The 2018 NFL Draft Prospect series breaks down draft-eligible players, highlighting their college production as well as their NFL potential. It’s important for daily fantasy players to know about NFL rookies before they’ve played a down of professional football because they are among the most misvalued assets in all of DFS. People who know NFL rookies have a significant DFS edge. The draft will be held at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX, from April 26-28.

This piece is on Alabama wide receiver Calvin Ridley, who has declared early for the draft. For the total list of all players leaving school early, see our underclassmen tracker.

For more on all the other receivers in the class, see our 2018 NFL draft wide receiver rankings.

Updated as of Mar. 6.

Junior | 6’0″ and 189 Pounds | Born December 20, 1994 (Age: 23) | Projection: Round 1

Combine numbers: 40-yard: 4.43 sec | bench reps: 15 | 3-cone: 6.88 sec | 20-yard shuttle: 4.41 sec | vertical: 31 in | broad: 110 in

Even though Ridley just finished his true junior season, he’s already 23 years old, which is ancient for someone only three years out of high school. Even so, Ridley is widely deemed to be the best receiver in the class and a likely first-round selection. Given that he entered college as a five-star recruit and the nation’s No. 1 high school wide receiver, he has been considered a future first-rounder for a while — but Ridley looks unlike a lot of successful Day 1 selections from previous seasons. People often compare him to the former ‘Bama great Amari Cooper, but Ridley is hardly like him. As a freshman Ridley led the team with 89 catches and seven touchdown receptions, and he broke Cooper’s single-season freshman receiving record with 1,045 yards — but Cooper hit 1,000 yards in 14 games as an 18-year-old, whereas Ridley had 15 games to hit his mark, and he turned 21 at the end of his freshman season. When Cooper was 21, he was in the NFL. Ridley’s first season wasn’t bad — he captured a solid 30.7 and 31.8 percent of the Tide’s yards and touchdowns receiving — but it wasn’t an epic campaign considering Ridley’s age.

Since that first season, Ridley doesn’t seem to have improved much (if at all). In 2016 he had just 72 receptions for 769 yards and seven touchdowns receiving (plus 21 yards and a touchdown rushing) — again, in 15 games — and his market share dropped to 24.4 and 26.9 percent of the receiving yards and touchdowns. Last year he had 63 receptions for 967 yards and five touchdowns. While his receiving average (15.3 yards per catch) and market share of yards (35.7 percent) are the highest marks of his career, his 17.9 percent of touchdowns receiving is abominable for any type of wide receiver prospect, much less a probable first-rounder. It also doesn’t help that Ridley had one of the worst performance of any wide receiver at the combine: His 3-cone time was acceptable, but he was utterly unexplosive in his jumping drills, and his 4.43-second 40, though fine, was a far cry from the 4.35 mark he was said to have hit in 2016 spring practices. But, frankly, it shouldn’t be surprising that Ridley didn’t test particularly well. If he were more athletic, he probably would’ve had better production last year.

When Alabama lost to Auburn in 2017, Ridley spent much of the game defended by cornerback Carlton Davis, a potential first-rounder who was named to the All-SEC first team. Ridley had just three receptions for 38 yards and no touchdowns. Next to other first-rounders — be they wide receivers for comparison or defensive backs for competition — Ridley is yet to look like a first-rounder: In the College Football Playoff he had two touchdowns, but in the two most important games of the season he managed just eight receptions for 71 yards. Over the last 25 years there have been only three first-round wide receivers to turn 24 as rookies and weigh less than 200 pounds (in other words, to be old and small). This limited cohort performed well in the NFL, but its members were also way more productive in college.

  • Marvin Harrison (1996, 1.19): 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns in 11 games as a senior
  • Joey Galloway (1995, 1.08): 1,004 yards and 13 touchdowns in 12 games as a junior
  • O.J. McDuffie (1993, 1.25): 1,110 yards and nine touchdowns in 11 games as a senior

Ridley’s age and size on their own probably aren’t as negative as people will make them out to be during the evaluation process — but his lack of production at his age and size is troubling. Ridley might be the Black Swan as a guy who is a better NFL than college player — he has a lot of love in the scouting community, and that shouldn’t be ignored — but the general manager who regularly spends premium picks on players who didn’t produce in college probably won’t be a GM for long.

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Matthew Freedman is the Editor-in-Chief of FantasyLabs. He has a dog and sometimes a British accent. In Cedar Rapids, Iowa, he’s known only as The Labyrinthian.

Photo Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports