Atlanta Falcons Blog

Atlanta Falcons blog by D. Orlando Ledbetter, the pro football and Atlanta Falcons reporter for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
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Cover 9@9: Realistic expectations for rookie Calvin Ridley 

Four rookies have eclipsed 1,000 yards receiving over past five seasons

Good morning! Welcome to the Cover 9@9 blog. It’s our weekly list of nine things at 9 a.m. Wednesday that you need to know about the Atlanta Falcons. 

1. Realistic Ridley: What are the realistic expectations for Falcons first-round pick Calvin Ridley? 

Maryland’s D.J. Moore was the first wide receiver selected in the draft. He went 24th to Carolina. Two picks later, the Falcons selected Ridley.  

The Falcons were pleased with Ridley’s offseason.

“Comfort wise he probably came in a little bit ahead of the curve,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “Not only did Alabama use some of the same pro-style concepts that we feature, some of the terminology had even been the same.”

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Ridley was delighted to flip through the playbook. 

“You could imagine how excited he was to see the playbook and see some of the same language that he’d been studying for three years,” Quinn said. “There was an instant sense of ‘OK, they call it the same thing here.’ So that was helpful.”

The Falcons fell in love with Ridley at Alabama’s Pro Day. His route-running was exquisite. 

That carried over to the Falcons’ offseason program. Ridley’s biggest challenge has been to get to the correct depth on his routes and end up where the quarterback is expecting him. 

“He was so mindful to get it exactly at the right depths and then as the practices went on, you saw more of the speed come on because he had a real assurance of the right spot, the right space and where to break guys off,” Quinn said. “So, I’m encouraged. The speed and the athleticism, all of the things you saw on tape, that all came to life.”

Over the past five seasons, there have been four rookies to eclipse 1,000 yards receiving.

In 2016, New Orleans’ Michael Thomas had 92 catches for 1,137 yards and nine touchdowns.

In 2015, Oakland’s Amari Cooper, who also played at Alabama, had 72 catches for 1,070 yards and six touchdowns.

In 2014, New York Giants’ Odell Beckham Jr. had 91 catches for 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns.

In 2013, San Diego’s Keenan Allen had 71 catches for 1,046 yards and eight touchdowns. 

Last season was the exception as Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp led the league in catches for rookies with 62 and Pittsburgh’s JuJu Smith-Schuster led the rookies in yards receiving with 917. 

The Falcons believe the sky in the limit for Ridley. 

“I knew he was a good competitor,” Quinn said. “I probably didn’t know how strong a football IQ he had. As you can tell, he’s really equipped in that way. He’s able to handle concepts, information, shifts, adjust on the run, learn things quickly. I’m looking forward to seeing all of things he can do.”

NFL draft analyst Mike Mayock insisted that Ridley was only a slot receiver and doesn’t have the frame to play outside. 

“We’ve featured him more outside than inside, then we played him at slot and he responded well,” Quinn said.

It’s going to fun to watch Moore and Ridley to see who’s the most productive over their rookie seasons.

2. Rookie class: The Falcons are high on the rookie class. 

“I like the rookie class,” Quinn said. “I think seven or eight months from now, (the media will ask) ‘coach who were the ones that had the impact.’ Some of the men standing here are going to have a significant impact on our team. Which ones those are going to be, that’s yet to be determined. But eight, 10 or six, I don’t know that answer. It’s a good group. One where there’s a number of them that are really worth the development.”

3. Second-year class: The Falcons are hoping that some of their second-year players make a big leap in 2018.

Defensive end Takkarist McKinley needs to make the jump to full-time player after being a rotational player as a rookie.

Linebacker Duke Riley, safety Damontae Kazee and tight end Eric Saubert could also make strides. Offensive guard Sean Harlow, who was selected in the fourth round, will need a strong exhibition season, too.  

“I’ve seen big jumps from guys going from last year’s one to this year going into their second year: the Rileys, the Sauberts and the Kazees, have made a significant jump in their offseasons,” Quinn said. “I’m excited for you guys to get to see them in training camp, (exhibition) games and into the season.”

4. Ryan’s House Party: Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is set to workout with former Braves pitcher Tom House (1971-75) again this offseason. 

After his major league career, House earned a PhD in sports/performance psychology. He’s become highly recognized arm specialist while coaching both professional pitchers and quarterbacks. 

5. PFWA Awards: The Pro Football Writers of America handed out their annual off-the-field awards over the last week. Here’s a recap: 

Joe Bugel, who spent 27 of his 32 NFL seasons as an assistant coach and is best known for building Washington’s famous “Hogs” offensive line unit, and Kansas City defensive backs coach Emmitt Thomas, a Pro Football Hall of Famer who is in his 38th season as a NFL assistant coach in 2018 and lauded for his ability to develop players in the secondary, were selected as the 2018 Paul “Dr. Z” Zimmerman Award winners.

Thomas coached with the Falcons from 2002-09.

Bugel and Thomas are the 11th and 12th recipients of the Dr. Z Award, which was instituted by the PFWA in 2014, during the D. Orlando Ledbetter administration as president.

The Dr. Z Award is given for lifetime achievement as an assistant coach in the NFL. The award is named for Zimmerman, who covered the NFL for 29 years as Sports Illustrated's lead pro football writer.

The Minnesota Vikings public relations staff, which was lauded for excelling in helping Twin Cities and national media cover the club, were selected as the 2018 Pete Rozelle Award.

Former NFL senior director of football communications Randall Liu, who spent 18 years on the league’s communications staff, was selected as the 2018 Jack Horrigan Award.

Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Chris Long, who was lauded for his dealings with the media during the Eagles Super Bowl LII-winning season in 2017, has been selected as the 2018 Good Guy Award winner.

San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Marquise Goodwin, who had a career year on the field while dealing with family tragedies during the 2017 season, was selected as the 2018 George Halas Award winner.

Charean Williams, who is in her 25th year of NFL coverage in 2018, and her second at Pro Football Talk, was selected as the 2018 Dick McCann Award winner.

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6. Quinn’s trip: Falcons coach Dan Quinn and a contingent of players are on their USO tour. 


 

7. Jarrett’s camp: Falcons defensive tackle Grady Jarrett held his third annual football camp.


 

8. Owens’ is still fast. Former NFL wide receiver Terrell Owens shared a video on his Instagram account of him running a 40-yard dash. 

Owens captioned the video, “Here it is right here!!” He also tagged Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones in the caption. 


 

D. LED’s radio interview with ESPN Charlotte’s “The Wake Up Call” that everyone is referencing on the Julio Jones holdout. 

9. DEPTH CHART: Here’s the working depth chart: 

OFFENSE 

WR 11 Julio Jones, 18, Calvin Ridley, 14 Justin Hardy, 13 Reggie Davis, 86 Lamar Jordan, 16 Taj Williams

LT 70 Jake Matthews, 68 Austin Pasztor, 76 Daniel Brunskill

LG 67 Andy Levitre, 63 Ben Garland, 64 Sean Harlow, 75 Jamil Douglas 

C 51 Alex Mack, 63 Ben Garland, 61 J.C. Hassenauer

RG 65 Brandon Fusco, 71 Wes Schweitzer, 62 Salesi Uhatafe

RT 73 Ryan Schraeder, 74 Ty Sambrailo, 77 Matt Gono

TE 81 Austin Hooper, 82 Logan Paulsen, 85 Eric Saubert, 89 Alex Gray, 80 Troy Mangen, 87 Jaeden Graham 

WR 12 Mohamed Sanu, 17 Marvin Hall, 83 Russell Gage, 15 Christian Blake, 19 Dontez Byrd, 7 Devin Gray

QB 2 Matt Ryan, 8 Matt Schaub, 9 Grayson Garrett, 6 Kurt Benkert

RB 24 Devonta Freeman, 26 Tevin Coleman, 25 Ito Smith, 41 Terrence Magee, 32 Justin Crawford, 35 Malik Williams

FB 40 Daniel Marx, 43 Luke McNitt, 30 Ricky Ortiz  

 DEFENSE 

DE 98 Takk McKinley, 50 Brooks Reed, 79 Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, 96 Mackendy Cheridor

DT 99 Terrell McClain, 94 Deadrin Senat, 93 Garrison Smith, 

DT 97 Grady Jarrett, 95 Jack Crawford, 92 Justin Zimmer, 99 Jon Cunningham

DE 44 Vic Beasley, 90 Derrick Shelby, 55 J’Terius Jones 

WLB 42 Duke Riley, 54 Foyesade Oluokun

MLB 45 Deion Jones, 52 Emmanuel Ellerbe, 53 Emmanuel Smith 

SLB 59 De’Vondre Campbell, 56 Anthony Winbush, 49 Richard Jarvis

CB 23 Robert Alford, 20 Isaiah Oliver, 28 Justin Bethel, 33 Blidi Wreh-Wilson, 39 Deante Burton 

CB 21 Desmond Trufant, 34 Brian Poole, 35 Leon McFadden, 43 Chris Lammons

NB 34 Brian Poole, 27 Damontae Kazee, 42 Tyson Graham, 30 Joseph Putu 

FS 37 Ricardo Allen, 27 Damontae Kazee, 38 Marcelis Branch, 41 Jason Hall

SS 22 Keanu Neal, 36 Kemal Ishmael, 35 Secdrick Cooper 

SPECIALISTS 

K 3 Matt Bryant, 1 David Marvin 

KO 5 Matt Bosher

P 5 Matt Bosher

KR 14 Justin Hardy, 17 Marvin Hall, 30 Ito Smith

PR 14 Justin Hardy, 16 Reggie Davis

LS 47 Josh Harris

H 5 Matt Bosher 

 

About the Author

D. Orlando Ledbetter is the Atlanta Falcons beat writer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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