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Player Spotlight: Matt Ryan

A detailed look at Matt Ryan's fantasy prospects for 2013.

There may not be a quarterback in the NFL with a more complete complement of weapons than Matt Ryan. In 2012 we knew that Ryan had a couple of outstanding receivers, and a very reliable tight end. We expected the age of Tony Gonzalez to factor in, but Gonzalez was one of the best tight ends in the league. This season we're expecting the age of Roddy White to factor in, but there's little chance that White's production drops off more than Julio Jones improves, and it may not drop off at all.

To put it in perspective, Ryan has the #1 on the active receptions list at both running back (Steven Jackson) and tight end (Tony Gonzalez). He has #10 on the active receivers list (White) and arguably the best receiver under the age of 25 in the league. In other words, he has about all any NFL quarterback could ever ask for. So, just how good can Ryan be?

Matt Ryan has steadily improved in nearly every statistical way since 2009. After taking a small step backwards in his sophomore year, Ryan has shown remarkable improvement over the past four seasons. Some of that can be attributed to the talent around him, but look at the consistency of it.

Year COMP % YARDS TD Y/A FP
2009 58.3% 2916 22 6.5 239
2010 62.5% 3705 28 6.5 319
2011 61.3% 4177 29 7.4 350
2012 68.6% 4719 32 7.7 388

Ryan was clearly continuing to improve as late as last year, but has he peaked? That seems to be the consensus if you look at his rankings and his ADP, but I'm not so sure.

In my career arcs article from earlier this year, my study showed that the three most likely peak seasons for a quarterback were years 6-8. This is generally the time where the quarterback still has all of their physical tools at their disposal, but has had the time to develop the all-important mental tools that it takes to play the position at the highest level. Ryan is just entering what should be the prime of his career. And those that finished above him are not. Look at the final 2012 quarterback fantasy rankings.

  2012 FP 2013 AGE 2013 EXP
Drew Brees 442 34 13
Aaron Rodgers 432 30 9
Tom Brady 423 36 14
Peyton Manning 397 37 16
Matt Ryan 388 28 6
Cam Newton 387 24 3
Robert Griffin III 376 23 2
Tony Romo 358 33 10
Andrew Luck 353 24 2
Matthew Stafford 351 25 5

Now I'll be the first to admit that changes in the rules and medicine have extended the life of the NFL quarterback exponentially over the past 10-15 years, but that doesn't change the fact that Ryan is the only quarterback from last year's top five that is on the right side of the traditional career arc for a quarterback. While there are several younger quarterbacks below Ryan, two of those (Griffin III and Luck) are entering the dangerous sophomore season and none of those younger quarterbacks have anywhere close to the firepower Ryan does.

With all of this being true, why isn't Ryan getting the respect he deserves? One word, consistency. Over the last three seasons Ryan has averaged 22 fantasy points per game, which are very solid QB1 numbers in fantasy football, but he hasn't always been consistent. In fact, he's posted sub-QB1 numbers in 38% of his games over the same time frame. That's more than two times as many sub-par games as Drew Brees has had in the same time frame. He also seems to have at least one stinker a year where he doesn't even post QB2 numbers, and they aren't very predictable. Last year that game came against the Cardinals when he threw five interceptions and no touchdowns. These are the types of games that make it hard for owners to believe that Ryan has truly arrived as an elite fantasy quarterback. Of course, consistency generally improves with experience.

POSITIVES

  • Ryan has improved for each of the past four seasons and is entering what should be the prime of his career
  • Ryan has the most complete set of offensive weaponry in the league
  • Ryan plays in the high scoring NFC South, in an indoor stadium, which means lots of shootouts and good weather

NEGATIVES

  • Several of Ryan's offensive weapons are on the downside of their careers and could see a significant drop in production
  • In the past, when Ryan's been bad, he's been bad enough to lose you a game. And he's been bad more often than an elite fantasy quarterback should be

PROJECTIONS

  COMP ATT PA YDS PA TD INT RSH YDS RSH TD
Heath Cummings Projections 396 600 4680 36 12 110 2
David Dodds Projections 376 577 4304 30 14 109 1

FINAL THOUGHTS

I'm not ready to anoint Ryan the #1 quarterback for the 2013 season (and beyond), but I do think he should be a bigger part of the discussion. I expect a slight regression in his completion %, but his touchdown passes should increase while his yards hold steady. The Falcons are going to throw the ball as much as anybody in 2013 and Ryan has all the tools and weapons to make those attempts as efficient as just about any quarterback in the league. Ryan is currently being draft as the sixth quarterback at the end of the 4th round and that represents an excellent value.

OTHER VIEWPOINTS

Scott Pianowski at Yahoo wrote:

Ryan's red zone play was superb in 2012: a 102.0 rating, 25 touchdowns, just two picks. Stafford's results paled in comparison: 75.7 rating, 15 scores, four interceptions. If we grade the QBs from the 10-yard line and in, Ryan's case gets even stronger. The Falcon threw 17 scores to one pick from that part of the field (55.6 percent completions, 91.2 rating), while Stafford struggled mightily (39.1 percent completions, 59.6 rating, 10 TDs, three picks).

Read more here.

Karl Safchick at Dynasty League Football wrote:

Ryan has increased his points per game average every year at an average rate of two points per year. The 2013 season should be no exception. This off-season, the Atlanta Falcons exchanged “goal-line hoarding” Michael Turner, for “pass-catching” Steven Jackson. Tony Gonzalez re-signed for one more Super Bowl run. Julio Jones is entering into his third year, which is traditionally a breakout year for young receivers. Roddy White still has plenty in the tank, and at the age of 27 (he will turn 28 in May) Ryan is just now entering into his prime.

Read more here.

Michael Beller at CNNSI wrote:

Matt Ryan had a career-high 615 pass attempts last year. Part of that was  because the Falcons had a very ineffective rushing attack.They ran for just  1,397 yards and 3.7 yards per carry as a team, both the fourth-worst in the  league. The team upgraded at running back, signing Steven Jackson during the  offseason. He ran for 1,042 yards and 4.1 yards per carry with the Rams last  season. With Jackson in tow, Ryan probably won't top 600 pass attempts again in  2013.

Read more here.


More from Heath Cummings:

Player Spotlight: Alex Smith - July 28
Player Spotlight: Torrey Smith - July 16
Player Spotlight: Julian Edelman - July 10
Player Spotlight: Martellus Bennett - July 10
Player Spotlight: Colin Kaepernick - July 2
What Went Wrong With C.J. Spiller - April 19
What Went Wrong With Marques Colston? - April 17
Lessons From NBA DFS - April 5
What Went Wrong With Eli Manning? - March 26
What Went Wrong With Dwayne Bowe? - March 18