Fantasy Football: How High Can Calvin Ridley Fly This Season?
An offseason of change in Atlanta has led to Calvin Ridley sitting alone the top of the target totem pole for the Atlanta Falcons.
After a stellar 2020 campaign, most of which Ridley played without stud stablemate Julio Jones on the opposite side of the field, how good can Ridley be in 2021 now that Jones is out of town?
Breaking Out From Julio's Shadow
Ridley has enjoyed a steady start to his NFL career. The Falcons selected him in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft out of Alabama. Since then, Ridley has commanded 317 targets and caught 217 of them for 3,061 yards. These numbers are good -- but just outside of the elite tier.
Where Ridley has excelled has been in terms of touchdown production. Ridley has 26 scores in this career, good for sixth-most among all wide receivers in that span.
Ridley has achieved all this despite sharing a receiving corps with Julio. Since Ridley entered the league, Jones himself has seen 394 targets and posted 263 receptions. Both of these figures are the seventh-most among all wideouts. Jones has the second-most receiving yards in that span -- 3,841 -- but only 17 touchdowns. He is the overall WR8 in PPR scoring.
But Jones endured an injury-ravaged season in 2020, and Ridley took the chance to step out from under Julio's shadow. Ridley saw 143 targets a campaign ago, posting 90 receptions for 1,374 yards and 9 touchdowns. He averaged 18.6 PPR points per game, good for a WR4 finish.
Ridley also enjoyed an elite level of opportunity in high-leverage situations. He saw 40 deep targets, which led all wideouts, and logged 22 red-zone looks, the second-most at the position.
His splits with and without Jones make for intriguing reading, especially with Jones now a member of the Tennessee Titans.
With Julio in the lineup, Ridley has seen 6.64 targets per game, catching 4.42 of them for an average of 61.25 yards. His fantasy output in these games was a steady 14.67 PPR points per contest.
But when Jones missed out, Ridley saw his opportunities spike. His targets leaped to 11.12, his catches went to 7.25, and his yardage ballooned to 107.0. He became a true fantasy stud, with a healthy average of 20.12 PPR points per game.
Julio's departure is the biggest reason there is a whopping 195 targets available from 2020 heading into this year for Atlanta. Outside of Ridley, there are no real serious contenders for targets among the wide receivers unless you are a massive fan of Russell Gage and Olamide Zaccheaus. Surely Ridley is in store for a monster 2021 season, right?
Hold that thought for a minute.
The Falcons made a sweeping change to their coaching staff, bringing in former Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith. If last season is anything to go by, maybe should be prepared for a fundamental shift in offensive philosophy.
In 2020, the Falcons pass-to-run ratio of 1.63 was the eighth-highest in the NFL. Smith's Titans checked in at 0.97, the third-lowest. This aligns with Tennessee's neutral game splits, too, with the Titans passing the ball 49% of the time when the game was within three points. The Falcons may not fill the air with footballs as much as they did last season.
However, Smith may have just been using the talent on offer to him. Last year's Titans had Derrick Henry, and given his unique skill set, it would have been foolish to not strongly feature him in their offense.
The Falcons' leading option at running back is currently Mike Davis. He's a solid player who flashed for the Carolina Panthers in 2020, but he is not Henry. If Smith is as wise a play-caller as people think he is, the Falcons may lean toward the pass without becoming almost allergic to the running game.
In short -- Ridley will still see a healthy workload.
It's worth noting, though, that there is also the not-insignificant presence of Kyle Pitts, who was not a factor last season and will almost certainly eat into a good chunk of the 195 vacated targets. After all, the Falcons spent the fourth-overall selection on Pitts.
Many expect Pitts to buck the trend regarding rookie tight ends and become productive from the get-go. We have him projected as the TE5. Pitts will likely be a solid (if somewhat annoying) partner to Ridley in the Falcons' aerial attack.
Calvin Ridley's 2021 Fantasy Football Projection
It's not as if Ridley is being dismissed by fantasy managers at present. Far from it, in fact.
Over at the NFC, he is currently going off the board as the WR5. This fits in perfectly with our model, as we have Ridley as our WR5 with Pitts still seeing a healthy 115 targets. Ridley will almost certainly be among the top scorers at his position.
But if anything were to happen to Pitts, be it injury or the fulfillment of the prophecy that no rookie tight ends will ever be superstars, then Ridley finishing as the highest-scoring wide receiver in all of fantasy football is not beyond the realms of possibility. This Falcon is going to soar.