In a receiver class lacking in star power, Alabama’s Calvin Ridley stands out as a guy who has the potential to become an NFL star. His speed, physicality and impressive production over a three-year period in Tuscaloosa should grab the attention of teams looking for an explosive playmaker opposite their number one receiver. His skillset is one that should allow him to make an immediate impact as a deep threat and as a slant route specialist, while he also possesses the physical tools to develop into a more well-rounded player at the next level.
Ridley explodes out of his stance and quickly eats up whatever cushion the defensive back gives him. He rarely faced physical press coverage from cornerbacks in college, and he was able to excel on underneath routes due to the significant cushion regularly given to him. His blazing speed makes him a constant threat to take the top off a defense, and cornerbacks have to account for this when matching up against him.
Here, he eats up the cushion and convinces the corner that he is running a go route. When Ridley hits the 50-yard line, the corner flips his hips to run down the sideline with him. Ridley sinks his hips and stops on a dime, coming back to the football and making a nice hands catch.
When Ridley gets the ball into his hands, good things happen. He is very dangerous in the open field because of his combination of speed and physicality. Screens allow him to get the ball in space and show off his burst and speed.
He is an incredibly smooth athlete, showing excellent body control in his route running. He understands how to manipulate a cornerback before his break and he is very sharp coming out of his breaks. He can cleverly toy with defenders to set himself up for success, like he does here. He chops his feet quickly and subtly aims for the corner’s outside shoulder to open up the inside space. He then sinks his hips, plants his foot, and accelerates away from the defender to make the catch.
One of the most underrated skills a receiver can possess is the ability to track the ball. Ridley excels in this area, and has the ball skills to boot. The following play against Western Kentucky from 2016 is one of the most impressive plays you’ll see from any receiver in this year’s class. You see the deep speed as he races down the sideline with the safety struggling desperately to keep up with him. He has eyes on the ball the whole way and turns to look over the opposite shoulder to better position himself to reel it in. He finds the ball immediately upon doing this and jumps to make a beautiful high-point catch.
My biggest knock on Ridley is that he does not project to the next level as a number one receiver. He has the traits to become an outstanding complimentary piece in an NFL offense, but he lacks the size and complete game to be a team’s go-to guy. One aspect of this is that he struggles against press coverage at times, and will need to improve on this if he is to become an impact player in the NFL. He is an outstanding talent who countless teams will covet in the draft, but typically if you take a receiver early in the first round, you want him to spearhead your passing game. I don’t think you can say with certainty that Ridley will be able to do this.
Ridley is not in the mould of Julio Jones or Amari Cooper when they came out of Alabama in 2011 and 2015 respectively, but he is a perfect fit to pair with an established number one receiver. His speed is a huge threat, and his agility, footwork and body control lead me to believe that he can develop into an accomplished route runner in the NFL. While a team may be tempted to pull the trigger on him early in Round 1 because of the lack of high-end talent in this year’s receiver class, I think his value lies in the latter part of the first round or early in Round 2.Follow @iamcathal