Atlanta wide receiver Calvin Ridley owed his record-setting rookie season in the NFL to three factors, Falcons coach Dan Quinn said — his Alabama background, his mentoring teammates and his willingness to work.
“I think coming in, Calvin had excellent experience at Alabama,” Quinn said during a press conference on Wednesday at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. “From the system that they ran, he really had good experience through (coach) Nick (Saban) and their system there.
“Coming in, he also had some excellent mentors here in Atlanta from (wide receivers) Mohamed (Sanu) and from Julio (Jones). Oftentimes as a player, what do you do that’s unrequired work? The required: Be here at this time; you adhere to this. So behind the scenes, he and Mohamed and Julio spent a lot of unrequired work, and to have teammates that you can ask questions to –‘Hey, don’t talk to me rookie.’ It’s just the opposite in Atlanta, where they want to take a guy in and help him develop.”
After catching 224 passes for 2,781 yards and 19 touchdowns at Alabama, Ridley joined the Falcons as a first-round draft choice last year. Jones also came to Atlanta as a first-round draft choice in 2011 after catching 179 passes for 2,653 yards and 15 touchdowns at Alabama.
Ridley caught 64 passes for 821 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2018. Jones had 54 receptions for 959 yards and eight touchdowns as a rookie. He’s gone on to accumulate 698 receptions for 10,731 yards and 51 touchdowns and made the Pro Bowl six times and first-team All-Pro twice.
Ridley led all rookie wide receivers in receptions, receiving yards and touchdown receptions and broke the Falcons’ rookie record for TD catches set by tight end Junior Miller in 1990.
Ridley earned a spot on the Pro Football Writers of America’s All-Rookie team for 2018.
“His competitive style sets him apart,” Quinn said of Ridley. “He wants to go for it. So when you have that attitude and some player mentors like he did, I think all that recipe is there with good success — and a quarterback who can be really direct, too. For Matt Ryan to say, ‘Cal, think about this one to here.’ So Matt can be like a coach on the field, especially to a rookie.
“I remember having a conversation with Calvin: ‘Have you talked to Matt?’ ‘No, not yet.’ ‘So go ahead and talk to him. He wants your feedback as well: What do you think of the depth of this route? Matt will be very clear with you.’
“So seeing that relationship build is a big factor. For guys like Matt and Julio and Mohamed who have this big impact on the player, the environment that the players have created allows a rookie to come in and say, ‘OK, I’m already part of this and accountable.'”