Calvin Ridley is the Atlanta Falcons' No. 1 receiver now, and even though he'll be replacing a franchise legend in traded-to-Tennessee Julio Jones, Ridley said Tuesday that he feels "no pressure" stepping into the role once held by a likely future Hall of Famer.
Part of the reason is Ridley's confidence in his own play, something harnessed over the past three years playing alongside Jones with Atlanta. And some of it comes from playing without Jones for half of last season, when hamstring injuries sidelined the former Falcons star.
"I played with Julio, Mohamed Sanu, since Day 1, those guys, I feel like I've been moving toward that way of I can do it by myself," Ridley said. "Obviously I'm not by myself, we have other players who are really good, but I feel like I've been ready and I just needed an opportunity to get in those positions."
Ridley, who was drafted at No. 26 by the Falcons in the 2018 draft, blossomed last season with career highs in targets (143), receptions (90) and yards (1,374). He also had nine touchdowns, one off the 10 he had in his rookie season.
The 26-year-old showed he can handle being Atlanta's top option. He showed he can handle double-teams -- he said he's seen them since the 2019 season -- as he started to display his abilities as one of the top receivers in the NFL.
He did it last season playing at least partially hurt. Ridley had "minor" foot surgery this offseason stemming from an injury he suffered during the 2020 season. He's been at the team's facility rehabbing, working out and going through walkthroughs -- essentially everything except practicing -- and said he believes "I'm pretty sure I'll be ready" for the start of Atlanta's training camp in July.
When he does return to the field, he'll bring with him lessons learned from playing with Jones. Every week they played together, Ridley tried to outdo Jones. He used it as motivation and a way to improve just by looking within his own position group.
With Jones gone, Ridley is looking for someone else to give him that kind of motivation -- he suggested, maybe joking, maybe not, he might use quarterback Matt Ryan as that -- and knows he might provide similar motivation to Atlanta's other receivers as well.
But for him, it's about confidence. It's why Ridley is able to play the way he does. He believes in his game, in his skill and in his ability to beat defenders. Perhaps not coincidentally, it's also something he received from Jones.
"Just the confidence [Jones] has every week and being the No. 1 receiver and going out to work every day, I feel like you have to believe in yourself," Ridley said. "And by my second year, that's when I realized that's what he's all about, confidence.
"So when I realized that, I just started to think that, I didn't think that I'm better than him, but I just believed in myself and I really think that made me a better player. I really believe in myself."
One question will be how Ridley is used in first-year head coach Arthur Smith's offense. Ridley said he's still figuring that out -- the Falcons haven't put on pads yet -- but he likes what he has seen thus far from Smith and what could happen with the offense.
Smith said that once Ridley starts to practice, he'll have a better idea of where he'll use the receiver in the offense but that he's been pleased with how Ridley has picked things up so far -- even though he hasn't been able to actually practice.
The Falcons liked Ridley enough to pick up his fifth-year option for 2022 in May, a sign of how integral they might view him over at least the next two seasons.
"He had a really productive year. Calvin has been a really good player here so far," Smith said. "Best days are hopefully ahead of him. I've been impressed with Calvin, both the person and the player. I'm excited to get to work with him."