If competition brings out the best in athletes, Calvin Ridley worked his way into being the top receiver in this year’s NFL draft by competing against some of the best defensive backs in college football at Alabama.
Opinions vary on who ranks No. 1 among this year’s receivers, but the majority vote goes to Ridley for what he accomplished as a three-year starter for the Crimson Tide.
When asked at the Combine this year to name the toughest cornerback he’s faced, Ridley didn’t hesitate in answering.
“My cornerbacks on my team,” he said.
The toughest defensive back at Alabama?
“All of them,” Ridley said.
Ridley’s answer isn’t too much of an exaggeration.
View photos of NFL Media draft analyst Mike Mayock's top five wide receivers and tight ends in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Alabama is always stocked with talent on both sides of the ball. Combination safety-cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick is rated by many as the top defensive back in this year’s draft. Cornerback Bobby Humphrey was a first-round pick last year.
This is not considered a strong draft for receivers and tight ends. They won’t go off the board like they did last year, when three receivers were taken in the top 10 and three tight ends went in the first round.
Following includes where the Lions stand at receiver/tight end, key stats and roster moves, GM Bob Quinn’s draft record and the top 5 prospects at receiver/tight end and the spotlight on Oklahoma State’s prolific James Washington.
Lions draft priority: Depth only at receiver and tight end.
*Receivers: *Starters – Golden Tate, Marvin Jones Jr., Kenny Golladay. Backups – TJ Jones, Jace Billingsley, Andy Jones, Bradley Marquez, Dontez Ford (injured/practice squad).
Tight ends: Starting job is open. Michael Roberts was a fourth-round draft pick last year. Luke Willson and Levine Toilolo were signed as free agents. Brandon Barnes and Hakeem Valles were on the practice squad in 2017.
GM Bob Quinn’s draft record: Golladay (third round) and Roberts (fourth) were drafted in 2017.
Hot stats: With seven catches for 104 yards in Week 17 last season, Golden Tate wound up with 92 catches for 1,003 yards. He is the only player in franchise history to catch at least 90 passes in four seasons, and he has three seasons of at least 1,000 receiving yards as a Lion.
Marvin Jones Jr. was tied for fourth in the league with nine TD catches.
Top 5 prospects among receivers, tight ends:
1. WR Calvin Ridley, Alabama: One of the nation’s top-rated high school seniors in 2014, his senior season was more of a cameo performance than a complete performance. Ridley was limited to four games because of rules regarding age limits – and his four games were stunning. He had 18 catches for 420 yards and four TDs. He averaged 23.3 yards per catch.
Bio/stats: A full-time starter all three seasons at Alabama, his receiving stats declined from his freshman total of 89 catches to 72 as a sophomore and 63 as a junior. However, what did not decline was his explosive play ability. Ridley averaged his career high of 15.3 yards in 2017. Not the most physical receiver, he was measured at 6-0, 189 pounds at the Combine but showed his speed with a time of 4.43 in the 40.
2. *WR Christian Kirk, Texas A&M: *His college production to go with his physical stature and skill make Kirk look like he could step into the slot in a three-receiver set from day one of minicamp and be a contributor. Ability to return punts and kickoffs – assuming the NFL still has kickoffs to return – add to his value.
Bio/stats: Only 5-10, but solidly built at 201 pounds. He had 20 reps in the bench press at the Combine to go with a 4.46 time in the 40. He started his career at A&M in a big way, catching six passes for 106 yards and a TD and returning a punt 79 yards for another TD. As a three-year starter he had 209 receptions and returned six punts for TDs with a 22.6-yard average for his career.
3. TE Hayden Hurst, South Carolina: More of an H-back than a true tight end, his athleticism makes Hurst a potential first-round pick. At 6-4 and 250 he’s not regarded as a strong blocker, but he has good hands.
View photos of NFL prospect Hayden Hurst.
Bio/stats: Hurst chose baseball first and had Tommy John surgery in the eighth grade. He spent two seasons in the Pirates minor league system as a first baseman and pitcher before switching to football and making South Carolina’s roster as a walk-on in 2015. He had an even 100 catches for 1,281 yards in three seasons and showed consistency his last two seasons with 48 catches in 2016 and 44 in 2017.
4. WR Courtland Sutton, SMU: The biggest of the top receivers at 6-4 and 218. His 40 time of 4.54 at the Combine was decent for a player his size, as were a 35.5-inch vertical jump and 18 reps in the bench press.
Bio/stats: After two games as a 2014 freshman, he started all 37 games the next three years and dabbled in basketball – playing three games as a freshman and scoring three points with two rebounds in four minutes. His career receiving totals were impressive – 195 catches, 3,320 yards and 31 TDs, with almost all of that coming the last three years.
5. TE Mike Gesicki, Penn State: He earned 12 letters in high school in football, volleyball and basketball, and playing multiple sports helped him develop a skill that was valuable on the football field – catching touchdown passes. His leaping ability and good hands from playing volleyball and basketball reached a peak in Gesicki’s senior season when he set the school record for a tight end by catching nine TD passes.
Bio/stats: Gesicki had 129 career catches for 1,481 yards – the most in school history by a tight end – and at least one catch in his last 27 games. His Combine workout was impressive – 4.55 in the 40, a vertical jump of 41.5 inches and 22 reps in the bench press. Only one tight end who competed in the Combine did more. There are questions about his overall football skills, but none about his ability to leap and get the ball.
Other WRs, TEs: WR D.J. Moore, Maryland; TE Dallas Goedert, South Dakota State; WR Anthony Miller, Memphis; WR Equanimeous St. Brown, Notre Dame; WR D.J. Chark, LSU; WR Michael Gallup, Colorado State; TE Ian Thomas, Indiana; WR Dante Pettis, Washington; TE Mark Andrews, Oklahoma; WR Tre’Quan Smith, UCF; WR DaeSean Hamilton, Penn State; WR Deon Cain, Clemson; TE Dalton Schultz, Stanford.
Spotlight – WR James Washington, Oklahoma State: At 5-11 and 213 pounds, Washington isn’t built like a deep threat. His workout times at the Combine – 4.54 in the 40, 34.5 inches in the vertical jump – didn’t indicate that ability, either.
Washington’s stats say otherwise. He produced spectacular stats at Oklahoma State – in single games, seasons and his career.
From the start of his career as a freshman, when he had six TD catches in limited action, he was a big play-threat for the Cowboys.
Washington followed that with seasons of 63, 71 and 74 catches for 1,087, 1,380 and 1,549 yards and 39 career TD catches.
In a game against Pittsburgh in 2016 he had nine catches for 298 yards and two TDs. In 2017 he averaged 20.9 yards per catch.
Washington was asked at the Combine how a player his size puts up such big stats.
“I think it’s just my skillset,” he said. “With having speed on the outside and stretching the field, teams can only do so much to stop that.”