685 days. On opening day, it will have been 685 days since we last saw Calvin Ridley on the field for a real NFL game. That’s a long time, and not only will he be looking to knock off the rust, he’ll be looking to do so in a new system.
Fine. I get all of that, but there’s no denying the fantasy football upside of this 28-year-old (28 touchdowns in 49 career games, 13.5 yards per catch) in an offense that is trending in as positive a direction as any in the NFL.
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Calvin Ridley’s Fit in Jacksonville
Given the growth we saw from Trevor Lawrence in 2022, you could argue that any receiver with an athletic profile would fit in well with a Jacksonville Jaguars offense that is ready to peak. Christian Kirk was among the best slot receivers in the game last season, and that role should remain his … 8.4% of Ridley’s career targets have come when lined up in the slot.
Zay Jones is coming off of a career year (82-823-5) and is the roadblock in terms of role that Ridley believers need to evaluate. Yes, Jones was productive last season, but he did drop the third-most passes in the NFL, didn’t flash downfield (10 catches on 27 deep targets), and has an out in his contract after this season.
If Ridley can’t supplant Jones in this offense, we’ve evaluated him incorrectly. But I don’t think that’s the case.
During his career, Ridley has hauled in 64.4% of his red-zone targets and 43.2% of his end-zone targets. Over that stretch, the average receiver has caught red-zone passes at a 56.2% clip and end-zone balls 35.7% of the time.
Last season, Jacksonville receivers ranked 18th in red-zone catch rate and 19th in end-zone catch rate … is this beginning to feel like a very satisfying puzzle to anyone besides me?
What Does It Take To Be a Top-24 WR?
Before I get into the downward trending requirement to be a top-24 wide receiver, let me tell you a story.
The year was 2018. Matt Ryan was coming off of a dreadful season, seeing his completion percentage dip by more than five percentage points from the year prior and tossing just 20 touchdowns on 529 attempts (2016: 38 touchdowns on 534 passes). That poor season was Ryan’s fourth straight with a laser focus on Julio Jones, oftentimes forcing the ball to his favorite target, for better or worse.
Then, the Falcons spent the 26th overall pick on Ridley, who presented a level of balance to this offense that allowed everyone to thrive. Ryan essentially bounced back to his MVP form, Jones caught 25 more passes than the season prior, thanks to defenses having fewer resources to throw his way, and Ridley was able to blend in.
Ridley caught 49 fewer passes than Jones, but he scored 10 times. And guess what? With no professional experience and entering an offense coming off of a down season … Ridley was the WR24 on a per-game basis.
Since then, what it takes to be WR24 for the season has been trending down. This is the product of offenses focusing on their star WR1 and then spreading the ball around elsewhere. Not every team has a true WR1. Those that do — Vikings, Rams, teams like that — rely so heavily on that player that sustaining a WR2 is nearly impossible.
WR24 PPG By Season:
- 2019: 13.1
- 2020: 13.1
- 2021: 12.7
- 2022: 12.0
If you need me to spell it out, I will. The production it takes to be a top-24 WR is on the decline, and Ridley proved capable of returning WR24 numbers in an offense with an established WR1 that was coming off of a down year.
The Jaguars don’t have a proven WR1. Kirk was good last season, but no one is saying that he demands targets the way 2018 Julio Jones did. Nevertheless, Jacksonville is largely trending up as an offensive unit — 10th in points per game last season after ranking 32nd in 2021. You see where I’m going with this?
YES. Ridley can be a top-24 fantasy football receiver as he returns to action. YES. Ridley can return you a profit at his current ADP (WR20). YES. Ridley can win you your league with the Jaguars playing the Bucs and Panthers when your league champion will be decided (Weeks 16-17).
The only way you are getting me to answer NO to a Ridley-based question is if you’re drafting against me, and your question is if I will let you have him.
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