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4 reasons NFL fans should watch Alabama WR Calvin Ridley vs. Auburn

Calvin Ridley could join Julio Jones and Amari Cooper as another Alabama receiver to get drafted in the top 10.

NCAA Football: Mercer at Alabama Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports

Stakes will be high in Auburn on Saturday when Alabama travels across the state for the Iron Bowl.

That’s not unusual for the matchup, but the 2017 rivalry game carries a little more weight than the typical meeting of the two SEC powerhouses. With the Crimson Tide at No. 1 in the CFB Playoff rankings and the Tigers not far behind at No. 6, there are serious playoff ramifications at stake.

But for the NFL fan, there’s plenty of talent and future draft prospects worth taking a close look at. Alabama junior wide receiver Calvin Ridley is among those at the very top of that list.

In the last decade, Julio Jones and Amari Cooper both ended productive careers as receivers at Alabama by landing in the top 10 of the NFL draft. Ridley may be a few months from doing the same.

Here are four reasons to keep an eye on Ridley this weekend:

1. Ridley may be the top receiver in the class

If Ridley enters the draft (he’s eligible as a true junior), he’ll likely be contending with Texas A&M’s Christian Kirk, Oklahoma State’s James Washington and SMU’s Courtland Sutton to be the first receiver selected.

In the latest mock draft from SB Nation’s Dan Kadar, Ridley was the only receiver in the top 10. Kadar slated him to the Chicago Bears:

The debate for the draft’s top receiver is completely up in the air. Ridley is a little bigger than players like Christian Kirk and James Washington and faster than someone like Courtland Sutton. For now, he gets the nod and would give the Bears a No. 1 receiver for Mitchell Trubisky.

Sutton was the only other receiver in the first round of Kadar’s mock draft, going three picks later to the Ravens.

2. Auburn CB Carlton Davis is a tough test

The junior cornerback was a Freshman All-American before struggling through injuries in his sophomore season. Now that he’s healthy again, Davis looks like his former self and has generated some draft hype of his own.

At 6’1, 203 pounds, Davis often looks to press at the line of scrimmage and win with his strength.

He’ll have a size advantage against the 6’1, 190-pound wide receiver, making it an interesting battle between physicality and speed.

3. Ridley has been on a roll

After topping 100 receiving yards in six of his first 20 games at Alabama, he didn’t reach 100 in his next 19 games. That streak ended two weeks ago when he exploded for 171 yards against Mississippi State.

He kept that momentum rolling last week with 103 yards vs. Mercer, including a 66-yard touchdown on a route so clean it made the defensive back fall on all fours.

At his best, this is what Ridley offers. The ability to make game-changing plays as an elite deep threat.

It’s exactly what earned him a comparison to Stefon Diggs of the Minnesota Vikings from Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com:

We've seen flashes of Diggs' playmaking skills during his brief career and I believe Ridley has a similar skill set.

Through 11 games in 2017, Ridley has broken free for 60 or more yards four times — the second most in the FBS, behind only the five times Toledo’s Diontae Johnson has taken the top off a defense for more than 60 yards.

4. The Iron Bowl is always chock full of draft talent

Make no mistake: there are a lot of future NFL players playing in the Iron Bowl on Saturday. In the last four NFL drafts, there’s been a total of 31 Alabama players selected and another 16 from Auburn.

That trend isn’t about to stop. This year’s squads have players other than Ridley worth watching.

Alabama defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick was also in Kadar’s 2018 mock draft, as well as defensive tackle Da’Ron Payne and safety Ronnie Harrison. There’s also Auburn guard Braden Smith and running back Kerryon Johnson, among others, who will draw NFL eyes.

Ridley may be the best of that bunch.