The New York Jets should target Calvin Ridley
It appears that Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley could be headed for the trade block this offseason, according to NFL Network reporter Steve Wyche.
Asked if Calvin Ridley’s future with the Falcons is in jeopardy @wyche89 tells @MikeBellATL & @putemupcdukes “I’d think so. The fact that he and the team have been so quiet and he hasn’t surfaced, it appears like both sides could be looking for a fresh start.” #dirtybirds
— DukesandBell929 (@DukesandBell929) January 4, 2022
Ridley only played five games for the Falcons this year before announcing on Halloween that he was stepping away to focus on his mental health. He has not played since, nor has the team made any comment on his status.
In May, the Falcons picked up Ridley’s fifth-year option for $11.1 million, so he is under contract with Atlanta for the 2022 season.
The rumors surrounding Ridley are far from substantiated, and it’s anybody’s guess as to whether the Falcons will actually consider trading him. But let’s have some fun with the idea for the moment.
Yeah, there are obvious reasons that any NFL team would love to have Ridley. He is a dynamic 27-year-old receiver who tied for fourth in the NFL with 1,374 receiving yards in 2020, his most recent fully-played season. Ridley also has 28 touchdowns in only 49 career games, an average of 9.7 per 17 games.
The guy is a great wide receiver in his prime. It goes without saying that any team should want someone like that.
However, Ridley is especially enticing for the Jets in particular for this reason: he would address specific weaknesses that the Jets have in their wide receiver unit.
Ridley’s strengths are a perfect match for the holes that the Jets will be looking to fill when searching for wide receiver talent this offseason. He would not merely be a flashy addition for New York – rather, he would add important elements that the Jets do not have.
Let’s get into the skills that make Ridley an ideal Jets target.
1. Deep threat
Ridley was one of the NFL’s most prolific deep threats in 2020 – perhaps the most.
Here are Ridley’s numbers on deep targets (20+ yards downfield) in 2020 and where they ranked among wide receivers:
- Targets: 36 (2nd)
- Catches: 16 (1st)
- Yards: 475 (2nd)
This would be huge for the Jets, as they do not have an established deep threat. Their most productive deep receiver in 2021 (as of Week 17’s conclusion) was rookie Elijah Moore, who ranks 18th among wide receivers in deep catches (8) and 39th in deep receiving yards (193). Following Moore was Keelan Cole and Corey Davis with five deep catches apiece, tying them for 40th.
Even Moore’s fairly solid deep production (18th in catches despite missing five games) doesn’t necessarily constitute him as an intimidating vertical field-stretcher.
As you can glean from the disparity between Moore’s ranking in deep catches (18th) and deep yardage (39th), most of his “deep” grabs barely crossed the 20-yard threshold and were not actually vertical routes – they were essentially intermediate catches for all intents and purposes. His average of 24.1 yards per reception on deep catches was the lowest in the league among wide receivers with at least five deep catches.
That number is by no means a knock on Moore’s performance quality – it just tells us about the style of catches he was making on those targets that were charted as “deep”.
Most of those catches were routes in which he halted his vertical momentum around the 20-25 yard range and either broke toward the sideline or came back toward the quarterback – which are not the type of catches that come to mind when you think of the term “deep threat”. We haven’t seen much of Moore on bombs down the sideline or up the seam – that’s the type of threat the Jets are missing right now.
It’s in the intermediate range (10-19 yards downfield) where Moore dominated at times in 2021 and has the best chance of enjoying elite success throughout his NFL career.
Over his breakout stretch from Weeks 8-13 (76.5 receiving yards per game over six contests), Moore ranked seventh among wide receivers in intermediate catches (11), sixth in intermediate receiving yards (207), and second in intermediate touchdowns (3). His 97.3 Pro Football Focus grade on intermediate targets ranked third-best among wideouts over that span, trailing only CeeDee Lamb and Cooper Kupp.
And, of course, those numbers do not even include the “deep” catches he made that were only barely beyond the limits of the “intermediate” range. With that in mind, it’s clear that the 10-to-25-yard area was his bread-and-butter.
Moore certainly has the potential to become a great vertical threat, but that’s not the basis of his game at the moment. In Moore, the Jets have their go-to guy who can keep the offense moving with chunk gains through his shifty route-running and after-the-catch prowess. To complement him, the Jets need someone who can be relied upon to win vertically, stretch the defense, and produce those game-changing bombs of 30 yards and beyond.
Ridley would give the Jets just that.
2. Defeating man coverage
Over four games against the division-rival Patriots and Dolphins, the Jets’ offense averaged 13.3 points per game and 2.3 turnovers per game.
What do the Patriots and Dolphins’ defenses have in common? They love to play man coverage.
Winning against man coverage was a major issue for the Jets’ receivers this year, so it’s no surprise that New York’s offense was stagnant against the man-heavy Pats and Fins. The receivers created very little separation in man-to-man situations, giving their quarterbacks few (if any) options on most plays.
Out of 148 qualified wide receivers, here is where the Jets’ top wide receivers ranked in yards per route run against man coverage:
- Elijah Moore: 44th (1.93) – 71st percentile
- Braxton Berrios: 88th (1.25) – 41st percentile
- Corey Davis: 113th (0.90) – 25th percentile
- Keelan Cole: 116th (0.80) – 22nd percentile
- Jamison Crowder: 120th (0.79) – 21st percentile
- Denzel Mims: 145th (0.29) – 2nd percentile
Elijah Moore was the only Jet who consistently got himself open against man coverage. Everyone else was clamped down.
Corey Davis showed man-defeating capability in 2020, when he ranked 30th out of 147 wideouts with 2.25 yards per route run against man coverage. The Jets need him to get back to that level. Until he proves that he can, the Jets are left with Moore as the only receiver they can rely upon to beat man-to-man coverage.
New York needs another man-coverage beater to pair with Moore. Getting victories against Bill Belichick and Brian Flores will continue to be exceedingly difficult if only one receiver on the roster can exploit one-on-one matchups.
Ridley averaged 2.98 yards per route run against man coverage in 2020, ranking 10th-best out of 147 qualifiers. He had the seventh-most total receiving yards against man coverage (512), and Atlanta throwers had a 117.1 passer rating when targeting Ridley against man coverage.
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3. Red zone
The Jets have struggled to throw the ball in the red zone this season. They have picked up a first down or a touchdown on only 30.5% of their red-zone passing attempts, which ranks 26th in the NFL.
Elijah Moore leads the Jets with four receiving touchdowns in the red zone, which is tied for 27th in the NFL. After Moore, the Jets have three players tied with two red-zone touchdowns apiece: Corey Davis, Braxton Berrios, and Ryan Griffin.
Moore has shown potential to become a “go-to guy” in the red zone, but, ultimately, nobody was reliable in the red area for the Jets over the course of the entire season.
Ridley can be what the Jets are missing in this facet of the game, too.
From 2018-20, Ridley tied for seventh in the NFL (fifth among wide receivers) with 17 receiving touchdowns in the red zone.
It’s not as if the Falcons force-fed Ridley in the red zone. He is one of the league’s most efficient players in that area.
Ridley only placed 27th with 39 red-zone targets over that span. With 17 touchdowns on that relatively small diet of targets, he scored on a whopping 43.6% of his red-zone targets, which ranked fourth-best among wide receivers with at least 20 red-zone targets.
Calvin Ridley fills important holes for the New York Jets
If Calvin Ridley actually does become available, Douglas and the Jets would be wise to consider making an aggressive offer for him. Ridley is not only a great player, but his strengths are exactly what the Jets lack at the wide receiver position.
This is all contingent on things going well for Ridley off the field, of course. We do not know whether or not he is ready to get back on the field or if he ever will be. The Jets – or whoever deals for Ridley – need to be certain that he is ready to play before investing in him. Mental health is something that should be taken extremely seriously.
From purely an on-field perspective, though, Ridley makes all the sense in the world for New York.