Matt Ryan stated on April 19 that he is much more comfortable in Offensive Coordinator Kyle Shanahan's offense entering this season after spending 2015 learning the new system. The Falcon's pass offense went from 4,553 net passing yards (fifth in the NFL) with 28 TDs (11th in the NFL) and 15 interceptions thrown during 2014 to 4,382 net yards passing (sixth in the NFL) with 21 TDs thrown (23rd in the NFL) and 17 interceptions tossed during 2015. The drop-off was evident in Ryan's numbers as well, which went from 415/628 for 4,694 yards passing, 28 TDs and 14 interceptions thrown during 2014 (seventh-ranked fantasy quarterback in the land) to 407/614 for 4,591 yards passing, 21 TDs and 16 interceptions thrown (18th-ranked fantasy quarterback) - the 21 TDs were the least he's thrown in a regular season since his rookie campaign during 2008 and 11 less than his current career record of 32 passing TDs thrown during 2012 (he also set his career passing yards record that year with 4,719).
Looking at Ryan's season from a game-to-game perspective, he started and ended the season with solid performances, throwing 23/34 for 298 yards passing, two TDs and two interceptions during Week 1 (Philadelphia) and posted 30/46 for 363 yards passing, one TD and zero interceptions in Week 2 (New York Giants). Against the eventual NFC Champion Panthers Ryan tossed 23/30 for 306 yards, one TD and zero interceptions during Week 16, followed by 24/36 for 334 yards passing, two TDs and one interception in the season finale (New Orleans).
The Falcons offense was not consistently good in the passing phase, however, with Ryan posting four games in which he threw more interceptions than TDs - he threw for zero TDs in two of these games - and six games in which he threw for 256 yards or less. Inconsistency was a hallmark of Ryan's 2015 season. At times during 2015 he looked confused and plain out-of-synch with his receivers. Roddy White in particular cratered, going from 124 targets for 80/921/7 during the 2014 season to seeing just 70 targets for 43/506/1 receiving last season - meanwhile, Julio Jones posted career best numbers in targets (203), receptions (136), and receiving yards (1,871) while hauling in eight receiving scores (tied for second-best season scoring touchdowns during his career so far).
There are reasons to hope for improvement here in 2016 - Ryan acquired a younger #2 wide receiver to complement Jones when 26-year old Mohamed Sanu was brought in from Cincinnati via free agency to replace the aging White. Also during the NFL Draft Stanford tight end Austin Hooper arrived to bolster the tight end position, giving Atlanta another pass-catching option to go with Jacob Tamme. As Ryan noted on April 19, he now has a year in the Kyle Shanahan offense and the familiarity will help the Falcons' offense to take off from the word go this year. The team found a solid starting running back in Devonta Freeman last season, and he is a good pass-catcher with 97 targets for 73/578/3 receiving to his credit during 2015. The team also has explosive Tevin Coleman to pair with Freeman, and the team is talking openly about utilizing Coleman on more downs during 2016. Coleman is said to have good hands and is a threat to bust a big catch-and-run into the end zone on any play. If he can stay healthy during 2016 (a problem for Coleman during 2015), Ryan has yet another explosive weapon to utilize here in 2016.
- The Falcons have built around Ryan bringing in younger talent to help him run the Shanahan system.
- Ryan is in the prime of his career at 31 years old, and he has landed among the top-10 fantasy quarterbacks during five of his eight years in the NFL, all five of those finishes being during the last six seasons. Last year's 18th-ranked finish looks like an anomaly and not a trend
- Ryan gets to throw to Julio Jones, one of the most dominant primary wide receivers in the NFL today
- The 'fit' of Sanu and Hooper in the Falcons' offense has yet to be determined - the two could flop
- The Falcons have to face Carolina's stout defense twice and unfortunately for fantasy owners, the second game against the Saints' awful defense is scheduled for Week 17, when most fantasy leagues have wrapped up their seasons. The divisional slate is slightly unfavorable to fantasy owners this year
- The Falcons are thin behind Jones - if he goes down to injury or suspension Ryan could have an awful season
Assuming that Sanu and Hooper fit into the offense well during 2016, the Falcons' passing attack could soar back into the top-10-most-productive among NFL units. Meanwhile, Ryan is considered to be a mid-level #2 fantasy quarterback - there is plenty of room for Ryan to outproduce those expectations, while Aaron Rodgers and company will have to have a great season to justify Rodgers' likely draft position. Ryan has built-in upside potential for fantasy owners who decide to roster him this season, and those owners can likely acquire him as their backup quarterback. He is on my short list for the quarterback position on my redraft league teams this year.
377/590 for 4,500 yards passing, 30 TDs and 15 interceptions, with 20/50/0 rushing
379/573 for 4,275 yards passing, 26 TDs and 15 interceptions, with 27/73/0 rushing
421/630 for 4,665 yards passing, 25 TDs and 16 interceptions, with 15/40/0 rushing
384/587 for 4,286 yards passing, 20 TDs and 16 interceptions, with 37/70/1 rushing
395/595 for 4,430 yards passing, 23 TDs and 16 interceptions, with 30/85/0 rushing
Jason Wood: "What should we make of Matt Ryan and the Falcons? There is Julio Jones and then... crickets. A lack of supporting cast (Mohamed Sanu is not the answer) and a re-commitment to the running game keep a lid on Ryan returning to his former top-10 status."
Andy Hicks: "After five consecutive seasons as a bottom-end QB1, Matt Ryan dropped to being a backup fantasy option. His yardage and completion percentage didn't change, but his touchdown number dropped significantly. This will be his second season in the Kyle Shannahan offense and I expect a return to his numbers from the 2010 to 2014 period. It looks like he will never become the next elite fantasy QB, but he still should outperform his draft slot and be a nice bottom-end fantasy QB1 or the anchor of a committee."