Each week throughout the season, I’ll cover at least two rookies in the Rookie Report Card and try to always include the biggest performers from that particular week. On top of reviewing my expectations for each player coming into the league and covering how he’s performed at the NFL level to this point, I’ll actually give him a grade in three categories. Those categories are performance to date, 2018 potential, and long-term upside.
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Antonio Callaway, WR CLE
Week Two Stats: three receptions, 81 receiving yards, one touchdown reception (four targets), and two carries, seven rushing yards (3.5 YPC)
Callaway was one of my favorite players I watched in the months leading up to the draft. His highlight reels from Florida are impressive, showing everything you want to see from a deep threat receiver making the jump into the NFL. Then, I read about the off-field troubles that were going to push him down draft boards for both NFL teams and dynasty owners. Before any of that, however, let’s start with those skills between the lines.
A remarkable athlete, Callaway is both quick and fast. And despite his relatively small stature (5’11”, 200 pounds) and modest vertical jump (34 inches), he’s got great leaping ability.
Beyond that athleticism, Callaway showed in college that he can be dangerous both as a short and deep receiver. Dominating cover men on crosses and drags, he used his elite quickness to get separation and speed to pull away from the pursuit. When asked to go deep, few corners in the SEC could even stay close.
As I wrote above, Callaway was one of my favorites to watch over the summer. But the off the field concerns added up for me. To go along with the arrests and suspensions at Florida along with the failed drug test at the Combine, there were rumors that he didn’t like to practice or work at his craft outside of a game setting.
When he was going off the board in rookie drafts in the mid-to-late third round back in June, I could see rolling the dice on him. In fact, I picked him in one league at 3.10. But as the off-season progressed and Callaway started moving towards the late second round (despite his being caught with marijuana in the preseason), I backed off.
Perhaps that will prove to be a mistake, but I’m far more risk-averse than most when it comes to multiple red flags off the field.
Now that Josh Gordon is on his way out of Cleveland, Callaway has an opportunity to be on the field a lot. After being held without a catch in his debut in week one, he showed his speed and big-play ability on Sunday against the Saints. His 47-yard touchdown on a fourth down in the fourth quarter showed blazing speed and great hand-eye coordination to make the over the shoulder catch in the back of the end zone. Also adding catches of 18 and 16 yards, he turned short catches into chunk gains and showed he can be more than a shot play receiver.
All things told, Callaway has a chance to be a playmaker for dynasty owners. His speed and immediate playing time make him a very intriguing developmental player with WR4/5 upside as a rookie. While I tend to sidestep risky players like him, dynasty owners that like to gamble on such players should remain cautiously optimistic that he can keep his nose clean and works hard to become a pro. If those things happen, the sky may be the limit for Callaway.
Calvin Ridley, WR ATL
Week Two Stats: four receptions, 61 receiving yards, one touchdown reception (five targets), and one carry, three rushing yards (3.0 YPC)
Anybody that listens to the DLF Dynasty Podcast knows I’ve been a big fan of Calvin Ridley for a few years now. Each time I watched him at Alabama, I came away impressed. So smooth, he jumps off the screen as a polished route runner – effortlessly changing directions and getting to top speed in a blink. Those skills translated into an elite receiving prospect when it came to separating from coverage.
Despite the naysayers picking on his size (6’-1”, 189 pounds) and a lack of strength to get off the jamb or break tackles, those route running skills, along with great hands and electrifying run after the catch abilities made Ridley one of my top-ranked receivers coming out of college over the last handful of seasons. And that was before he landed in Atlanta with a very good quarterback in Matt Ryan, a quality running game with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, and an alpha receiver in Julio Jones.
Simply put, with elite abilities and a prime landing spot I struggled not to rank Ridley among the very top rookies in my rankings all off-season. Like many other rankers, I graded the top handful of running backs ahead of any wideout for much of the summer – begrudgingly.
As August played out, it took me watching Ridley play against the Kansas City Chiefs in week two of the preseason to remind me how much I like his game. Every time he touched the ball in that contest jogged my memory from his opening kickoff return where he showed those great moves with the ball in his hands, to the 36-yard catch where he burned the Kansas City defense in man coverage on a double move and the eight-yard touchdown catch where he found the weakness in the zone coverage, sat down and caught the ball for the score. His play was brilliant. And I immediately moved him from sixth in my rookie rankings (which was already the highest among DLF rankers) to fourth after that game.
Despite his being held without a catch in his debut against the Eagles, I’m still happy with that ranking. And Ridley showed why in week two.
If you didn’t watch Ridley against the Panthers, you no doubt saw the highlight of his 11-yard touchdown in the second quarter and should have come away impressed. Lined up against the press to the right of Ryan, he hesitated off the line of scrimmage and quickly shook the defender with a shoulder shake and jab step to the outside before darting in front of his face, making the catch and scoring. It was a perfect slant route.
Ridley later had a pair of 22-yard catches. Both came on simple crossing routes and showed his blazing speed as he burst through running lanes in the secondary after the catch and picked up first downs on each play.
After watching Ridley on Sunday, it’s obvious to me that his route running, speed and playmaking ability have translated to the NFL. Although he’s still not a full-time player yet, it will be difficult for the Atlanta coaching staff to keep him on the sidelines in favor of Mohamed Sanu. Though he’s sure to have an up and down rookie season, he should be seen as a WR4 with upside as a rookie with the potential to put up WR1 numbers down the road. Some have compared him to former Colt great Marvin Harrison – and I’m on board with that comp.
Find Dan on Twitter at @dmeylor22