Calvin Ridley following Amari Cooper's path at Alabama

In just his second start, Calvin Ridley caught five passes for 120 yards and a touchdown against Georgia. Dale Zanine/USA TODAY Sports

They were both raised in South Florida.

They both played wide receiver.

They both developed into top prospects and signed at Alabama.

Though career achievements, a rookie NFL salary and three years might separate Amari Cooper and Calvin Ridley, a 30-minute drive on Florida’s turnpike connects them.

Nick Saban ventured into Miami to find Cooper in 2012. He returned just north of there in Coconut Creek this year to scoop up Ridley, the No. 1 receiver prospect in the Class of 2015, according to ESPN.

And early on, coaches could tell that Ridley might have the same type of talent that made Cooper the top receiver in the SEC last season and a first-round NFL draft pick.

“Calvin has really kind of showed some elite talent of guys over the years we’ve been able to be around,” said offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin before the season began. “He’s shown that talent. Now there’s a long way to go to get to that level, but his speed and the way that he catches the ball and his transition -- if he does the other things all the way through, which is a lot, I think he can be really special.”

Saban balked at such lofty praise, of course. As he’s prone to do, he said that he didn’t think it was fair to pin those kinds of expectations to a freshman, adding that, “The guy hasn’t even played yet.”

But it didn’t take long for that to change. Because like Cooper in 2012, the door opened for Ridley in a hurry.

Cooper benefited from a slew of injuries at receiver during his freshman year. When DeAndrew White was lost for the year during the fifth game of the season, the starting job became his, and he never looked back.

Ridley, on the other hand, had to wait just three games. When Robert Foster hurt his shoulder, it was Ridley that stepped into the starting lineup. The next game he registered his first career touchdown. Last weekend, in his second start, he caught five passes for 120 yards and a touchdown against Georgia.

“You talk about a mature young man that, for a freshman, really prepares well, pays attention to detail, really tries to do things the right way, which is usually the biggest issue when you have young guys that play,” Saban said on his radio show Thursday night. “They don’t have the maturity to be able to hang in there and pay attention to detail and realize the importance of all that. And he does that, and he does it really well.”

Through five games, Ridley has 22 catches for 245 yards and two touchdowns. Over the same period of time in 2012, Cooper had 17 catches, 222 yards and three scores.

The comparisons are inevitable.

With a helmet and pads on, the resemblance is uncanny. They both have short hair and come in at about 6-foot-1, and they’re both deceptively quick with a fluidity of motion that few receivers possess.

Ridley is a long way from reaching Cooper’s status as a Heisman Trophy finalist. The way Cooper could break down defensive backs with his footwork was almost unheard of among college receivers.

But as a true freshman, Ridley has shown flashes of that same potential. With seasoning, he could turn into a receiver worthy of Cooper’s throne in Tuscaloosa.

“I don't think Coach Kiffin or Coach Saban asked him or wanted him to be in that position,” said center Ryan Kelly of Ridley being the next Amari Cooper. “It's just 'Go out there and do your job.' Guys like [Richard] Mullaney and all the wide receivers we have, they don't want to go out there and be Amari Cooper. They just want to go out there and do their jobs.

“With Coach Kiffin and the offense that we run, if you do your job, you're going to be successful. To have Calvin out there, especially as young as he is, is huge for our offense. We have a lot of guys like that.”

But because he’s a true freshman and because he was the No. 1 player at his position coming out of high school, it’s Ridley who’s gaining the most attention right now. Despite not starting until the fourth game of the season, he’s only one catch off the team lead in receptions.

He’s not Cooper yet and maybe he’ll never be. But for now, they belong in the same sentence. When you look back on Cooper in 2012 and Ridley now, there's just too much about them that looks the same.