Jaguars' Calvin Ridley insists he won't be rusty after nearly 2 years away from NFL

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Calvin Ridley gets triggered by one word these days: rusty.

Don’t ask him about it. Certainly don’t call him it. Probably best to just avoid the five-letter adjective in Jacksonville’s locker room.

“I’m not rusty,” he quips. “I’ve never been rusty and I’m not going to be rusty.”

One of the NFL’s best receivers before he broke his foot in 2021 and then was banished for a year for gambling on games, Ridley has been even better than expected since being reinstated by the league and joining the Jaguars in March. And he could be Trevor Lawrence’s top target when Jacksonville opens the season at AFC South rival Indianapolis on Sunday.

“I’m him. I’m Calvin Ridley,” Ridley said. “Still getting better, but I haven’t lost a step. You can ask anyone around here.”

He’s begging defensive coordinators to forget about him and hoping opposing cornerbacks will sleep on him.

“Yeah, yeah, please,” he said. “I got to maybe drop some passes or just look really bad (early) and maybe they’ll give me some room. I want them to give me some room.”

The Jaguars have high hopes for their highest-profile offseason addition. No one inside Jacksonville’s facility would be surprised if Ridley ended up in the conversation alongside Jordan Jefferson, Ja’Marr Chase and Tyreek Hill as the best receiver in the league. He’s been that good in six months.

“He brings everything,” Jaguars cornerback Tyson Campbell said. “A guy that can take the top off a defense, can run every route in the route tree and just being the leader that he is. He brings a lot to the table. … I’m really not even surprised. I grew up watching him at Alabama and (seeing) how good of a player he was in Atlanta. I’m not surprised at all.”

Ridley caught 90 passes for 1,374 yards and nine touchdowns despite playing on a broken left foot in 2020. He had 31 receptions for 281 yards and two scores before sitting out the final two months of the 2021 season to focus on his mental health following a home invasion he detailed in an article for The Players' Tribune. He was suspended for the entire 2022 season for gambling on games while he was away.

The Jaguars gave up a fifth-round draft pick in 2023 and a conditional fourth-rounder in 2024 to get Ridley from Atlanta at the trade deadline last November. The 28-year-old Ridley is entering the final year of his rookie contract and will count roughly $11 million against the salary cap.

General manager Trent Baalke and coach Doug Pederson believe he gives Jacksonville one of the league's top receiving corps. The group also includes Christian Kirk, Zay Jones and tight end Evan Engram.

“It’s always different when you get a guy in person versus on tape,” Pederson said. “The speed is real. The explosion is real. The ability to catch footballs is real. Those are all things that pop out in person. … At the same time, he understands that you just got to be patient.”

Ridley last played on Oct. 24, 2021, a nearly 23-month layoff that created questions about his future.

Ridley insisted he was good to go when offseason workouts began, but coaches eased him back in slowly. It became clear during training camp, though, that he could be the type of playmaking receiver the franchise has lacked since Jimmy Smith retired following the 2005 season. Sure, Justin Blackmon looked the part in 2012 before alcohol derailed his career. And Allen Robinson flashed with one memorable season in 2015.

Ridley could make Jaguars fan forget both.

“I’m excited,” Ridley said. “I don’t want to make it so big; it's just football, you know. I’m back. I got past that part. I’m very happy to be back, but now it’s time to win and help his offense and move the ball and celebrate with my guys. Let’s win games.”

And don’t even suggest Ridley being rusty.

“Everybody wants me to be rusty. Why?” he said. “Why do you want me to be rusty? I can play football. … I’m a good receiver. I’m one of the better receivers in the league. That’s what I’ve been saying since I was a rookie.

“Trying to be humble, but everyone has doubted me. I’m trying to fight back respectfully at the same time.”