From the moment Riley Ridley arrived in Athens as an early enrollee in 2016, the expectations were high. Many even believed he had the potential to become the next superstar Georgia receiver — a role that has been largely vacant since A.J. Green took his talents to the NFL in 2011.
Ridley certainly looked the part at a physically-imposing 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds. He had the pedigree, as his brother Calvin — a first-round pick this past April — was just coming off a 1,000 yard season as a freshman at Alabama.
But through two years at the collegiate level, things have simply not come together for Ridley.
As a first-year player, Ridley caught only 12 balls for 238 yards. He did make a dramatic last-minute touchdown grab against Tennessee to give Georgia the lead, but even that play has gone largely forgotten thanks to a Josh Dobbs game-winning Hail Mary on the following Volunteer possession.
While Ridley’s early struggles can be chalked up to the typical freshman learning curve most players face, Ridley actually regressed in year two, gaining just 218 yards on 14 catches as a sophomore. While Javon Wims, Terry Godwin and Mecole Hardman all made big jumps in production from the previous year, Ridley failed to make a similar leap.
But now, on a suddenly Wims-less squad that will be searching for a big-bodied, jump-ball receiver to emerge early in the season, it’s do or die time for Ridley.
The rising junior flashed his true potential in the national championship game, catching six balls for 82 yards. Both marks were career highs.
He will need to prove early that his success against the Crimson Tide was not a fluke if he wants to earn an important role in Georgia’s offense in 2018.
Ridley is the most likely candidate to be lined up in Wims’ vacated starting spot across from Terry Godwin for the Bulldogs’ first game of the season, but if he fails to produce early, he could very easily lose that position.
Sophomores J.J. Holloman, Trey Blount and Matt Landers will all see Wims’ departure as an opportunity to pick up increased snaps, and early enrollee freshman Kearis Jackson is also likely to push for playing time.
Suffice to say, if Ridley expects to make an impact at Georgia and join his brother at the professional level, he’d better get a move on because with half of his college eligibility spent, the clock is ticking.
(You can follow Nathan Berg on Twitter @NathanXBerg)
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