The winds of change blew through the Atlanta Falcons this offseason, carrying in a new coaching staff while sending away a future Hall of Fame wide receiver. Still, some core pieces remain, including emerging star wideout Calvin Ridley.
To commemorate the 2021 NFL season, we will count down the 75 best fantasy players in the NFL. Picking a Top 75 requires subjective analysis — especially when projecting a whole season of accumulated fantasy points — but therein lies the fun. We will assume an average league, which is 12 teams, .5 PPR scoring, and a roster of 1QB, 2RB, 3WR, 1TE, & 1RB/WR/TE. Kickers and defenses need not apply.
Change is the nature of the NFL beast, so trades and injuries will likely impact this list as it unfolds. But, of course, this isn’t rocket science. We’re here to have a little fun and build up some much-needed anticipation for a league cast in the shadow by baseball, soccer, hockey, etc. Sarcasm aside, the NFL is addictive and we’re here to give your daily fix as we close in on the season.
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No. 13, Calvin Ridley, Atlanta Falcons, WR
While former teammate Julio Jones dominated NFL defenders with his otherworldly physical gifts, Ridley looks less imposing by NFL standards. However, Ridley has developed into a dangerous weapon anyway, a testament to his skill as a route runner. The fourth-year wideout will now move into a more prominent role in the offense, serving as the No. 1 wideout for the first time since his final collegiate season.
Competition for touches
During Ridley’s first three seasons in Atlanta, he had to share the spotlight (and targets) with Jones. Following Jones’ departure for the Tennessee Titans, perhaps only rookie tight end Kyle Pitts will battle for the team lead in targets. The more meaningful competition for touches will come from the running game, as new head coach Arthur Smith called a decidedly run-heavy offense at his previous stop.
The Falcons offense will more closely resemble the one Kyle Shanahan ran in 2016 than the version Dirk Koetter oversaw last season. That means fewer overall dropbacks — quarterback Matt Ryan led the league in passing attempts — but more shot plays off play-action. For a big-play receiver like Ridley, that tradeoff looks extremely enticing.
With Ridley now entrenched as the No. 1 wideout, he will see the lion’s share of the targets in the passing game. More specifically, the Falcons will call more plays designed to get the ball in his hands down the field and/or in open space. Those developments, combined with the continued refinement of Ridley’s game, could push him into the elite ranks of the position.
With Jones gone, the opposing defense will roll their coverage to Ridley more often than in the past. While Ridley thrived as a high-end No. 2 receiver, he might struggle as the full-time, go-to target in the passing game à la JuJu Smith-Schuster in the years following Antonio Brown’s departure.
100 receptions, 1450 receiving yards, 10 receiving touchdowns