Leading up to the 2017 college football season, the CFB Film Room Scouting Dept. is putting together a summer scouting series. We’re focusing on the top draft-eligible prospects entering the 2017 season and will be reviewing their strengths and weaknesses from an NFL scouting perspective. Our latest report features Alabama receiver Calvin Ridley.
Alabama’s offense is all about the running game, but Calvin Ridley has proven to be a valuable weapon at wide receiver over the past two seasons.
In his two years with the Tide, Ridley has racked up over 1,800 yards from scrimmage and 15 total touchdowns. However, he is a difficult prospect to evaluate due to the way in which he’s used in the Tide offense.
In 2016, with freshman Jalen Hurts at quarterback, offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin simplified the offense in an effort to take some pressure of his quarterback. Hurts struggles throwing the ball downfield, and Kiffin compensated for that by creating touches for Ridley near the line of scrimmage and allowing him to make plays after the catch.
In this Summer Scouting Series piece on Ridley, his role will be a common theme. And while it complicates his evaluation, it is by no means a strike against him. He did what was asked of him, and did it very well. But the role did limit what we were able to see him do and does leave us with some questions.
It’s difficult to evaluate Calvin Ridley’s routes because, well, he doesn’t really run them. A quick glance at a heat map of Ridley’s touches shows how rarely he is asked to work down down the field:
Ridley is used almost exclusively on go-routes and screens or other short passes in the flats, which has certainly stunted his growth as a route runner.
And since he has the speed to break free down the field, many weaker cornerbacks give Ridley an extreme cushion, which Alabama often took advantage of in 2016, such as on the play below:
Defensive coverage like this makes Ridley’s job easy, and it doesn’t give us a very accurate picture of what he will be as an NFL receiver.
Of course, this doesn’t mean Ridley can’t develop into a more complete receiver. Jalen Hurts has a full season under his belt now and Alabama may open up the offense more in 2017, which could include using Ridley on more intermediate routes which will give him a chance to showcase a more complete set of tools.
The most obvious issue Ridley must overcome is his tendency to drop the ball. He had nine drops in 2016—a 13 percent drop rate. That’s well below average, which rests around eight percent.
His drop rate is particularly concerning given the location of his targets. With the overwhelming majority of his targets coming within five yards of the line of scrimmage, Ridley should have an elevated catch rate. But Ridley struggles to corral all types of passes—he even had three drops on targets behind the line of scrimmage.
The good news is Ridley generally uses strong technique catching the ball, extending his arms away from his body. Rarely does he unnecessarily let the ball come into his chest. This means most of Ridley’s drops are focus drops, and can be eliminated by simply taking that extra half second to secure the ball before turning upfield.
Alabama’s offense relied heavily on Calvin Ridley’s ability to make plays after the catch. He is among the fastest receivers in the college game and certainly has the speed to create when he is given a running lane. Unfortunately, when Ridley doesn’t have an easy lane to run through, he doesn’t do much.
Ridley had 32 receptions on targets within three yards of the line of scrimmage in 2016 and averaged just 5.8 yards after catch on those receptions—easily the worst rate on Alabama’s offense. For comparison, ArDarius Stewart picked an average of 7.4 yards after catch on the same targets. Even O.J. Howard proved to be more explosive, picking up 7.5 yards after catch on his short targets.
Far too often Ridley receives the ball with time to make something happen, but goes down without much of an effort to create something for himself. Here’s an example from the National Championship Game:
Final Thoughts on Calvin Ridley
At this stage of his career Ridley still looks like a developmental prospect, but he has the potential to make major strides this season.
We know Ridley has the speed to be an elite threat down the field and take a short pass to the house if he has a running lane. But we still need to see more development in his route running, improved consistency catching the ball and he needs to demonstrate the ability to make defenders miss and create more plays for himself after the catch.
Based on his raw talent and athleticism, Ridley has what it takes to answer all of those questions and develop into a star but we’ll need to see it on the field before he can earn a first-round grade as a draft prospect.