In just one season at the FBS level, Arkansas defensive tackle John Ridgeway has established himself as an intriguing 2022 NFL Draft prospect. The Illinois State transfer chose to compete in the SEC to elevate his chance of making it to the NFL. Between that and an impressive performance at the 2022 Reese’s Senior Bowl, he’s certainly done that. What does Ridgeway’s scouting report tell us about his potential at the NFL level?
John Ridgeway NFL Draft Profile
- Position: Defensive Tackle
- School: Arkansas
- Current Year: Redshirt Senior
- Height: 6’4 3/4″
- Weight: 327
- Wingspan: 81 3/8″
- Arm: 33 5/8″
- Hand: 10 1/4″
John Ridgeway Scouting Report
At the start of the college football season, the defensive tackle class of the 2022 NFL Draft appeared to be one of the position groups that lacked depth in talent. However, throughout the course of the year, it has become apparent that there are several impressive playmakers on the defensive interior.
Led by Georgia duo Jordan Davis and Devonte Wyatt, alongside Texas A&M’s DeMarvin Leal, the Senior Bowl also saw UConn’s Travis Jones establish himself as a destructive defensive tackle prospect. What does Ridgeway’s scouting report tell us about his standing in this group?
At almost 6’5″ and 327 pounds, Ridgeway is an imposing figure at the heart of the defensive line. That sheer size is a problem for opposing offensive lines. However, the Arkansas defensive tackle combines that with excellent length and hands that measured at over 10 inches at the Senior Bowl.
Size, strength, and technical ability
While Ridgeway is built like an NFL defensive tackle, he also possesses the physicality to have success at the next level. His scouting report showcases powerful and violent hands that he routinely uses to shock opposing offensive linemen at the point of attack. In addition to power in his hands, Ridgeway showcases impressive upper body strength to control his opponent.
This is apparent in his ability to push the pocket backward. However, Ridgeway isn’t restricted to solely wining with power. The Arkansas DT showcases some impressive technical attributes. He possesses a push-pull technique that he uses to get into the backfield. Furthermore, he knows how to use his length and excellent handwork to disengage from blockers.
A high-motor prospect, Ridgeway keeps on working until the whistle blows. This was apparent throughout his first exposure at the FBS level. He keeps his legs working, and some of his production this year was as a result of this. What you won’t see in the box score is the way that the Arkansas DT attracts double teams.
Areas for improvement
As evidenced by his scouting report, Ridgeway has the potential to make an impact in the NFL. At present, the Arkansas DT is the 111th overall prospect on the Pro Football Network consensus big board. That puts him in early Day 3 contention. While he has impressive power and technical ability, there are some areas for improvement on his scouting report.
Although Ridgeway’s size makes him an imposing prospect, it also works against him. He often plays with his pad level too high. This was apparent during the 2021 season but also was commented upon during Senior Bowl practices. He’ll need to consistently play with a lower pad level to be successful at the next level.
While demonstrating impressing upper body strength, Ridgeway doesn’t always show good lower body power. He struggles to anchor against more powerful offensive linemen. As a result, he can be forced backward from the line of scrimmage more regularly than you’d like to see.
Ridgeway showcases a high motor and some lateral agility. Despite this, he has some athletic limitations. The Arkansas DT doesn’t have the fast footwork of some of his contemporaries at the position in this 2022 NFL Draft class. Furthermore, he doesn’t possess the versatility of some DTs in the class. His experience is effectively limited to the nose tackle position.
Ridgeway Player Profile
When writing scouting reports of defensive and offensive line NFL Draft prospects, one element of their high school résumés is consistent for the best players in the trenches. Ridgeway has a rich pedigree in high school wrestling. He won a state championship as a senior at Bloomington High School.
Ridgeway put this experience to good use on both sides of the trenches. An All-Big 12 offensive line honoree, he also earned All-State honors on the defensive line as a senior. With success in the shot put and discus — plus freshman contributions as a fisherman — the versatile athlete ended his high school career as the Bloomington High School Athlete of the Year.
His success on the field didn’t translate to the recruiting trail. Just a two-star prospect by 247 Sports, Ridgeway was viewed as the 202nd offensive tackle in the class and just the 70th player in Illinois. Although there was interest from several schools, just one — Illinois State — offered him the opportunity to play college football. However, his lack of offers to play collegiately wasn’t solely the result of a lack of respect for his on-field prowess.
“Coming out of high school, I really just slacked and really didn’t pay much attention,” Ridgeway would comment later in his career. “I took away my chances of getting recruited. But, Illinois State took a leap of faith with me.”
Ridgeway’s college career started at Illinois State
Although he’d been listed as an offensive line recruit, Ridgeway’s experience on defense saw him line up on the defensive line for Illinois State. However, he’d redshirt his freshman season, not seeing any action at all in 2017. Having played under 300 pounds at Bloomington, the defensive tackle added 40 pounds before taking the field in 2018.
Once he found the field, Ridgeway asserted himself as one of the best defensive tackles at the FCS level. During his redshirt freshman season, he started 10 games at nose tackle. In his first college campaign, he tallied 30 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, and 1 sack. As a result of his performances, he earned FCS Freshman All-American honors.
Ridgeway earned further accolades in his redshirt sophomore season in 2019. Starting 15 games at nose tackle for one of the best defenses in the FCS, Ridgeway tallied 50 tackles that included career-high numbers against North Dakota State. Proving disruptive, his tackle totals included 3 for loss and a forced fumble while he also registered 2 pass breakups on the way to an All-Missouri Valley Football Conference honorable mention.
With the disruption of 2020 hitting the FCS level harder than most, Ridgeway played just four games in the 2021 spring season. However, he led the team with 22 tackles, including 3 for loss, while securing his first career interception. At the end of the season, Ridgeway opted to enter the transfer portal, triggering far more attention than in his first recruiting experience.
Ridgeway’s NFL Draft ascension at Arkansas
Ridgeway opted to transfer to Arkansas for his redshirt senior season. “The best talent that goes to the next level goes to the SEC,” the new Arkansas defensive tackle told the media. “I loved the atmosphere, looked around the campus. Why not? I’m going to Arkansas!”
The intention behind his transfer was to elevate his NFL Draft stock. And Ridgeway certainly did that in his sole season with the Razorbacks. After missing the opening game of the season against Rice, he showed out with a sack on his debut against Texas. He also registered a second sack against LSU and had multiple tackles in every game except two during the 2021 season.
In his first campaign at the highest level of college football, Ridgeway attracted attention with career highs for tackles for loss (4) and sacks (2). The performances caught the eye of Jim Nagy and the team at the Senior Bowl. His acceptance of an invite to the college football all-star game signaled the Arkansas defensive tackle’s intention of entering the 2022 NFL Draft.
Ridgeway made his mark on an impressive defensive tackle group in Mobile. As reported by the Pro Football Network practice reports, he showed “nice flashes in 1-on-1s” and installed himself as a “long, powerful” prospect who was “aggressive up the middle.” The defensive tackle “also harnessed his power into a couple of reps easily moving offensive linemen deep into the pocket.” A successful week has helped solidify his NFL Draft stock.
Tony Pauline’s Scouting Report for John Ridgeway
Positives: Large, fluid defensive lineman with huge upside. Quickly gets off the snap, plays with outstanding pad level, and gets a lot of momentum going up the field. Rarely off his feet. Flashes explosion and the ability to bull rush opponents off the line. Tough to handle, smooth, and flows well to the play. Runs through blocks, fires through open gaps, and impacts the game behind the line of scrimmage.
Negatives: Often tied up at the point by a single blocker. Doesn’t show the ability to get outside the box to make plays in pursuit. Very inconsistent last season.
Analysis: Ridgeway caught my eye at Illinois State when he was a redshirt freshman. He’s a big-bodied defensive tackle with a fluid style and the versatility to be used in both one- and two-gap systems. Ridgeway comes with a tremendous amount of upside and should only improve once he gets into an NFL weight training program and receives proper coaching.