The Case for Calvin Ridley as a Breakout Star

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There has been a lot of debate about the prospects of Calvin Ridley as he enters his third year in the NFL. He has been a staple of consistency in his first two years, finishing as the WR22 and WR27, respectively. Most have him projected just above this, as his current ADP sits at WR17 and 45 overall.

I have him projected at WR6. And here's why.

The Trade of Mohamed Sanu

Let's start with the metric that you should be using to analyze historical fantasy data: fantasy points per game (FPTS/G). In Ridley's rookie season, he averaged 12.9 FPTS/G, with 27 receivers finishing ahead of him. In 2019, he jumped all the way up to 15.2 FPTS/G, finishing tied with Michael Gallup as the WR18 on a per game basis. After Mohamed Sanu was traded, that number jumped to 17.8 FPTS/G. The half-season sample of Ridley without Sanu would see him finish as the WR7 on a points per game basis.

Furthering that, he posted weekly fantasy finishes of WR3, WR8, WR14, and WR18 in the four weeks leading up to his Week 14 injury. In Week 14, he played just 53% of snaps; had he not gotten injured, he would've posted four straight top-15 fantasy weeks. To put that into perspective, the longest streak of top-15 performances that fantasy WR1, Michael Thomas, put together was five games.

Michelle does some fantastic work - and this is accurate information - but the missing information here is the Week 14 performance. After stringing together a flurry of top-tier performances, Matt Ryan showed a trust in the second-year receiver. In the 53% of snaps he played prior to his injury, he received 5 targets; just one below the average that Michelle highlighted. In Week 14, Austin Hooper, Julio Jones, and Devonta Freeman were on the field. Did Ridley benefit from the Sanu trade and the injuries to his teammates? Absolutely. Did he still establish a breakout during that time? Absolutely.

The Yards Per Route Run

The discussion I got into with @Kyle_FFRecon following one of my Calvin Ridley tweets last week got onto the topic of yards per route run (Y/RR). The tweet may have been misinterpreted; I said that the Ridley to Godwin comps were reasonable, simply because of situational factors, perception leading into the season, etc. It was taken as "Calvin Ridley is as good as Chris Godwin." My fault, but despite the disagreement with Kyle, I feel as though we both got pertinent information from the conversation.

John Bauer highlighted how to identify breakout receivers using Y/RR in an article at FantasyPros. The threshold that a rookie receiver traditionally has to hit in order to have an optimal amount of fantasy success is 2.00 Y/RR. The correlation between Y/RR and fantasy output has proven to be very strong. In Calvin Ridley's rookie year, he landed at 2.00 Y/RR. For reference, that gives Ridley a 91.67% chance to hit as a WR1, as he ran more than 250 routes in his rookie year.

Thank you, @Kyle_FFRecon, for inadvertently helping my case.

The Other Metrics

Calvin Ridley was actually already an elite wide receiver in 2019, based on a ton of advanced metrics. These metrics all came from The Football Outsiders.

His Defense-adjusted Value Over Average clip of 30.6% was second only to the aforementioned Chris Godwin. This metric essentially means that Calvin Ridley performed as the second-best receiver in the NFL with respect to the defenses he faced; and 30.6% over the average wide receiver.

Ridley's catch rate was tied for 14th in the NFL at 68%. His passer rating when targeted was good for 39th in the league at 113.5; of those who had 90+ targets, he ranked 9th.

Ridley finished 48th in the NFL in targets, with just 93. Of the 26 receivers that had a fantasy finish higher than Calvin Ridley in 2019, only 2 had less than 100 targets. So let's talk about targets!

The Falcons have a whopping 258 vacated targets; most of them coming from Devonta Freeman and Austin Hooper. Yes, the Falcons replaced Freeman and Hooper with viable options in Gurley and Hurst. But if you think that those two will account for 258 targets, you're sorely mistaken. Mohamed Sanu had 42 targets before being traded to the Patriots.

"But Christian, RUSSELL GAGE!" Russell Gage had 74 targets in 2019. Even if he gets some of the Sanu targets, he won't outpace Ridley. Ridley has a built in target boost before even considering the Falcons' even worse defense. He will surely nab over 100 targets, and I'd venture to say 120 is a low number.

Why such a large target increase? The Falcons have the 5th-most difficult strength of schedule. They're surely going to be trailing in most, if not all, games, and teams that are playing from behind traditionally see better receiver fantasy production.

The Summary

Calvin Ridley is being drafted at his floor right now. Even if he doesn't have the breakout stardom that I see, he is a value in fantasy drafts. I know most drafts are starting today or tomorrow, and I'm telling you that Calvin Ridley is a smash pick in the 4th round. But spoiler alert: the breakout is coming. Be on the right side of history.

The Falcons are a team I want every share of. Matt Ryan is the most underrated quarterback in the NFL not named Matthew Stafford, and is sure to support quality fantasy options. I think there's a world in which the Falcons finish with a QB1, RB1, two WR1s, and a TE1. I made Calvin Ridley and Todd Gurley A1s - or guys that I think will win fantasy championships - for a reason.

Draft Calvin Ridley. Thank me later.

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