Since being drafted in the first round of the 2018 NFL draft by the Atlanta Falcons, Calvin Ridley has been an immediate contributor. In his rookie season, Ridley finished with 64 catches for 821 yards. That performance earned him a spot on the 2018 All-NFL Rookie Team.
Ridley is now entering his fourth season in the NFL. For the first time in his career, he'll be without the company of Julio Jones. Jones was shipped to the Tennessee Titans over the offseason after the receiver requested a trade from Atlanta.
Without Jones on the field and Ridley now the number one option, it begs to question just how high the ceiling is for Ridley in the 2021 season.
Can Calvin Ridley lead the NFL in receiving yards?
Before examining whether Ridley can lead the NFL in receiving yards in 2021, we must first examine his 2020 season. Ridley played in 15 games and caught 90 catches for 1,374 yards. He averaged 91.6 receiving yards per game. Ridley was tied with Davante Adams for fourth in the NFL in receiving yards.
Finishing in the top five in the NFL in receiving yards while also splitting targets with Jones, who played in nine games last season, is very impressive.
Last season, Stefon Diggs led the NFL in receiving yards with 1,535. Ridley will likely need to reach around that mark in 2021 to become the NFL's leader in receiving yards.
It's easy to see why someone would make the argument that Ridley can indeed lead the league in receiving yards. Ridley is the clear number one option on a team with a good quarterback, Matt Ryan, at the helm. Plus, as previously discussed, he's already proven he can play at an elite level.
However, there are two reasons why it will be tough for Ridley to lead the NFL in receiving yards. One, the new coach in town, Arthur Smith, doesn't run the same offensive scheme that's been used in Atlanta in the past. The Falcons tend to be a pass-happy offense, but Smith brings a more balanced approach.
In Smith's two seasons as offensive coordinator with the Tennessee Titans, A.J. Brown was the leading receiver. In 2019, he had 1,051 yards and in 2020 he had 1,075. Those numbers tell the story of a more balanced attack, with Smith calling the shots.
You can argue because Derrick Henry is such a great running back Smith was forced to run the ball more in Tennessee, and you'd be right. But the philosophy behind Smith's offense isn't likely to completely flip. A more balanced offensive approach means fewer opportunities for Ridley.
The second reason Ridley may have trouble leading the league in receiving yards is that he'll now be the sole focus of a defensive gameplan. Jones leaving town means more opportunities for Ridley, but it also means more double teams.
Maybe rookie Kyle Pitts can bring some attention off Ridley, but even then, it's hard not to expect Ridley to receive a ton of double coverage this season.
Ridley's 2021 season outlook
Even if Ridley doesn't have the most receiving yards in the NFL in 2021, he's still going to put up fantastic numbers.
The Ridley/Ryan connection will continue to be a force to be reckoned with for opposing secondaries. Barring an injury, Ridley will be good for 1,200 to 1,300 receiving yards in 2021. That will once again put him right around the top five in the NFL.
Ridley will also be a prime candidate to earn himself a Pro Bowl selection in 2021.