It’s time to wrap up the annual superlatives with the one award that is a dishonor rather than an honor. After looking at which player was the most improved player on the Atlanta Falcons, it’s time to look at the opposite end of the spectrum and discuss who had the most disappointing 2015 campaign.
The obvious choice is quarterback Matt Ryan, but before I go into more detail about his 2015 season, I’ll first discuss some other potential runners up for this dishonor.
There are several candidates that bear mentioning, including wide receiver Roddy White (who “won” last season), guard Andy Levitre, linebackers Brooks Reed and Justin Durant and safety William Moore. Of that group, I’ll choose Durant as one worth elaborating on why he had a disappointing season.
After signing a modest three-year contract, Durant was arguably the “jewel” of the Falcons incoming 2015 free-agent class. His veteran presence was set to replace long-time Falcon Sean Weatherspoon, and in the eyes of some exceed the latter’s production. However like Spoon before him, Durant’s first season in Atlanta was marred by injury. Durant missed most if not all of six games in 2015 and his performances even when he was relatively healthy just didn’t have the expected impact.
Durant started well in 2015 to the point that he was considered the top newcomer to the team by the middle of the season. But it seemed like it was all downhill for the veteran linebacker thereafter. Unfortunately, his performance in the season finale against the New Orleans Saints left an especially bitter taste due to being a liability both against the run and pass on a scoring drive early in that game. It just capped off what amounted to a season not worth remembrance for the nine-year veteran, who hopes to bounce back with a stronger 2016 effort.
But it’s now time to go further in depth on Ryan, whose poor year in 2015 could be considered a microcosm of the Falcons performance throughout the season. As is often the case in the NFL, the Falcons season often went as their quarterback’s performance allowed.
Ryan began the season relatively strongly, earning a passer rating of 101.2 over the first four games the year. That rating ranked as the 10th highest among qualifying quarterbacks during that span. However during the next nine games, Ryan went into a slump with a 81.2 passer rating, which ranked 31st among qualifiers. That decline largely came due to higher rates of turnovers Ryan experienced over that span. After turning the ball over just twice in the first month of 2015, Ryan would go on to turn the ball over 16 times in his next nine outings during the middle of the season. The Falcons managed to win just two games in that span with too many of Ryan’s costly mistakes coming in critical situations.
Ryan finished the year much better, earning a passer rating of 100.5 and turning the ball over three times over the final three weeks with the Falcons earning two wins. That rating was good enough to rank eighth among qualifiers during that span.
Like the Falcons, Ryan was able too bookend the season with fairly strong play, but the lull experienced during the middle really derailed their playoff hopes. While the Falcons’ midseason struggles weren’t always directly caused by Ryan, they were perfectly reflected in his indecisiveness and discomfort.
Expectations and pressure will mount on the Falcons quarterback in 2016 thanks in large part to the massive $100 million contract he signed back in 2013. With only one playoff win over eight seasons in Atlanta, concerns over whether Ryan is capable of winning “big games” grows each year. A common past complaint always deflected the Falcons’ lack of postseason success due to a lack of balance offensively and shoddy defensive play as holding the Falcons back. But with significant improvements in both areas in 2015 but a lack of progress on Ryan’s part, the quarterback is now poised to carry a significant portion of the blame.
It will be critical for Ryan to have a bounce-back year in 2016 and look more like the player he was in September and December than the guy he was in the middle of the season. Delivering more touchdowns and less turnovers will ultimately be his goal for next season and his overall body of work over eight seasons certainly suggests he’s capable of accomplishing it.
To hear other people’s picks for the most disappointing players in 2015, check out the awards episode of the FalcFans podcast.