts steal his thunder?

Kyle Pitts became the highest-drafted tight end in NFL history this year and was widely viewed by scouts as an elite difference-maker. And while his NFL future is as bright as anyone at the position, history tells us to temper expectations in his rookie season. The last rookie tight end to reach 800 yards receiving was Jeremy Shockey (894) in 2002. Evan Engram's 722 yards in 2017 stands as the next best yardage total in recent years. Rob Gronkowski finished with 10 touchdowns in 2010 but only 546 yards. If Atlanta uses Pitts strictly as an X- or Z-receiver role then maybe he breaks through the historical ceiling, but either way it shouldn't come at the expense of Ridley's role as the principal target.

How has Ridley fared without Julio Jones in the lineup? The answer is shockingly well. He has averaged 11 targets, 7 receptions, and 107 yards in eight regular-season games without Jones with five 100-yard games. Surprisingly, Ridley's touchdown rate is lower without Jones, but the sample size makes it anomalous.

Calvin Ridley games without Julio Jones

Date
Opponent
Receptions
Targets
Receiving Yards
Yards/Catch
Touchdowns
11/28/2019
vs. New Orleans
8
10
91
11.4
0
9/27/2020
vs. Chicago
5
13
110
22.0
0
10/11/2020
vs. Carolina
8
10
136
17.0
0
11/29/2020
vs. Las Vegas
6
9
50
8.3
1
12/13/2020
at LA Chargers
8
12
124
15.5
1
12/20/2020
vs. Tampa Bay
10
14
163
16.3
1
12/27/2020
at Kansas City
5
9
130
26.0
0
1/3/2021
at Tampa Bay
8
12
52
6.5
0
Average
7.3
11.1
107
15.4
0.4

The last five No. 1 overall fantasy receivers... (standard scoring)

What did they have in common, aside from mountains of talent? They played with excellent quarterbacks. DeAndre Hopkins is the only outlier because Deshaun Watson was a rookie and only played seven games before tearing his ACL. The Texans finished the season with a combination of T.J. Yates and Tom Savage under center, yet Hopkins still thrived. Looking back, it's remarkable what he achieved under the circumstances. Every team listed above made the playoffs that year except Houston, who finished 4-12.

Often, the overall WR1 is far and away the best fantasy wide receiver on the team. Except for Davante Adams finishing WR7 in 2016, all of the other WR1 finishers above had a sizable gap between them and the next closest receiver.

Including the narrow margin of Nelson and Adams in 2016, the average margin of ranking between the overall WR1 and his closest wide receiver teammate in standard fantasy points is 56.6. Now that Julio Jones playing elsewhere in 2021, Ridley should be the clear top receiving target among Atlanta's wide receiving corps, by a wide margin.

Let's dig further...How many years of experience did each receiver have when they reached WR1 status?

Average season: 5.4 - Ridley is entering his fourth year in 2021.

The Falcons running game is unproven

Nothing against Mike Davis, but he isn't expected to be the focal point of the offense, even given new head coach Arthur Smith's run-heavy past. The passing game may become the main path of success for Atlanta. Matt Ryan and the Falcons have topped 617 pass attempts in each of the last three seasons finishing with the 4th-most pass attempts in 2020, 1st in 2019, and 5th in 2018. If the running game isn't effective, the passing game will take center stage and that means more targets for Ridley.

Matt Ryan checks the boxes

In most cases, a wide receiver is as good as his quarterback. In other words, the quarterback plays a major role in the level of success for a wide receiver.

Matt Ryan Accolades and Accomplishments

  • 10 consecutive years of 4,000+ yards passing
  • 12 consecutive years of 20+ touchdown passes
  • career 26.6 touchdown passes per year
  • 2016 - won MVP and Offensive Player of the Year
  • 5x Pro-bowler
  • Most passing yards in first 10 years of NFL history, 11 years, and 12 years.
  • Missed one game since 2009

At age 26, he is in his prime

In three years in the league, Ridley has finished 18th, 27th, and last year he cracked the Top 5 (4th), which coincidentally happened in the same season when Julio Jones missed seven games. Ridley led all wide receivers with eight 100-yard games in 2020, five of which came with Jones out of the lineup. He had only three games last season where he didn't have 5+ receptions, 100 yards, or a touchdown. Two of those games occurred in Week 8 and 9. In Week 8 he suffered a foot/ankle injury and missed most of the game. The following week he suited up but did not receive a target. Week 10 was the Falcons' bye.

When should you draft Ridley in season-long leagues? Anytime after the beginning of round two and possibly earlier.

2021 Projections

Season
Games
Rushes
RuYards
RuTDs
Targets
Receptions
ReYards
ReTDs
FumLost
2018
16
6
27
0
92
64
821
10
1
2019
13
2
34
0
93
63
866
7
2020
15
5
1
0
143
90
1374
9
1
Footballguys Projections
Projector
Games
Rushes
RuYards
RuTDs
Recs
ReYards
ReTDs
FumLost
Consensus
16.4
3.5
23
0.0
101.6
1443
9.9
0.1
Anthony Amico
17.0
4.6
22
0.0
106.4
1506
12.8
0.0
Sigmund Bloom
17.0
0.0
0
0.0
110
1605
10.0
0.0
Justin Freeman
15.0
4.1
28
0.1
108.4
1464
11.9
0.0
Bob Henry
16.0
4.0
25
0.0
95
1330
8.5
0.0
Maurile Tremblay
17.0
4.0
26
0.1
83.3
1242
7.4
0.9
Jason Wood
16.0
3.0
25
0.0
102
1470
9.0
0.0

The Footballguys staff collectively project Ridley to average 101.6 receptions, 1,443 yards, and 9.9 touchdowns. At best, Ridley could have a season like Michael Thomas did in 2019 where he monopolized the receiving game. The level of success for Atlanta's offense under Arthur Smith and the expected volume in the passing game will dictate how much will flow through Ridley. If head coach Arthur Smith uses more of the running game as he did with Tennessee and Derrick Henry, the passing volume will drop off considerably compared to Falcons teams in the last three years. Mike Davis isn't Derrick Henry, so that run-heavy philosophy may not translate to the Falcons offense. If Atlanta stays within the metrics that we've seen over the past three years, Ridley has an excellent chance to be the primary receiving threat by a large margin, which could result in a WR1 finish.

Questions, suggestions, and comments are always welcome to haseley@footballguys.com


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