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Fantasy Impact: Calvin Ridley Returns

Calvin Ridley burst onto the scene in 2018, hauling in 10 touchdowns as a rookie alongside future Hall-of-Famer Julio Jones. He continued to show progress over the next two years before off-field issues took hold of his career.

After missing the entire 2022 season due to a suspension, he was traded to Jacksonville and reinstated.

With the season just over five months away and best-ball drafts happening daily, it's an optimal time to examine what his return to the NFL will mean for him and Jaguars, including the impact it will have for fantasy football. Let's dive in.

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How Did We Get Here?

Let's start by recapping the events that lead us to where we are currently.

Many people have his suspension fresh in their minds, which is certainly important, but his personal issues began the season prior in 2021. He opened the year with high expectations after delivering an impressive performance in 2020 with 90 receptions for 1,374 yards and nine touchdowns, finishing as the WR4 in half-PPR scoring. The first four weeks were business as usual, generating 29 catches for 255 yards and one touchdown. Then in Week 5, he was declared inactive and did not travel with the team to London. It was a curious situation, but he returned in Week 6, playing on 73% of the offensive snaps. Little did we know, it would be his last snap as a Falcon. Ridley missed Week 6 for a personal matter again.

The saga of when he would return continued throughout the remainder of the season, but he never played another snap. It left a lot of questions about his status for the 2022 season while also causing his value to plummet. Further impacting his status was his decision to gamble on the NFL, which occurred during the time he was dealing with personal issues, and led to his indefinite suspension.

The suspension meant he'd miss the entirety of the 2022 season and required him to apply for reinstatement before he could play in the NFL again.

It's also worth noting that Atlanta picked up his fifth-year option, which acted as a six-year option because the fifth year was voided by the suspension. It leaves him set to earn just over 11 million dollars this season, but with zero dead cap hit.

The team began receiving calls about him and decided he was not going to be a part of their future, electing instead to trade him to the Jaguars for draft compensation ranging from a second-round pick to a sixth-round pick, as outlined below.

The final piece of the puzzle occurred on March 6th, 2023 when he was officially reinstated by the NFL.

Having covered the journey to this point, let's turn our attention to the upcoming season and the fantasy impact his reinstatement will have.


Trevor Lawrence Gets A New Weapon

We'll start with the quarterback, in this case, Lawrence, who gets an extremely talented receiver to throw the ball to. Lawrence had a rocky start to the year in what was essentially his rookie season, given the chaos he dealt with in 2021. However, from Weeks 10 to 18, he was the QB5 in points per game. He showcased why he was the No. 1 overall pick, even leading his team to an incredible comeback victory over the Chargers in the wild-card round of the playoffs.

Lawrence's supporting cast was a massive upgrade from his rookie season but still lacked a true alpha receiver. Christian Kirk is a great slot receiver that functions well as the No. 2 in an offense, as seen in Arizona behind DeAndre Hopkins. To his credit, Kirk capitalized on the opportunity last season, particularly during the first half of the year when he was a top-10 receiver in fantasy. However, he began to fade down the stretch, struggling to maintain his role and produce meaningful fantasy games. Part of the issue was the competition for targets, which included Zay Jones and tight end Evan Engram. When you combine those three with Ridley, it's fair to rank them inside the top 10 as a receiving corps, making Lawrence a surefire top-12 option with a top-five ceiling.


A New Pecking Order

Unfortunately, unlike Lawrence, the pass-catchers mentioned above take a significant hit in their value. It's difficult to predict how quickly Ridley will assimilate into the offense, but assuming he's able to get back to game shape, it's only a matter of time before he establishes himself as the leader of the pack.

The question is just how far Kirk, Jones, and Engram fall. The good news is that Jacksonville ranked in the top 10 in both passing attempts and points scored, despite the slow start we referenced earlier. Furthermore, in their final three contests, all of which were must-win games, they generated 39.3 passing attempts per game. That mark would have been good enough for fourth in the NFL over the course of the season. It provides reason to believe the secondary, and even tertiary pieces can remain fantasy relevant.

Kirk and Jones were both in the top 40 in yards per route run with Kirk leading the way at 28th. Jones was also impressive in terms of separation, finishing eighth among all receivers, which is a key component of his role as a deep threat. Meanwhile, Kirk was targeted in the red zone 22 times, accounting for seven touchdowns. They'll need to excel at their respective roles to finish anywhere near where they did in 2022. That said, they're worth considering in the middle rounds of your draft, especially with the possibility that Ridley could start slow. Engram is the most intriguing because of the scarcity at the tight end position. He's a talented player on an ascending offense that will pass the ball frequently. He finished as the TE5 in half-PPR scoring last season, which is a mark he could hit again in 2023.

Overall, each of these pass-catchers needs to move down your board, but don't shy away from them completely because this offense projects to be a great one, and although the volume will decrease, their efficiency and scoring opportunities should be on the rise.


What About Ridley?

Last but not the least, it's time to determine the value Ridley himself possesses. He was drafted 26th overall in 2018, and he quickly delivered on the hype. He has the potential to be an elite wide receiver that can dominate defenses. All the underlying metrics and raw statistics are there to back it up, including that top-five finish in 2020, his last full season played. There aren't a lot of cases of players stepping away from football for almost two years and then returning, but there have been a few, including Michael Thomas, who returned last season.

Thomas's situation is a bit different because injuries were a major factor. They ultimately cut his season short, however in the three games he played, he performed well and seemed capable of making an impact. Ridley has a lot going for him, including his age (28), his health (he's only missed three games due to injury), and the coaching staff he's paired with (Doug Pederson and Co.).

No one knows what his first season back will look like, but his upside is very high. There are about 20 wide receivers that should be ranked ahead of him, but he deserves to be in the top 24 with a path to a top-15 season.


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