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Falcons rookie Calvin Ridley on right route to NFL success

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Saban pours on praise for Fitzpatrick, Ridley (1:45)

Nick Saban shares his thoughts on how former Alabama players Minkah Fitzpatrick and Calvin Ridley will fare in the NFL. (1:45)

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Calvin Ridley's movements look flawless, from extending both arms to snatch a pass over the middle to sticking his foot in the ground to change direction in front of a defender.

There's little wasted motion, something Ridley attributes to natural ability. At the same time, the Atlanta Falcons' first-round draft pick would be the first to say he's far from a finished product.

"I just want to be more fluid, more efficient, just more consistent in the routes and getting open more," Ridley said.

Flip on film from Ridley's days at Alabama, and you'll see a receiver often running wide open down the field, a sign he has already won the battle at the line of scrimmage. Although Ridley possesses 4.43 speed, his precise route-running is what separated him from the rest. Executives and coaches alike have marveled at how his route-running skills should translate to immediate NFL success.

Attention to detail in regard to route running is something Ridley took more seriously beginning in the 10th grade at Monarch High School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He started to dissect film of NFL receivers such as current teammate Julio Jones, Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and Amari Cooper. Jones and Cooper were also Alabama stars, and Ridley has learned from both over the years.

"They just all separated very well," Ridley said. "They were wide open all the time. It's that hard 'stick' and creating the separation. Julio, he does [a] lot of snapping the route off."

Ridley's evolution as a route runner continued when he arrived at Alabama in 2015. His position coach was Billy Napier, now the head coach of the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns. Ridley also credited current Alabama offensive coordinator Mike Locksley, who worked with the receivers last season, for drilling him about shuffling and sticking to get open.

"When I first got there, I really was just basic, raw," Ridley said of his freshman year with the Crimson Tide. "I didn't know all the sticks, all the movement. Coach Napier taught me how do releases and how to shuffle and stick and get people going."

Napier didn't want to take too much credit after watching Ridley terrorize opposing defenses to the tune of 1,045 receiving yards, breaking Cooper's freshman record.

"First of all, I think it's important to realize that Calvin is a product of a ton of hard work," Napier said. "This guy is a tireless worker. And, in my opinion, a good route runner has to have great attention to detail and have to be willing to invest the time. Certainly, Calvin was one of those types of guys.

"He's not the biggest guy. He's probably 6-foot, 185 pounds. And when he got [to Alabama], he probably weighed like 165. For him, really doing a great job at the line of scrimmage versus press was important."

Napier notices how Ridley to this day uses some of the releases he taught him back in '15. It never surprises Napier to see Ridley win at the line against physical corners.

"I would equate it to basketball: I really think it's similar to taking the ball down the court, and you're in a one-on-one situation trying to cross the guy over," Napier said. "So you want to move him opposite of where you're going and try to take the ball to the hole.

"When you've got a corner who walks up on you and is playing you in press technique, it's very similar. Calvin did a great job with his feet. And certainly once you move the DB with your feet, then it becomes about your hands and taking advantage, if you get the DB out of position."

In three years at Alabama, Ridley caught 224 of 337 targets for 2,781 yards with 19 touchdowns and 1,433 yards after the catch. He had 10 touchdowns on 43 red zone targets and another six touchdowns on balls thrown 30-plus yards down the field.

Ridley, who uses simple cone drills to perfect his footwork, says he "always" studies defensive backs to take note of their tendencies. He credits former NFL receiver Keary Colbert, a former offensive analyst for the Crimson Tide, for sitting down with him five times a week to analyze opposing defensive backs.

Colbert praised Ridley for putting in the time to enhance his game.

"He has an ability to make every route look like a go route with his speed, knee drive and arm action," Colbert said of Ridley. "He has a great ability to stop on a dime and transition in and out of his breaks. He also has great body control and suddenness. He has a knack for lulling DBs to sleep and then running right by them. Another thing that sets him apart is that he loves to practice. Practice is not a chore for Calvin. He loves perfecting his craft."

Ridley talked about what he looks for at the line.

"When I get there, I'm looking at the leverage of the corner so I can see what I've got to do," he said. "After that, I'm working off the movement of him. My feet, my body, I'm trying to make moves to get me some space."

Ridley mentioned former LSU cornerback Tre'Davious White, now with the Buffalo Bills, as the best defensive back he faced in college because "he really covered good and didn't put his hands on me and was patient." Now in the NFL, Ridley certainly will have opportunities to win one-on-one matchups with the attention Jones routinely attracts and the other weapons at quarterback Matt Ryan's disposal, such as Mohamed Sanu, Austin Hooper and the running back combo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman.

"I think I can sell people: get them going one way and stick, put foot in the ground and be able to go another way," Ridley said. "I think I change direction pretty well to get them going and thinking I'm going another way. I like press coverage, though. You just have to be quicker than the DB and just find ways to get open."

If it were totally up to him, Ridley would go out there and run deep post routes all day because "I just make a good move, get open and go deep really well." His ability to get in and out of breaks makes "under" routes among his favorites, too.

The one route he admitted having to adjust to is the out route.

"It's full-speed, stick, speed out, and a lot of people can't do that," Ridley said. "It takes a lot of reps and practice to run it."

Ridley should get plenty of reps as the newest member of what is expected to be a high-powered Falcons offense. Atlanta plans to use Ridley both outside opposite Jones and in the slot while also possibly using him as a return man on special teams.

Judging by the early buzz surrounding him, Ridley is on the right route to an impactful rookie campaign.