You know the drill. Tuesday morning means one thing, and one thing only…it’s time for the eighth edition of Draft Class Heroes!
Two brothers stole the headlines at the wide receiver position this weekend. Plus UNC’s only real prospect flexed his muscles, the Cardinals fell flat on their face in a key moment and much, much more.
Draft Class Superheroes of the Week: The Ridley Brothers
So, Calvin Ridley, my WR2 in the 2019 NFL Draft class, went off this week because of course he did. It’s almost like bad jumps at the Combine don’t matter for a player who doesn’t win in the air and is as quick and nuanced as Ridley is on the ground. He’s an elite route runner with terrific body control and the ability to track the football with the speed to run underneath it.
🚨 BALLER ALERT 🚨
CALVIN RIDLEY IS GOING OFF. pic.twitter.com/UQvg5f1n8M
— Atlanta Falcons (@AtlantaFalcons) September 23, 2018
Stacks the corner in his release, uses his hands to stay clean, then simply runs by him with that 4.4 speed. Terrific natural gifts and refined skill colliding at the highest level of football. Ridley is going to be a stud in Atlanta for a long time, and his 7-catch, 146-yard, 3-touchdown day was just the beginning.
But he isn’t the only pass-catching star in his family. On the same weekend where Calvin erupted onto the NFL scene, his brother Riley Ridley was carrying Georgia’s receiving corps to another SEC victory. After three pedestrian stat lines to start the season, Riley broke out against Missouri with five catches for 87 yards and a score.
Ridley entered the year with just 26 career catches, but many of them were highlight reel caliber. In Georgia’s balanced, spread-it-around offense, each receiver really has to make the most of their targets in order to post production that will be noticeable to the NFL. Mission accomplished in Week 4.
— Dayne Young (@dayneyoung) September 22, 2018
Ridley’s best traits are his body control, catch radius and ability to make contested grabs in the air. Stylistically he’s extremely different from his brother, but he might be even more physically gifted. The younger Ridley is at his best when the ball is in the air and he can go up and get it, while Calvin is much more of a ground-separator at wide receiver, winning with nuance over raw physical dominance.
Jake Fromm with the dime to Riley Ridley pic.twitter.com/BGNcS7Uv4G
— WeRunThisState (@garunsthisstate) September 15, 2018
That isn’t to say that Riley isn’t a detailed route runner too. This catch from a few weeks ago comes after a Calvin-esque route, selling the slant before bursting back outside to create separation for the score. He’s shown a ton of progress in his attention to detail this season, which has allowed him to emerge as Georgia’s most talented receiver.
The question with Riley will be long speed, not size as it was with Calvin. Riley is stacked with muscle, and I bet he weighs in even bigger than his listed 6-foot-2, 200-pound frame. I’m just hoping Georgia finds a way to get him the ball more, because I believe he has the talent to be one of the best wide receivers in the 2019 class if he declares as a junior (he should, he’ll be 23 years old next summer).
1. Kaden Smith, TE, Stanford
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but Stanford has another big, athletic tight end that looks poised to make a smooth transition to the NFL. After a strong sophomore campaign, Kaden Smith has been even better as a junior, with three straight games over 60 yards receiving.
His six catches for 95 yards was the key catalyst for Stanford’s comeback win over Oregon, as the 6-foot-5, 253-pound target showed soft hands, the ability to win intermediate-deep and terrific body control. He’s also a solid blocker, and has enough athletic traits to get excited about. I think he’ll be one of the biggest risers of the pre-draft process if he decides to declare. This tight end class could be loaded.
Stanford TE Kaden Smith is fun. Shows strong hands in contested situations. Comes away with 50/50 balls, and has a large catch radius. His ability to track the ball in the air and over his shoulder also makes him a threat. Question marks surrounding his route running and speed. pic.twitter.com/lsQynnY6G4
— Gavino Borquez (@GavinoBorquez) September 4, 2018
2. Anthony Ratliff-Williams, WR, North Carolina
Amidst the disaster that is UNC football stands Anthony Ratliff-Williams, a playmaker in every sense of the word. He’s shifty and physical post-catch, but his best work comes when tracking and adjusting to the football down the field. The 6-foot-1, 205-pound junior destroyed Pitt, highlighted by this monster grab over a cornerback who is now his legally adopted son.
Anthony Ratliff-Williams 😎 pic.twitter.com/gUgCk2xqWx
— Jon Ledyard (@LedyardNFLDraft) September 25, 2018
ARW is about to get introduced to a national audience this week when Miami hosts UNC on ESPN Thursday night. It remains to be seen if he’ll declare in a loaded class, but a strong game against a Hurricanes secondary with multiple NFL prospects would be a big boost to his stock.
3. Isaiah Buggs, IDL, Alabama
While Raekwon Davis and Quinnen Williams deservedly steal all of the headlines, Buggs just keeps making plays. Three sacks against Texas A&M displayed his rare combination of power and skill, both as a run defender and as a pass rusher.
Nick Saban called it “by far Buggs’ best game” and said “we’d like to see him do that on a consistent basis.” Far from glowing praise from the daily grouch that is Saban, but still a good indicator that Buggs is closing in on his potential.
I think he’s a middle-class man’s Jon Allen, pretty similar players in build and style. Allen was just more purposeful, violent with his hands and all-around consistent in everything the did. Buggs can be a Top 75 pick if he keeps playing to his potential and tests well at the Combine.
Villain of the Week: Steve Wilks, Head Coach, Arizona Cardinals/Mike McCoy, Offensive Coordinator, Arizona Cardinals
Where to even begin…
First, continuing to stick with Sam Bradford as your starting quarterback despite the fact that he was clearly shot was a huge part of putting this team in an 0-3 hole. The roster has other issues, but Bradford has been dreadful, and Josh Rosen was the most pro-ready quarterback in the class.
Second, putting Rosen in with four minutes left in the game, down two, with the season on the line, against one of the best defenses in the NFL, with a disastrous offensive line facing a group of pass rushers teeing off in pass-obvious situations, is simply irresponsible. Predictably, Rosen got crushed and threw an interception on the biggest play of the season.
Third, a handoff to Chase Edmonds, your backup running back, on 3rd-and-2 with the game on the line? Are you serious? After the game, David Johnson said he missed a blitz pickup on second down, and was getting reprimanded on the sideline during the play.
Can the teaching point wait until after you’ve saved your season? I mean, we all know Mike McCoy’s propensity for falling on his face as an offensive coordinator, but this is about as bad as it gets. The Cardinals appear destined to be the worst team in the NFL this season, the group around Rosen is bad enough to risk damaging him long term and I’m not sure there is a pleasant end in sight for Steve Wilks either. It’s a rough time to be a Cardinals fan.
In the lair this week…
- I’m changing this section to simply what I’ll be focusing my tape study on this week, as the majority of my football film work is done after Tuesday afternoon.
- On the NFL side, a few Bills fans have told me that I need to check out Josh Allen’s performance on Sunday (lol), which I’m excited to do. I’ll also review the Steelers-Bucs game and post some thoughts on Terrell Edmunds’ third start. You can count on me scanning the rookie performances around the league as well.
- On the college side, I didn’t get to Quinnen Williams’ tape last week, so that’s a priority for me. I’d also like to take a look at Kentucky’s Josh Allen, as he’s flashed a bunch after disappointing me last season. Elgton Jenkins and Tyler Clark are on my list as well.