With the 26th pick in the NFL draft, the Atlanta Falcons selected Alabama wide receiver Calvin Ridley Thursday night.
“We mentioned that we had about five different positions,” Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said. “It was a really interesting trek to the opportunity to be able to take Calvin Ridley with our 26th pick. We are really excited to add him as another firepower weapon. He’s going to mix in very well with our offense.”
Ridley caught 224 passes for 2,781 yards and 19 touchdowns over three seasons. He was the top wide receiver in the draft, according to NFLDraftScout.com.
Ridley was elated to be drafted by the Falcons and join his mentor, All-Pro wide receiver Julio Jones, who also played at Alabama.
“It was amazing,” Ridley said about receiving the Falcons’ call. “I’m very excited that the Falcons gave an opportunity to come in.”
Ridley thought he should have been taken higher in the draft.
“I’m going to prove a lot of people wrong,” Ridley said. “I’m very excited to be coming there with Julio. I know that I’m going to learn a lot from him and become a better player and a wide receiver. I’m just very, very happy to be in their organization.”
Ridley had 20 dropped passes over three seasons and some teams didn’t believe he could play outside in the NFL.
“I felt I could have been picked way before (the 26th pick),” Ridley said. “I’m going to work hard and prove everybody wrong. Those people who doubted me, I’m going to make everybody a believer.”
Ridley spent time in Atlanta working out with Jones before the draft.
“I worked out with him down there for a couple of weeks until I had to start flying out,” Ridley said. “I talked to him and did all type of drills with him before I left.”
Ridley, who will be reunited with Falcons offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, believes he can help immediately.
“I think I’m a great route runner,” Ridley said. “I get open really well.”
He enjoyed his time with Sarkisian at Alabama during the 2016 season.
“He was real cool,” Ridley said. “He was trying to get me that ball before he left. I knew that.”
Ridley played his last collegiate game in Mercedes-Benz Stadium. He caught a seven-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Tua Tagovailoa to force overtime in the national championship game against Georgia. The Crimson Tide went on to defeat the Bulldogs 26-23 in overtime in the title game. He finished with four catches for 32 yards and one touchdown, including the catch that tied the game at 20-20, against the Bulldogs.
In each of the past three drafts the Falcons have selected defensive players with their top two picks.
But after the offense regressed under Sarkisian last season, Falcons coach Dan Quinn was fine with picking an offensive player.
“We think this is a deep draft,” Quinn said. “We thought we had some opportunities, whether if it was at receiver. There were a number of spots that we talked about. This is how it ended up playing out for us.”
In 2015, the Falcons took defensive end Vic Beasley and cornerback Jalen Collins. In 2016, they took safety Keanu Neal and linebacker Deion Jones. Last season, they selected defensive end Takkarist McKinley and linebacker Duke Riley (third round).
In addition to the 26th pick overall pick, over the next two days the Falcons hold picks 58 (second round), 90th (third round), 126th (fourth round), 200 (sixth round) and 244 (seventh round). Atlanta was awarded the final pick in the draft (No. 256) -- referred to as Mr. Irrelevant -- as a compensatory pick for losing five players in free agency in 2017.
The Falcons were thin at wide receiver after letting Taylor Gabriel (Bears) and Andre Roberts (Jets) leave in free agency. Also, their top two receivers, Jones and Mohamed Sanu are 29 and 28 years old, respectively. Roberts mostly handled the punt and kickoff returns for the Falcons.
Some mock drafts had the Falcons selecting Ridley or Maryland’s D.J. Moore in the first round. Also, South Carolina tight end Hayden Hurst was on their radar. Hurst went two picks of ahead of Ridley to the Ravens. Moore went on the pick before Ridley to the Panthers.
The Falcons believe he can play in the slot and flex outside when Sanu is in the slot.
“We see him as a very versatile receiver,” Dimitroff said. “He can play inside and outside. Obviously, he’s fast and highly agile. He has the ability to stop and start well...again, he’s a play-making type of guy.”
He caught at least one pass in all 44 games of his Alabama career.
“You want to see guys beat man to man and he has that type of quickness,” Quinn said. “Only a few guys have the speed to play outside, but the change of direction to play inside. He’s really a quick guy. You can tell that he’s been really well-coached and is ready to contribute right away.”
Ridley’s younger bother Riley Ridley, plays at Georgia.
Ridley had a rough upbringing in South Florida. He was a five-star wide receiver recruit out of high school, but spent much of his youth in the foster care system (along with his three younger brothers) after his father (Colin) was deported to Guyana and his mother (Kay Daniels) dealt with personal issues.
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Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC