Riley Ridley: Fantasy Scouting Report
Before D.K. Metcalf was the center of the draft universe, there was Riley Ridley. A prospect with alleged physical traits that could far exceed that of which his college statistics told us he could. In a class with so much talent at the position, it did not seem too farfetched to believe either. But somewhere along the line, a divide grew inside the fantasy community. People began to absolutely love him or they flat out hated him. Granted, that was before his poor showing at the combine.
Since then, people seem to have cooled off on Ridley. A once highly touted incoming prospect has now reached a point of uncertainty following a disappointing showing at the NFL combine. So, after failing to show us he possesses dominant physical traits, and not having the data to fall back on, what is it that Ridley offers us as fantasy owners? Has the fantasy community soured on him too fast or are the glaring red flags justification for owners to move away from investing in him? As always, I aim to answer these questions. So let’s dive in.
Riley Ridley: A Once Sure Thing
Position: Wide Receiver
Weight: 199 pounds
D.O.B: 7/26/1997 (21 years old)
Breakout Age: 22 years old
College Dominator: 22.9%
Ridley came into Georgia as a four-star recruit out of Deerfield Beach High School in Florida. Coming in as a physical, big-bodied receiver who excelled in high school, Ridley only compiled 12 receptions for 238 yards and 2 touchdowns in six games his freshman year. Some people attribute the lack of production to Georgia’s strong commitment to the run game. However, Ridley just could not get a grasp on a sizeable portion of the Bulldogs’ receiving work. He was fifth in the pecking order behind Sony Michel, Isaiah McKenzie, Terry Godwin, Isaac Nauta, and Javon Wims in 2016.
The 2017 season was more of the same for Ridley. Struggling again to beat out the competition in the receiving game, he snagged just 14 receptions for 218 yards and 2 touchdowns in eight games. Ridley was again overshadowed by superior receiver play from Wims, Godwin, and now Mecole Hardman. Georgia was again a run-based offense averaging 45 attempts per game. However, the receiving work coming from quarterback Jake Fromm seemed to go away from Ridley.
Ridley finally showed signs of life in his final year with the Bulldogs. He led the team in receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns with a 43/559/9 stat line in 14 games and finally outperformed his counterparts for Georgia’s receiving production. 2018 was the year Ridley finally snagged himself an accolade as he ranked fifth in the SEC for receiving touchdowns. Ridley ended a very underwhelming college career on a high note. One that gave the fantasy community hope early in the draft process.
Copper route perfection by Riley Ridley. He is a really, really good route runner no matter how you slice it. The ability to make an explosive cut with the outside foot and drag the same foot back inside as the DBs hips are turning is footwork you need to do this kinda thing. pic.twitter.com/DIjs7JV89c
— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) April 13, 2019
Ridley ran a really limited route tree at Georgia. With that said, he excelled in the routes he did run. His routes were mostly of the verticle variety. Ridley was rarely asked to run routes in the middle of the field. His quick footwork during his release allows him to get good first steps versus press. The Georgia Bulldog has good hands and uses an aggressive get off to throw off defenders from the line of scrimmage. Against zone, Ridley does a great job at angling routes and using great stop and go technique to create separation for himself. Most notably, he does a great job at dropping his hips at the top of his curl routes with uncanny footwork and fakes to help him sell routes to defenders. Ridley did struggle to gain separation down the field on go routes or any route requiring long speed.
An area that Ridley really excelled in was his ball skills. Despite not being able to separate a lot down the field, he uses his frame and tracking skills well to make some difficult catches. The wide receiver does a great job when coming out of his routes and adjusting to finding the ball even when tightly covered. He has the ability to make catches that look to be outside of his range and he does it with some serious aggression. Ridley looked strong at the catch point in a ton of his reps on tape. Using his big frame and body control allowed him to be great at high pointing the ball. An area of concern for him was his drops early on in his career. However, inconsistent hands were not an issue for Ridley in 2018 as he looked far better catching the ball this past season.
Ridley does not possess incredible speed by any means. If anything, he has more superior acceleration coming off the line as well as in and out of his route breaks. As stated in the above sections, Ridley does not have viable long speed down the field but has enough to be effective down the field when asked to be at the next level. One thing that did stand out on tape was his speed never changed despite the route he was tasked to run. Ridley ran everything at full speed. This made him particularly lethal in selling his concepts to coverage and ultimately led to separation from coverage.
There is no sugar-coating this. For a guy who possessed some good physical attributes on tape, Ridley was extremely underwhelming in displaying them at the combine. In the chart above, there are more negatives than positives. One of the negatives is Ridley’s vertical jump. He ranked in the fifth percentile and had the second-worst score of all wide receivers. This can be problematic at the next level. Ridley showed he has the ability to elevate against college defenders but a lack of above average lower body strength can be a problem against superior defensive backs in the NFL. Especially with his lack of separation downfield, this can create problems trying to elevate in contested situations.
Another negative that stands out is his 3-Cone-Drill. This is a test that is used to track quickness and fluidity in prospects. On the tape, Ridley showed he has good quickness off the line and used it to stem routes and separate well. However, these numbers do not reflect that at all. His score ranked in the eighth percentile and the third-worst of all receivers at the combine. In this instance, I lean with what I see on tape from Ridley. However, these numbers are concerning, to say the least.
One area I was happy to see Ridley test well in was the broad jump. He ranked in the 75th percentile among receivers. This correlates with some of the explosive acceleration he had in his release and in his route breaks. On the tape, Ridley displayed this really well and the numbers line up accordingly.
This might be the portion of Ridley’s entire profile that draws the biggest divide in the fantasy community. Just 69 receptions for 1015 yards receiving and 13 touchdowns in three seasons look horrible at face value. There is a clear lack of production as well as a major lack of playing time at Georgia. We see a consistent level of little production from year one to year two but then see a pretty large jump in his final season for the Bulldogs. Why is that?
The issue seems to lie with Ridley’s lack of availability paired with competing with superior talent in guys like Godwin and Wims. 2016 can be considered a wash as Ridley only saw action in four games. But in 2017, when Ridley played in eight games, Godwin had a 24.5% receiving yards/touchdowns market share. Wims had a 28.3% receiving yards/touchdowns market share. All of this was despite the Bulldogs running the ball a whopping 68% of the time. The chart above shows that Ridley got nowhere near that until 2018 with Godwin having a down year and Wims graduating to the NFL.
The two charts above do show a positive increase in market share for Ridley in 2018. He logged a 22.9% receiving yards/touchdowns market share of the Georgia offense and finally exceeded the threshold to be considered a “breakout”. To add some context, this was the only year of Ridley’s college career that he logged a full season. Ridley ended his college career on a high note but it begs the question of why he could not do this at an earlier age. Intuition tells me it is because he is far less superior than people want to admit.
Ridley is an athletic prospect with a well-rounded skill set. He displayed a lack of versatility in his route running and usage at Georgia but has the physical attributes to be used in plenty of schemes at the next level. He has plus size and uses it well to be an effective receiver in both short areas and the bounds of the field. Ridley has well above average ball skills that will appeal to teams looking for a reliable weapon to add to their arsenal.
His well-rounded skill set extends to his ability to beat coverage with quickness, fluidity, and nuanced breaks in his routes. He is both dynamic and aggressive in his pursuit of the football both at the high point as well as coming out of his routes. Ridley has all the physical tools that an NFL team covets at the wide receiver position. However, He will need to refine technique and versatility at the next level in order to maximize potential.
I am hard pressed to say that Riley Ridley does not project to be a valuable fantasy asset. The statistics are telling in that they say he is one of the most unsafe prospects in this entire draft. Since 2003, only seven wide receivers with a breakout age of 22 have been drafted in the first three rounds of the NFL draft. Only two (28.6%) of those receivers have ever logged a top-24 PPR season. Because draft capital by age is a reliable metric when paired with other things like age-adjusted market share, this gives a signal for the likelihood of poor fantasy production for Ridley.
The late breakout age can still be viewed as a positive for owners who are bullish on Ridley’s potential to capitalize on his physical traits at the next level. Regardless, the numbers say he is a far cry from safe to invest in. With that said, I believe there to be far better options in rookie drafts to even look at Ridley at all. He will be a pass from me in all formats.