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Player Faceoff: Matt Ryan, Atlanta

Two staffers go head-to-head and discuss Matt Ryan

The staff members at Footballguys are full of opinions. In a Faceoff, we allow two members to voice their opinions on a specific player. One picked the high side, and the other took the low side.

High Side: Devin Knotts

Matt Ryan is coming off of a career MVP season as he had his best statistical season in almost every category. This is a big step for Ryan as he is now 32 years old so there is very little concern for a dropoff due to age. Ryan finished as the third ranked quarterback in 2016 and is currently being drafted as the fourth quarterback off the board behind Rodgers, Brees, and Brady. The value you that you can get Ryan at this season is a great one as even though he is the fourth quarterback coming off the board he is often going two rounds later than Brees and three to four rounds later than Rodgers. Brees and Brady both have even the smallest of age concerns which as we have seen from Peyton Manning the quarterback fall off is not gradual in most cases it is a fast decline so Ryan not having that risk may be a reason you want to wait.

The biggest concern that people have with Ryan is that last season was an outlier and that he will regress back to his career average. However, if you dive deeper into why he was great last year a big piece of that was centered on the offensive line. Footballguys offensive line expert Matt Bitonti had the Falcons offensive line ranked as the second best at the end of last season which was a big upgrade compared to having them 20th in 2015. The biggest difference is the center Alex Mack who is a four time Pro Bowl center who provides stability around the offensive line.

The weapons around Matt Ryan continue to get better as this is the most complete team that he has had since 2012 which was Julio Jones’ second season in the league and Roddy White’s last good season. The addition of a true deep threat in Taylor Gabriel to complement Julio Jones was critical to the success of this offense last season as it will relieve some pressure off of the superstar. Mohamed Sanu enters his second season with the team and all reports are that he has been a standout at camp so far this season. All of this success Ryan had last season was without a true tight end and with Austin Hooper entering his second season, there are some signs pointing to him having a breakout year which would only help the quarterback giving him another option to throw the ball to.

Overall, Ryan has the ability to once again finish in the top four of quarterbacks this upcoming season and while there are lofty expectations the best thing may be his floor, since 2010, Ryan has finished every year inside of the top 10 of quarterbacks with the exception of 2015 due to his unusually low touchdown numbers in that season. Having a quarterback who is almost guaranteed to finish in the top 10 of quarterbacks as well as having the upside of finishing in the top 3 of quarterbacks is a great pick and an even better value compared to where other quarterbacks are going around him.

Low Side: Justin Howe

Matt Ryan’s 2016 was historically great, earning him an NFL MVP and a moral victory in the Super Bowl. But fantasy owners need to beware; his 2017 has virtually no chance of producing those numbers again. In fact, it seems likely he’ll regress to his low-end QB1 levels of 2010-15. And if that winds up the case, he’ll be hard-pressed to return much value on his current 5.12 ADP. More likely, he’d slip into the massive tier of QB1/QB2 profiles, and drafters are better served chasing ADP value there rather than chasing specific guys into the fifth round.

Let’s not take anything away from Ryan’s 2016 season. His regular-season line – a 69.9% completion rate, 4,944 yards, 9.3 yards per attempt, and 38 touchdowns – made for easy career highs across the board. In fact, he also set highs in 20-yard completions (69), and 40-yard completions (17) while his Falcons led the NFL in points, yards per play, net yards per pass attempt, and scoring drive percentage. But shrewd fantasy players know that wild, out-of-nowhere eruptions like this are almost always outliers, the exception rather than the rule, and that chasing them in Year N+1 is a foolhardy task. Dating back to 2000, and excluding first-ballot Hall of Famers Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Drew Brees, 9 quarterbacks have topped 35 touchdown passes in a season. Their average for the following season? A paltry 1.46 touchdowns per game, which would extrapolate to just 23.4 over 16 weeks. In fact, only one of those 9 (Tony Romo) managed to average 2.0 touchdown passes in Year N+1, and none managed to top 26 on the year. (There were a surprising number of injuries and benchings among those nine guys, but that’s unrelated.)

Ryan’s wild touchdown total came largely from a monstrous spike in red zone volume and efficiency. Ryan completed 63 passes in the red zone – the most in his career. In fact, from 2010-15, he averaged a good-but-not-dazzling 49.2 red zone completions. (For reference’s sake, that would’ve ranked sixth in 2016.) So, if we’re going to shrewdly trim our expectations for Ryan’s deep-ball and red zone volume and efficiency, we’re going to come out well below 4,944 yards and 38 touchdowns. In fact, if we can fairly project him to 608 overall attempts (his 2010-15 average), then his typical rates would afford him 4,404 yards and 27 scores. That’s good, of course, and Ryan is a reliable 16-game starter. But it would almost certainly slot him into the QB10-15 range.

And if we’re going to target QBs from that tier, we’re best served holding off. In my eyes, there are 12 QBs projected to score virtually the same, with ADPs ranging from Round 5 to Round 12. To single out one of them and invest a semi-premium pick is, to me, sheer insanity. Owners are best served filling their rosters with value elsewhere – at positions with wild variance and in need of more dart throws – then pouncing on whichever one(s) fall several more rounds. Simply put: if you want Matt Ryan in Round 5, you’ll probably come out much further ahead by snagging a receiver like Willie Snead IV there, then adding Andy Dalton or Dak Prescott in Round 11 or 12.