Fantasy Court: The Case Against Calvin Ridley in 2020
Let me start by pointing out that Calvin Ridley is a good football player and a good wide receiver. I’d be happy to have him on any of my fantasy football rosters. His future is bright and he deserves most of the hype he’s getting in the dynasty community.
However as we near redraft season, I feel it’s my civic duty to slow down the Ridley hype train. The arguments I’ll layout are intended to give you pause if you consider drafting Ridley anywhere before round five in 2020.
Ridley’s 2019 Season
Ridley had a fine fantasy performance in 2019, finishing as the WR23 on the season. It was, however, actually down a few spots from his WR20 finish as a rookie in 2018. Granted, his rookie season was carried by his ten receiving touchdowns and he only played 13 games in 2019, but that fact remains that Ridley produced more fantasy points in 2018 than he did in 2019.
Let’s take a closer look at his 2019 season. Over the first nine games of the season, Ridley was a good receiver, but he wasn’t putting up eye-popping stats.
|16 Game Pace||100||64||7||164.8|
That nine-game sample size even includes two games without Mohamed Sanu, who was traded away after Week 7. In the ninth game of the season, however, Austin Hooper went down with a knee injury. From that point on, Ridley exploded. Take a look at the numbers he put up in the four games after Hooper went down, but before Ridley himself suffered a season-ending abdominal injury.
|16 Game Pace||148||108||12||289.6|
It’s a small sample size during a time that Hooper was injured, but it’s this late-season burst that stuck with fantasy managers and has him skyrocketing up draft boards this summer.
Expectations for 2020
Before I dive headfirst into my objections to the Ridley hype train, take a minute to peruse Ryan Weisse’s recent article exploring what could go wrong for Ridley in 2020. He touches on a few pieces of evidence, namely Matt Ryan’s history of yo-yoing fantasy seasons and the sub-par numbers for wide receiver twos in Dirk Koetter offenses. I submit these facts as evidence, but won’t rehash them here.
Let me begin with the most obvious argument. Barring an injury to Julio Jones, Ridley has nearly zero percent chance to become the number one target on his own team. I’m sure even my opposition and the most ardent Ridley truthers would agree with that sentiment.
I can provide evidence that he may not even be the number two option on his own team. As referenced earlier, Ridley and Austin Hooper were both healthy, fulltime players through Week 10 last season. During those nine games, over half of a full season, Hooper was out-targeting Ridley. Had they played a full season at that nine-game pace Hooper would have compiled 119 targets, 19 more than the 100 Ridley was on pace to see.
While Hooper has moved on to Cleveland, his replacement Hayden Hurst should be an even bigger threat to Ridley’s target share. Atlanta went out of their way to trade for Hurst before the ink was even dry on Hooper’s contract with the Browns. Matt Ryan recently praised Hurst’s speed and athleticism, calling him “a matchup problem” for defenses. Ryan’s praise makes sense; Hurst is faster and taller than Hooper at the same weight. He needs to be considered a legitimate contender for the number two pass-catching role in Atlanta.
Scoring touchdowns is a good thing, and Calvin Ridley has scored a lot of them so far in his career. In fact, it can be argued that he’s scored them at an unsustainable rate. I recently declared that D.J. Moore could be fantasy football’s top WR in 2020, in part due to his likely positive touchdown regression. Moore has produced one touchdown for every 327 receiving yards in his career, practically the definition of a statistical aberration. Ridley is on the other end of the outlier spectrum, scoring one touchdown for every 99 receiving yards so far in his career. Even the most optimistic Ridley supporter wouldn’t project him to maintain that rate into 2020.
Assuming Atlanta continues to be a high-powered offense, which I believe they will be, where will all those touchdowns go? Sure, Julio and Hurst could see a fair share, but I’d argue that Todd Gurley could be the top threat to Ridley’s touchdown share. Gurley has been a touchdown machine, finding the endzone an average of 14 times per season for his career. He’s only failed to hit double-digit touchdowns once in his five-year career. Atlanta doesn’t have a history of racking up rushing scores, but they’ve also never had Gurley in the backfield.
I could go on and on. I could mention that even the oft-forgotten Russell Gage could have a bigger role than most are projecting. I could mention that the wide receiver fantasy landscape is saturated with young, talented wideouts that are ready to break out. It may be as deep as we’ve ever seen it.
But I’ll leave it at this:
We all want to find this year’s version of the 2019 Chris Godwin breakout, but the truth is those kinds of massive breakouts are rare. Calvin Ridley is a good football player, but he’s rapidly becoming overpriced. If this continues throughout the summer, there will be a lot of disappointed fantasy managers come winter.