Matt Ryan rebounded in 2014, rising to 415/628 for 4,694 yards passing, 28 TDs and 14 interceptions from a three-year low of 439/651 for 4,515 yards passing, 26 TDs and 17 interceptions during the 2013 campaign. Ryan is signed to a long-term deal, he's only 30 years old, and he's got one of the best receivers in football, Julio Jones, as his main target. He hasn't missed a regular-season game for five years, and is considered one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL when under pass pressure. What's not to like about this picture?
Actually, there are several concerns about the Falcons' offense (rather than concerns about Ryan himself) that are causing fantasy owners to hesitate before making Ryan their #1 fantasy quarterback this year.
First of all, Mike Smith and his coaching staff were fired after a sub-.500 season. Incredibly, despite the losing record, the Falcons were in a Week 17, winner-take-all, divisional showdown with Carolina to see which team would represent the NFC South during the playoffs. Ryan stunk up the joint, throwing two back-breaking interceptions that were both returned for touchdowns early in the contest, putting Atlanta in a hole that they never recovered from. It's fair to say that Ryan ended the 2014 season on a (very) sour note.
Second, the arrival of new head coach Dan Quinn and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan means that Ryan and company will be learning a new offensive system this year. As we saw with Eli Manning/Ben McAdoo up in New York last season, the transition to a new system can be bumpy, leading to worries about a slow start for the Falcons' offense during this upcoming September.
Third, Ryan sustained 31 sacks last year (tied for 13th-most in the NFL), a symptom of the continuing troubles along the offensive line that had allowed 44 sacks of Ryan two years ago. Three of the Falcons' main backs last year, Steven Jackson, Jacquizz Rodgers, and Devonta Freeman, averaged 3.8 yards per carry or less during the 2014 season, another symptom of the under-performing line. This year, rookie running back Tevin Coleman will battle second-year runner Devonta Freeman for the starting job in Atlanta - either way, the lead back on the field will be inexperienced at the NFL level, which may mean blown blocking assignments (and more sacks of Ryan).
Fourth, behind Julio Jones there is little in the way of production at wide receiver and tight end. Roddy White will turn 34 during the 2015 season, he continued his end-of-career fade during 2014, failing to go over 1,000 yards receiving for the second season in a row, and in so doing White averaged well under 12 yards per reception (80/921/7 receiving, 11.5 yards per reception on average). #3 wide receiver Harry Douglas left during free agency for Tennessee, and his spot on the depth chart is going to unproven rookie receiver Justin Hardy during 2015.
Jacob Tamme arrives to start at tight end this year (at least on passing downs - supersized Levine Toilolo (31/238/2 receiving last season) will likely be handling most of the blocking assignments from the tight end position), but Tamme hasn't been much of a force in recent seasons while behind Julius Thomas in Denver (20/184/1 receiving during 2013 and 14/109/2 last year). He did manage 55/522/2 receiving during his 2012 campaign with the Broncos, but Tamme isn't the second coming of Rob Gronkowski by any stretch of the imagination.
Suffice it to say, there is a good deal of uncertainty about how well the Falcons passing game will function during the 2015 transition into the Dan Quinn era.
- Ryan is a seasoned veteran with seven seasons in the NFL now
- Ryan is only 30 this year, relatively young for players at his position, and he hasn't missed a game in five years
- Ryan has one of the premier wide receivers in the NFL, Julio Jones, to anchor the Falcons' receivers' corps
- Ryan (and everybody else on offense) will be learning a new offensive system this year
- Ryan has a sub-par offensive line protecting him
- Ryan doesn't have much in the way of proven production behind Jones entering 2015
Ryan is a fine NFL starter, and he should be able to battle through the challenges of learning Shanahan's system. However, the derth of quality depth behind Jones at wide receiver and the suspect, youthful running back stable is worrisome to say the least. While Ryan should stay among the top-10 NFL quarterbacks during 2015, it may take a month (or more) of regular season for everything to jell in Atlanta, and Ryan is likely to finish closer to the bottom of the top-10 this year rather than challenging for a first-place finish at his position. Footballguys.com's Bob Henry projects Ryan to finish the season with 396/595 for 4,420 yards passing, 28 touchdowns and 15 interceptions thrown.
Mark Wimer'S Projections
- 4,550 yards passing
- 30 TD passes
- 14 interceptions thrown
- 100 yards rushing
- one rushing TD
Other Staff Projections
Thoughts from Around the Web
Ryan is on the upswing due to the talent around him and a new rejuvenation in the franchise. I really think the new defense that Quinn is piecing together will be a big part of Ryan’s success this year. I’m taking the potential of Ryan and the Falcons over the declining Saints and Brees.
Our own Kyle Wachtel does a deep dive on Kyle Shanahan's offensive system and its impact on the Falcons:
Shanahan's offenses have ranked among the top-10 in pass attempts in five of his seven seasons as an offensive coordinator. Last season notwithstanding, the only year his offense failed to break the top-10 in pass attempts was during Griffin III's rookie year, which should be considered an outlier since it was a rookie quarterback with plus running capabilities heading the offense. It should also be noted that the 2012 season proved to be Shanahan's best year with his offense ranking among the top-five in total points and total yards despite finishing among the lower-third in total plays. Being able to adapt schemes to a roster's strengths is an area where many coaches often fail, but Shanahan has proven cabpable of doing just that.
Over the past four seasons in Atlanta, Ryan has averaged 615 pass attempts with a dysfunctional running game. Even though an improved running game is expected in 2015, the passing game is what both, Atlanta and Shanahan, have relied on. A fourth straight season of 600+ pass attempts is on the horizon and Ryan remains a safe mid-QB1 with the potential to blossum into an elite QB1.