When the Bears made Riley Ridley their fourth-round selection in last weekend’s draft, my first reaction was confusion.
Not that Ridley wasn’t a good player, far from it, I was just surprised they drafted a wide receiver with their second pick, especially considering their limited draft capital.
Ryan Pace went for best player available instead of reaching for a need which is why he is a general manager and I am writing this from my couch.
Ridley was a consensus Day 2 pick. I saw one expert have him as high as his number 53 ranked prospect. The lowest I saw him was around number 75. To get him at pick number 126 shows the type of value they received with this selection.
Ridley is the younger brother of the Falcons’ 2018 first-round pick (26th overall) Calvin Ridley. He was a top player in the 2016 recruiting class but chose not to attend Alabama with his brother to make it on his own. He originally committed to South Carolina before switching his commitment to Georgia.
Ridley had some pedestrian numbers his freshman and sophomore season before breaking out in the 2017 title game against Alabama where he had a then career-high six receptions for 82 yards.
He was more involved in 2018 after the departure of the Bears’ 2018 seventh-round pick Javon Wims. Assuming a larger role, Ridley lead the Bulldogs in receptions (43), receiving yards (559) and receiving touchdowns (9).
He flew under the radar in the pre-draft process due to a poor combine. I don’t care if he isn’t the most athletically gifted receiver.
He can ball.
How Ridley Wins
Receivers who aren’t freak athletes need to be excellent route runners, and that is exactly what Ridely is.
While not fast, he flashes a lot of initial explosion out of his stance and in and out of cuts. He has the size and strength to beat press man coverage although it is his footwork that really shines.
Ridley is able to mark sharp, quick cuts and sells his fakes not only with his feet but with his entire body. He is a killer on double moves like this one here:
His balance and body control allow him to run ultra-precise routes, routinely making the defender covering him look foolish. The play below is another example of this.
He doesn’t have the speed to simply run past defenders. But that doesn’t mean he can’t win deep. Instead, he needs to rely on his deception and ability to vary his step cadence and play speed in order to beat his man over the top.
Ridley does a good job of making sure all of his routes initially look the same making it hard for defenders to key in on certain tendencies which can tip them to the route he’s running.
In the play above he also flashes the ability to high point the football and displays strong hands to finish the catch through contact.
Ridley isn’t going to be a guy who creates a ton of separation due to his lack of athleticism. He will need to continue to show the ability to make tough, contested catches. Luckily, this is something he did early and often in college.
He only had a 30.5-inch vertical leap at the combine so he must rely on his 6-foot-1 (add another ¼ inch if you want to get technical) frame, long arms (nearly 33 inches), and his ability to perfectly time his jumps in order to attack the ball at its highest point.
When Ridley does this, he also displays incredible concentration and body control to not only catch 50-50 balls but also come down in bounds.
As he told Pace before the draft,
I’m not a 50-50 guy. I win all of them.” – Riley Ridley
Bears undrafted free agent Emanuel Hall had a 43.5-inch vertical leap, more than a foot higher than Ridley. But if you asked me who I would rather have in a jump ball situation with the game on the line, I would choose Ridley … every time.
Why Ridley Fell to Round 4
So you’re probably asking yourself, if everyone was so high on Ridley, why did he fall all the way to the fourth round?
The biggest reason was his aforementioned lack of athleticism which probably limits his upside to a high-end No. 2 receiver. He’s never going to be a go-to guy; however, in the Bears offense where spreading the ball around is key he can be a perfect fit.
Teams were also probably scared off by his lack of production. Before this past season, his career high in receptions was 14. Ridley also never eclipsed 600 receiving yards in his three years in Athens.
The last college player to be drafted top-50 who never had 600 receiving yards in a season was former Bear Eddie Royal all the way back in 2008.
The explanation for his lack of production is fairly simple. Georgia is a run-first team who loves to spread the ball around. In 2018, Georgia ran the football 547 times to only 356 passes. The year before they were even more lopsided with 650 rushes to 303 passes. The Bulldogs also had six players with at least 23 receptions in 2018.
How Ridley Fits With the Bears
The Bears receiving room is stacked.
Last season they kept six wide receivers on their initial 53-man roster. Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Anthony Miller and Cordarrelle Patterson are locks in 2019, which leaves two spots for Ridley, fellow Georgia Bulldog Javon Wims, and the Hall brothers: Marvin and Emanuel.
Given his pedigree as a fourth-round pick, I would guess Ridley is a virtual lock as well, barring injury. He should see more playing time than Patterson, who will play mostly on special teams, so he will settle into the fourth receiver role and the primary backup to Allen Robinson on the outside.
While he didn’t do it much in college, it will be interesting to see Ridley line up as the Bears Z or ‘Zebra’ receiver from time to time. He’s bigger than your typical slot receiver but with more space to work with, I think his advanced route running can really shine.
It would be wise to get him as much experience as possible at multiple different receiver positions in order to give him the best chance to make an impact in 2019.