Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley was ruled out of the team's Thursday night game against the Carolina Panthers in the second quarter, limping off the field after he set up a 13-yard touchdown run for his quarterback Matt Ryan.
What he was doing leading up to the injury is a perfect statement of the role that the third-year receiver plays for a dreary 1-6 Falcons team. Heading into Thursday, he had posted 615 yards (third in the league) on 40-of-64 receiving with six touchdowns (tied for third in the league) to lead the Falcons while serving as the ultimate playmaker in creating 32 first-down opportunities. Before he exited, he had three receptions for 42 yards.
Ridley emerged as the team's top receiver this season after trailing Julio Jones in 2019, but Jones is still a productive member of this Falcons team, having posted 447 yards on 31-of-39 targets with two scores through five games. As the veteran slots into Ridley's spot as the team's WR1, it paves the way for Russell Gage and Olamide Zaccheaus to get another chance to prove themselves.
When Jones missed two games earlier this season, Gage, a sixth-round pick in 2018, slotted in alongside Ridley in Week 3, while Zaccheaus got the start in Week 5. Neither had their best moments in the spotlight, as Gage saw three targets and used his two receptions to produce 26 yards, and Zaccheaus had just one catch for 13 yards. Zaccheaus, who signed as an undrafted free agent out of Virginia in 2019, hasn't had a catch since his Week 5 start, but Gage has added 157 yards in four games since his last start, with 119 in the last two.
Tight end Hayden Hurst, who has worked his way back into the starting lineup as of late, with 10-of-11 receiving and 125 yards through the Falcons' last two outings, should also be expected to see more looks from Ryan if Ridley's injury is serious.
Depending on how long Ridley is out, the most viable option for fantasy managers comes by way of Jones, but he's highly unlikely to be available in most leagues. Zaccheaus should be avoided, but Gage and Hurst are worthy of a pickup, even if they just take up a bench spot until the seriousness of Ridley's injury is determined. If he's out for a while, expect Gage to slot in as a high-end WR3 alongside Jones, while Hurst is a low-end TE2 who could see increased opportunity.