Falcons’ Matt Ryan Instilled Confidence Into Potential Ridley Replacement

Falcons Frank Darby

Getty FLOWERY BRANCH, GA - JULY 30: Christian Blake #13, Frank Darby #88 and walk during training camp at IBM Performance Field on July 30, 2021 in Flowery Branch, Georgia. (Photo by Edward M. Pio Roda/Getty Images)

The Atlanta Falcons could be turning to second-year wide receiver Frank Darby for a bigger role next season.

With Calvin Ridley‘s status uncertain, along with free agents Russell Gage, Olamide Zaccheaus, Tajae Sharpe and Christian Blake hitting the open market, Darby will have a real shot at competing for a starting job as the Falcons’ only wideout currently under contract for 2022.

Even with Ridley’s absence, the 2021 rookie didn’t see much playing time last season, but that was a part of the plan, according to ESPN’s Michael Rothstein.

“The coaching staff has said that they have a plan for Darby, though,” Rothstein wrote. “When they were asked why he wasn’t playing in a receiving corps that was not producing, they said Darby was working hard in practice.”

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Darby Ultimately Benefited From Ridely’s Early Exit

While Ridley’s absence hurt the Falcons’ offense as a whole, Darby, personally, ended up benefiting from his early exit.

He received more snaps in practice, thus getting more looks from coaches and some one-on-one time with quarterback Matt Ryan.

“I learn so much from him,” Darby told Rothstein. “He pulled me over to the side, and he’s like do this, this and that. Yeah, you see it on paper, but when it’s on the field, it’s different.”

He also told Rothstein that Ryan went out of his way to tell him, “Frank, you’re doing a hell of a job,” which instilled a boost of confidence in the former sixth-rounder.

Darby saw action in 10 games (0 starts) last season but recorded just one reception for 14 yards. However, his limited playing time didn’t bother him––instead, it motivated him to do better.

“My whole motive was just keep working hard and someone will notice it,” Darby said. “I took each and every day like I’m always happy. I’m happy to be here, so why would I come in here with a bad attitude and everything and not go out there and perform how I’m supposed to perform?”


Darby Took Notes From More Than Just Ryan

Aside from learning the ropes from Ryan, Darby also said he took notes on Gage and even defensive tackle to learn how everyone operates.

Atlanta’s wideout coach Dave Brock was also in Darby’s ear helping him adjust to the big league last season, but the Falcons have since moved on from Brock and will be looking for a new wideout coach.

“[Falcons receivers] coach [Dave] Brock explained to me that there’s people you probably won’t even know that’s decision-makers that’s out there. You don’t even know ‘em, Frank,” Darby said. “It was just like once he said to me, ‘Frank, be on top of your game every day. Go out there and do everything that you need to do at a high level and sooner or later your name will be called and you just got to be ready to go.’”

Whether or not Darby slides into a No. 1 or No. 2 wideout spot this season remains to be seen, but he has the keys to unlock that door if he wants to.

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