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USA Today Sports Media Group
USA Today Sports Media Group

Calvin Ridley can solidify himself as a top 10 WR this season

First-year Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Calvin Ridley was a fringe top 10 receiver in his most recent full season in the NFL.

Ridley was the 11th best wide receiver and the No. 65 player in the league going into the 2021 season, according to NFL Network’s Top 100 Players of 2021 list as voted on by his peers. He only missed one game in 2020 and reeled in 90 passes for 1,374 yards.

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However, he missed much of the following season due to injury and was suspended for the entirety of the 2022 season. His nearly two-year break from the NFL dropped him out of the conversation of the top receivers in the league.

This season, Ridley has a chance to look like his former self and remind the league why he is one of the best receivers in the game.

First, he’s playing with budding superstar Trevor Lawrence at quarterback. Ridley started his career with potential Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Matt Ryan. While Ryan was a tremendous player at his peak, earning MVP honors in 2016, Ridley caught the tail-end of Ryan’s career in Atlanta.

Ryan still put up monster numbers through the air, but the Falcons never had a winning season after drafting Ridley in 2018. This year, however, Ridley joins a Jaguars team that accomplished its first winning season since 2017, due in large part to Lawrence’s play.

Lawrence’s rookie season didn’t go as planned, and not much looked different in the early portions of last year. But he looked like a different player after Jacksonville’s Week 8 loss to the Denver Broncos on Oct. 30.

Lawrence was one of the best quarterbacks in the league after the loss. He threw for 2,273 yards, 15 touchdowns, and only two interceptions while completing nearly 70 percent of his passes for the rest of the regular season. That version of Lawrence is a player who will get the most out of Ridley.

If Lawrence reaches an MVP level of play, like many project, Ridley will have his best quarterback since maybe the 2018 version of Ryan. Perhaps even better.

Ridley will also be surrounded by playmakers, so he won’t receive all the attention from opposing defenses. In his final games in Atlanta, Ridley was clearly the best receiving threat, and defenses only had to worry about him.

Now, Ridley will play alongside Christian Kirk, who showed an ability to thrive in a No. 1 receiver role; Zay Jones, who had a stellar season as the Jags’ No. 2 option in 2022; and Evan Engram, who rose to the level of one of the top pass-catching tight ends in the league. There’s also Travis Etienne Jr.. who’s emerging as one of the best dual-threat running backs in the NFL.

Ridley isn’t likely to break into the top five wide receiver conversation, which includes the Minnesota Vikings’ Justin Jefferson, Miami Dolphins’ Tyreek Hill, Las Vegas Raiders’ Davante Adams, Buffalo Bills’ Stefon Diggs and Philadelphia Eagles’ A.J. Brown, according to NFL Network’s Top 100 Players of 2023 list.

However, it’s very possible he could compare to the rest of the top-10 — the Dallas Cowboys’ CeeDee Lamb, Cincinnati Bengals’ Ja’Marr Chase, Miami Dolphins’ Jaylen Waddle, Los Angeles Rams’ Cooper Kupp and Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Mike Evans.

Chase and Kupp have proven to be two of the top receivers in the last few years, and it’ll be a challenge for Ridley to keep up. But he could surpass or reach the level of Waddle, Lamb, and Evans, as well as Deebo Samuel and Amon-Ra St. Brown, who both finished just outside the top ten.

Samuel’s dual-threat ability is dangerous for opposing defenses, but his quarterback situation is less than ideal. St. Brown is a great security blanket, but he has a more limited array of talents than Ridley. That leaves not many players in the way of the Jaguars receiver breaking into the top 10.

Evans will start the season catching passes from Baker Mayfield and might even share the field with third-year quarterback Kyle Trask. He’ll deal with one of the worst quarterback situations in the league and is now in his age-30 season.

Waddle rounds out maybe the best receiving duo in the league, so it wouldn’t be a disappointment if Ridley didn’t reach his level. But Ridley is catching passes from a better quarterback and should be the No. 1 option, while Waddle is fighting for reps with maybe the best receiver in the league.

And Lamb has burst onto the scene as a top receiver in the league, reaching career-best heights last season. Brandin Cooks’ arrival should only help Lamb face less attention, so Ridley’s climb may stop there.

Ridley is coming off nearly two years away from the NFL and is going into his first year with Lawrence and the Jaguars. But if all goes right, he could soon be viewed as a top 10 receiver, something the team hasn’t had in decades.

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