Calvin Ridley a foundational piece new Falcons regime can build around

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Calvin Ridley is well on his way to his preseason goal of surpassing 1,000 yards receiving for the first time of his career.

Ridley leads the Atlanta Falcons in catches (48), receiving yards (747) and receiving touchdowns (six) despite dealing with a foot injury that cost him one game. If he maintains his current pace he’ll hit that mark in the Falcons' final home game in Week 15.

And while that may not signal a changing of the guard in terms of being the Falcons’ No. 1 receiver because Julio Jones is still highly productive when healthy and under contract for three more seasons, it is further validation that the third-year player is a definite foundational piece around which the next regime can build. The Falcons fired coach Dan Quinn and GM Thomas Dimitroff in October with two years remaining on their contracts.

“Wide receiver is a position that we take a lot of pride in evaluating,” interim head coach Raheem Morris said. “I used to give [former GM] Thomas [Dimitroff] a lot of stuff about the only position we need to draft is wideout. He did a really good job of going out on a limb and taking Julio. He took a lot of unnecessary criticism looking back at it now and what he [Jones] has been able to do in his career. Then, having the moxie to be able to go out and grab a guy like Calvin because of his talent and some of the things that he brings to the table although we had a pretty good wide receiver corps ....

“Now we’ve got Calvin and Julio, and those two guys, just a really talented crew. Got all of the makeup that you think about those guys -- the work ethic, they’re tough, they’re physical, they’re strong, they’re fast. They do all of the things that you want from a wideout standpoint.”

Jones has battled a hamstring injury and has missed two games but still has 45 catches for 677 yards and three touchdowns. He’s on pace for 1,184 yards, which would be his lowest total since he missed 11 games with a broken foot in 2013.

Jones turns 32 on Feb. 8 and the 2021 season will be his 11th. He is still among the league’ elite when healthy, but he’s nearing the final part of his career and might not be part of the Falcons’ long-term plans. Ridley, who turns 26 on Dec. 20, had more catches and receiving yards in 2019 than he did during his rookie season and is on pace to better last year’s marks.

That certainly should make Ridley a key piece of the Falcons’ rebuild, and it would be a surprise if the new regime did not pick up his fifth-year option after the 2020 season ends and before the May 3 deadline. Based on his track record of improvement over his first three seasons, he could be headed for elite status over the next several years.

“I’ve definitely gotten better from Year 1 to Year 3, but I could do a lot more,” Ridley said. “I just know me. I could be better. I could do more.

Like what?

“I mean, make the plays,” he said. “Make all the plays. I could make all the plays.”

Those are lofty expectations, but Ridley is getting a little taste of being the top receiver with Jones dealing with the hamstring injury. If Jones is unable to play or is severely limited on Sunday against the Las Vegas Raiders, Ridley will be the guy the defense is intent on stopping.

That won’t change his mindset, though.

“My mindset is always kind of the same,” Ridley said. “I always try to keep my mindset strong and forward, and I just tell myself to be the best I can for the team. So it doesn’t matter, just be the best I can for the team. Shoot, that’ll help me.”

Now and in the future as a key part of the new regime.