Ridley was one of the best receivers in college football, but will he be one of the best in the NFL?
The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the eight weeks leading up to the 2018 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This week, we dive into the wide receiver position. Today, we look at Calvin Ridley from the University of Alabama.
As a true freshman, Ridley put together what was his most impressive year during his collegiate career. He finished that year with 89 catches for 1045 yards and 7 touchdowns. Over the next two seasons he failed to come close to those numbers of catches and yards. During his sophomore season, he had 72 catches, but only 769 yards. Then in 2017, during his last year at Alabama, he had just 63 catches, but that did translate to 967 yards. He had by far his highest yard per reception as a junior with over 15 yards per catch. A lot of these numbers are tainted because of Alabama’s offensive scheme. They aren’t going to spread you out and throw for 300 yards a game, especially given the offensive line and running backs they have had over the last few years. Ridley’s freshman number’s over the rest of his collegiate year look a bit disappointing, but overall he had a nice college career.
Many believe that this is a weak wide receiver class, but for the most part the consensus is that Ridley is at or near the top of the list. Ridley brings a lot to the table, which is why he is being considered in the mid-first round range. One of his greatest strengths is his speed. This was on full display at the NFL combine when he ran a 4.43 40-yard dash, which was tied for sixth fastest amongst wide receivers. He also posted a top-ten time amongst wide receivers in the 3-cone drill, which is one of the best ways to evaluate a player’s speed and quickness. He is one of the most explosive players in this draft and has the ability to take a simple slant all the way for a touchdown, which is something a lot of teams will be intrigued by.
Where Calvin Ridley won across the route tree pic.twitter.com/TUf0DMBRsZ— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) April 13, 2018
With that being said, what most consider Ridley’s biggest strength is his route running. He has shown over the last three years at Alabama that he is one of best route running wide receivers in the country. Pro Football Focus showed this in the graphic above, which shows that Ridley is above average in almost every type of route there is. Additionally, Sam Monson did an article about Ridley’s route running and details just how special it is.
Take this play against LSU as an example – with LSU in man coverage at the time. Ridley effectively manufactures the pick play by pressing his route vertically to cause the collision that busts him open. He would have been able to break this route inside earlier, given the leverage of the outside corner, and the route concept itself is designed to cause this kind of chaos in the secondary, but with the coverage on the play it needed help to create the collision, and Ridley instinctively knew how to make it happen. He had the knowledge and discipline to force the contact, knowing that it would break him open even more than just the route itself.
Calvin Ridley on the top of the screen. Creates easy separation on the slant. pic.twitter.com/i1cHd2gymD— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) April 17, 2018
Most receivers would just take advantage of the alignment and beat their man to the inside. They would get open, but they wouldn’t be literally uncovered at the point they caught the ball. One of Ridley’s greatest traits as a route-runner isn’t just that he gets open, but he maximizes how open he gets, deceiving defenders in coverage and baiting them into small mistakes that make his job at the catch point easier. That isn’t just a bonus for a receiver, but it’s a crucial aspect of his game because he struggles in contested catch situations. The extra separation he manufactures buys both him and his quarterback a greater margin for error.
Monson says that Ridley doesn’t just get open, he gets the most possible separation from the coverage as possible. In the NFL he’s going to need this trait to continue, which combined with his speed gives him a chance to be amongst the best receivers in the league.
Ridley’s explosiveness is often looked at as a strength, but there was some cause for concern from his NFL combine performance. Monson’s article detailed the disappointment surrounding Ridley’s combine. He said that Ridley ranked near the bottom of the wide receiver class in the vertical jump, the broad jump and the short shuttle, which are all used to show a player’s athleticism.
Many teams will look at this and question whether he has NFL explosiveness qualities or if he will struggle to be special at the next level. However, be careful when you only look at the combined measurables because those aren’t always the best way to identify a player’s strengths and weaknesses. Ridley showed on during his college career how dangerous he can be with the ball in his hands and a poor combine performance shouldn’t take away from that. It is just something to be aware of.
Furthermore, Ridley’s build is another concern teams will point to. He is slight in size at 6‘0”, 189 pounds. He is going to need to bulk up more if he is going to be able to handle the physicality NFL corners will bring his way. He has also struggled with drops over his three seasons at Alabama. He had 20 drops in three year’s, which isn’t good at all. He is going to need to improve his attention to detail in the NFL to make sure that number drops significantly. If you are looking for a perfect receiver prospect in this year’s class, you won’t find one, but Ridley’s strengths outweigh his weaknesses, especially since some of the weaknesses are fixable.
Ridley is going to be the best receiver out of the class and it probably won’t be that close. His traits translate to the NFL seamlessly and he should be able to make an immediate impact for whatever team selects him in the draft. The numbers he put up in college weren’t overly impressive, but at another school with a better quarterback, they would have been through the roof. He likely will slip to the end of the first round because of the concerns of his build, but whatever team gets him is going to get a difference maker.
There will be a lot of teams interested in Calvin Ridley, but it will interesting to see just how high he ends up going. If people believe this is a weak wide receiver class, will they reach for a Ridley or Courtland Sutton higher than they would in a normal year? There is a great possibility of this happening. Ridley could go as high as 15 to the Arizona Cardinals, 16 to the Baltimore Ravens or 19 to the Dallas Cowboys. If he does end up slipping further in the first round, the Jacksonville Jaguars would be a good fit because they are in need of a number one receiver after losing Allen Robinson in free agency. With that being said, I would be shocked if he lasts past the top 20.
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