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April 29, 2018 at 10:44 pm.

Falcons 2018 draft: WR Ridley out to prove himself

The Atlanta Falcons went offense early before trying to fill some holes on defense.

Falcons head coach Dan Quinn got offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, who had a porous first season in his position, a new weapon in wide receiver Calvin Ridley, before going after a big cornerback and then filling the biggest draft need at defensive tackle.

The Falcons added Ridley to essentially replace Taylor Gabriel, who was allowed to leave in free agency. He received a lucrative deal with the Chicago Bears.

The Falcons could have taken Florida defensive tackle Taven Bryan, who went to Jacksonville three picks later, to fill the hole created by the decision to let defensive tackle Dontari Poe leave in free agency. He signed with Carolina.

In the second round, they selected Colorado cornerback Isaiah Oliver, who at 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds, will be expected to match up against some of the big receivers in the NFC South.

South Florida defensive tackle Deadrin Senat was selected in the third round, 90th overall to fill the defensive tackle hole.

The Ridley selection made sense because last season there was a drastic drop in several key statistical areas under Sarkisian, who hadn’t been in the NFL since 2005 and never was a full-time NFL play-caller. He spent part of the 2016 college football season at Alabama and worked with Ridley.

“He was really cool,” Ridley said. “He was trying to get me that ball before he left, I knew that.”

In 2016, the offense averaged 33.8 points per game under coordinator Kyle Shanahan and dropped to 22.1 last season, which ranked 15th, nearly out of the top half of the league.

The Falcons fell off drastically inside the opposition’s 20-yard line, the so-called red zone. They were 64.5 percent in 2016, which ranked eighth in the NFL. Under Sarkisian, they were 49.1 and ranked 23rd.

Along with inconsistent play from tight end Austin Hooper, the Falcons missed the big-play ability of Gabriel.

Gabriel’s job was to make teams pay for double-teaming Jones as he did in 2016.

That role will now shift to Ridley, whose catch-production at Alabama declined in each of his three years.

He went from 89 catches to 72 and then only had 63 last season. He had 1,045 yards as a freshman, 769 yards as a sophomore and 963 last season. Some attribute his decline in catches to the inability of quarterback Jalen Hurts to get him the ball. Hurts was eventually pulled by head coach Nick Saban in the national championship game against Georgia. The Crimson Tide rallied to a 26-20 overtime victory, with Ridley scoring the game-tying touchdown that forced overtime.

There was also the matter of 20 dropped passes over his career. The Falcons led the league in dropped passes last season along with San Francisco.

“There is no question that we’re pretty honed in on that,” Quinn said. “We understand that people are going to have their drops, they’re going to have their missed plays. In our mind, he far outweighed that in his ability to do what we want him to do. We like his hands a lot, and think he can be big-time playmaker.”

Ridley, who thought he should have been taken higher in the draft, comes to Atlanta with a chip on his shoulder.

“I’m going to prove a lot of people wrong,” Ridley said. “I’m very excited to be coming there with Julio (Jones).”

Ridley dropped in the draft because of questions about his ability to get off the line of scrimmage against press man-to-man coverage. Some teams believed he was solely a slot receiver.

“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.”

The Falcons will count on Ridley to put some big-plays back into the attack.

 

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