Star receiver ready to set standard, help lead new era of Falcons football
Calvin Ridley is on an ascending career path. That was the case right after the Falcons drafted him No. 26 overall back in 2018, when he made an immediate impact on a team that featured Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu.
Ridley has gone onward and upward since then, with improvement shown in all three professional seasons. That was crystal clear during a breakout 2020 campaign where he had 90 catches for 1,347 yards and nine touchdowns.
That seems like a satisfactory standard to shoot for every year. That's not how Ridley looks at it. He truly believes better lies ahead.
"There's confidence in the fact that I know I can do better," Ridley said this week. "I know the type of player I am, that I'm good. I know that I can play the game well, and there's confidence in that I'm ready to win. I really believe in our team. It's time to win some games for the city."
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Ridley's standards are, as you've now read, sky high.
It doesn't matter that he's not the biggest at 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, or that he's fast but doesn't have Tyreek Hill afterburners. Ridley can get open against all coverages. He knows how to manage double teams and produce with added attention, as we saw during games last season when Jones was out with a hamstring injury.
And, as important as anything, he knows how to make the most of his opportunities. That was evident during a 2020 target surge.
"I felt like, since my rookie year, I have gotten better every season," Ridley said. "Part of it is confidence, because I have the ability to really do whatever I want. When you go from getting the least targets to getting the most and you can play, you're going to get stats and yards and catches and you're going to be in the mix among some of the best in the league. When you get in those positions, you're going to put up numbers that make you look good."
Now that Jones is in Tennessee, he'll partner with Russell Gage, Kyle Pitts and others to pace Matt Ryan's passing attack, a crew with potential yet lacking the pedigree Jones brought in previous years. Ridley learned a lot from Jones, but he's ready to stand on his own. He still has high standards for the skill players moving into a new era with him as the go-to guy.
"We lost a big piece and everybody's thinking we can't get the job done," Ridley said. "I feel like the whole group is going to put something together and play winning football. I just believe in us."
And they believe in him. Ridley understands he'll have to be the standard bearer and is ready for the additional responsibility. He's saying all the right things in that regard, about outworking everyone on the team and pumping up those around him. That included some nice words about Pitts, a player Ridley believes has real speed.
His primary responsibility, however, is maintaining the type of steady and dynamic production required to keep the Falcons offense flying high.
"Calvin's a beast," Gage said. "You guys saw him work and know that he's explosive. Against single coverage, defenses really can't do it. He's a beast. He's the definition of playing fast and being decisive. I'm excited to play across from him this year. It's going to be fun."
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