The Battle of 2 NFC South Receivers
Now if you had read this article 5 years ago you probably would have thought I was going to do an article on who was better out of Julio Jones or Mike Evans (clue — its Julio Jones).
However today, I’d like to talk about two of the up and coming receivers in the NFC South, they both entered the league in the first round of the 2018 draft, separated by only two picks and are now heading in their third year in the league. DJ Moore was selected with the 24th overall pick by the Carolina Panthers, whilst Calvin Ridley was selected with the 26th overall pick by the Atlanta Falcons.
In this article, I am going to dive into how they have both done in their first two years in the league and what we can expect from them going into their third season.
Ridley was a well sought out player coming out of high school, he was a five-star recruit and was considered to be the best receiver in the 2015 class according to 247Sports, Rivals and ESPN. Great competition makes a better athlete, that could be applied to Ridley as he played Pop Warner football in the same league as current NFL stars Lamar Jackson, Marquise Brown and Trayvon Mullen when he was young.
The 25-year-old two time SEC champion, former Alabama man had an incredible Rookie season in 2018. Winning offensive rookie of the month in September for catching 6 receiving touchdowns, which tied an NFL record for most touchdowns by a Rookie in their first four games in the NFL.
That wasn't the only record Ridley broke in his rookie year, he broke the franchise record for most touchdowns by a rookie with 10, a record that had stood since 1980. He also lead the league that year for rookies in both receiving yards (821) and touchdowns (10).
It was a pretty hot start for the former crimson tide. His 2019 season was much of the same in terms of his stat, no big sophomore drop off, or leap to stardom. Ridley proved that in back to back years he can be a consistent target in the WR2 option, so much so the Falcons felt comfortable to trade away their WR2 in Sanu in 2019 to the Patriots for a second-round pick. Little side note, that second-round pick was traded this offseason with the Baltimore Ravens for Hayden Hurst, who the Ravens selected one pick above where the Falcons took Ridley in the first round.
Ridley landed in a fantastic spot since he arrived in Atlanta, he has a consistently reliable and high performing quarterback in Matt Ryan and a mentor in one of the greatest receivers to ever take the field in Julio Jones. Let's not forget all of the great opportunities Julio will create for Calvin when he is getting double covered.
The former Maryland player had an interesting college career, in his three years, he had three different coaches, eight different quarterbacks and only saw above a .500 record in one of those seasons. Despite all of this and even being asked to sign as a Safety before committing to Maryland, DJ still performed very well and got invited to the combine. Where he had the best board jump, second-best vertical jump, and a very impressive 4.43 in the 40-yard dash. This all made it easy for the Carolina Panthers to make the three-star college recruit the first WR off of the board in the 2018 draft.
In DJs rookie season, he started off pretty slowly with only three catches in his first three games, one was for a 51 yard touchdown though. But as the season went on, he began to pick up more and more targets including a breakout game in week 11 against the Detriot Lions where he went for 7 catches for 157 yards and a touchdown. He was named to PFWA All-Rookie Team, becoming the second Panthers receiver to claim this award, since Rae Carruth in 1997.
DJ took a big leap in his sophomore season, stepping up into the WR1 position for the Panthers he had an increase of 65% for targets compared to his rookie year. This increase in opportunity saw him improve his receiving yards by 49%. All this increase in productivity whilst catching balls from an injured Cam Newton, a fresh-faced 2019 third-round pick in Will Grier, and a 2018 undrafted free agent in Kyle Allen. DJ proved he can play ball, no matter who is throwing the pigskin.
So let's take a look at both player's first two seasons in the NFL. The tables I have put together have the following key:
Green Cell — Shows which player was better
Bold Text — Shows the player improved this stat from 2018 to 2019.
Below is a table that shows the stats of both players rookie year in the NFL:
It shows that for both players rookie years, despite it being very close Calvin Ridley had a more productive year in terms of yards and touchdowns compared to DJ Moore. From the above, you would probably say that Calvin was definitely the better receiver, but stats don't always tell the full story. DJ was part of a team that started hot with a 6–2 start but then crumbled and ended up finishing 7–9 after a 6 game straight losing streak, which included their last two games being without the then starting QB, Cam Newton who was struggling with a shoulder injury. One thing that the above stat table doesn't show though is that DJ was incredibly productive after the catch, per reception he was making 7.7 yards after the catch on average compared to Calvin’s 5.7. This shows Moore was better at making space and making defenders miss once he got the ball in his hands.
Below is a table that shows the stats of both players second year in the NFL:
Jump to both players sophomore season and it was two very different stories. Calvin Ridley was still in a fantastic spot with a stable QB and a future hall of fame mentor, but his stats didn't see any crazy increase. Saying that he did miss the final two games of the season due to an abdominal injury. His stats could have looked a lot better perhaps if he hadn't got injured, Ridley was in a purple patch during his final 5 games as he was getting a lot more targets due to the trade of Atlanta’s WR2 Sanu to the Patriots.
Even with those two games, it would have been hard to catch up to the production that DJ Moore achieved in 2019, per game DJ was averaging 11.7 yards more than Calvin. In the above table, he improved in 8 of the 11 stats compared to his Rookie season, all whilst playing with a trio of QBs who were either injured or seeing their first taste of NFL football.
Which do I think will break out going
into year 3?
Now you may have already jumped to this with how I have written this piece, but Calvin has done really well whilst being in a great spot, but DJ Moore has done amazing whilst being in a pretty rubbish situation.
For me, currently, Moore has proved he is the better receiver who has shown improvement from year one to year two despite the QB problems and not having a WR1 in front of him creating opportunities for him like Ridley does with Julio unless you count Mccaffery as that WR1 which I guess you could argue.
Now going into year 3 he has a new head coach in Matt Rhule and a new QB1 in Teddy Bridgewater. Whom in his 5 starts in 2019 for the Saints which were all wins had a completion rate of 67.9% and a QB rating of 99.1 whilst the average of the panthers three QBs had a completion rate of 60.3% and a QB rating of 74.7. Hopefully, with a better QB under center, Moore could see even more production and is still the clear WR1 for the Panthers.
Both of these guys are both going to have great careers in the NFL, but let's not forget, they are going into their third year Calvin is 25 years old and DJ is still only 22?!?! They both have a chance to leave their footprint on the league, but with the stats DJ has already put up and how young he is, he could leave the biggest footprint out of the two.
Who do you think is going to have a better year 3? Who do you think will have a better career? Leave a comment below with your thoughts?