Ranking the Falcons 2015: No. 3 Matt Ryan

Brett Davis-USA TODAY SportsKyle Shanahan (left) and Matt Ryan

Continuing the countdown of the top 40 players on the Atlanta Falcons, let’s break down the third best player in quarterback Matt Ryan.

To read about the methodology in how these rankings came about, you can click here.

Total Score: 91.5/100

Last year’s rank: 2nd
Player Grade: 83/100
Teams he is starter: 25 out of 32
Teams he is best position player: 25 out of 32
Teams he is role player: 32 out of 32
Peak-Year Bonus: +4
Positional Bonus: +5

Ryan continues to fall on these rankings the past two years, barely edging out the top spot when I first began to do this in 2013, but then slipping to the second spot last year. Now, he finds himself in third place, as they second-ranked Falcon beat him by a single point.

That decline is owed largely due to the fact that today I don’t think Ryan is as good as he was coming off the 2012 season. While Ryan continues to put up impressive numbers, I honestly wasn’t that impressed with his play in 2014.

As someone that has reviewed nearly 100 of Ryan’s starts (98 to be exact) over the past six seasons, I’ve grown accustomed to a high level of consistency from the Falcons’ quarterback that I didn’t quite see in the second half of last season. There were multiple performances where Ryan’s box score looked outstanding, but the tape suggested his play was closer to average. At least relative to him, since an average day for Ryan is still a good day for the majority of NFL quarterbacks.

That latter point illustrates that to a degree, Ryan is a victim of his own success. He’s held to a higher standard than most are, and understandably so since he’s consistently been one of the league’s 10 best quarterbacks for the past four years. When his play is more on par with the 15th best quarterback in the league as opposed to the eighth best quarterback, it’s something I tend to notice.

Most of my criticisms of Ryan come not in weighing him against the majority of quarterbacks in the NFL, but rather against the other so-called elite passers that also dot most’s top 10 lists. Compared to those players, Ryan’s main weakness is probably his hesitancy to make tight-window throws down the field. If a pass is going to test his arm strength and he’ll have to put it into a tight spot, Ryan is probably more hesitant than most other top quarterbacks to pull the trigger.

Now the flip side of this is of course, this often leads to Ryan not making a drive-killing or game-changing mistake. He will live to play another down and is extremely effective at putting the Falcons in favorable situations. He’s one of the smartest quarterbacks around, evidenced by the fact that he quickly was able to master the no-huddle offense within his first few seasons.

A lot of Ryan’s “hesitancy” was likely coached up by the previous regime given that so many of the Falcons wins came down to a single drive or two in the fourth quarter. Over the years Ryan has reliably been willing to take more chances late in games when the team is in critical moments.

What the Mike Smith regime preached was to have their quarterback not hurt the team with turnovers early in the game, which would help put them in a position to win it in the fourth quarter. While that philosophy can be labeled overly conservative, in truth it was very effective for the first five seasons of Ryan’s career.

I think why it stopped working the past two years had less to do with Ryan or the inherent philosophy, and more to do with surrounding issues such as injuries at wide receiver, declining offensive line play and poor defensive play that often meant that the Falcons were not as often in a position to win the game in the end.

One of my biggest criticisms of the Smith-led staff in 2013 was their unwillingness to ask Ryan to take more chances early in games to help improve the Falcons’ odds of winning the game in the end. Instead, the tea, would find itself down multiple scores late in games and by then it would be too late to ask Ryan to right the ship.

But with the arrival of Dan Quinn and Kyle Shanahan, that sort of philosophy will change to a degree. It’s not to say that Ryan will suddenly morph into a “gunslinger” in his eighth season in 2015, but I believe Shanahan’s philosophy will be geared less towards “not losing” the game early on, and trying to win the game early on.

Shanahan will incorporate some older elements into the offense that haven’t been regularly featured since Ryan’s earliest days in Atlanta, such as rollouts and bootlegs. With more emphasis on play-action, Ryan will also have a lot more defined and simplified reads, something that a quarterback with his intelligence is going to excel in.

Another change is likely going to involve the offense relying less on “man-beaters” in terms of the routes that receivers are asked to run. So much of the Falcons offense over the previous seven years was reliant on individual receivers lining up against defensive backs and gaining separation from man coverage. Based off Ryan’s pre-snap reading of said matchups and post-snap reading of the defense would determine where the football went on each play.

In past years, especially 2012, where the Falcons had three premium receivers in Julio Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez, that were more than capable of beating man coverage, this offensive style was highly effective. But in recent years where injuries, retirements, double teams and age have limited the effectiveness of said receivers, this style of offense became a bit more problematic.

Those problems often became more glaring in a Falcons offense that struggled to generate explosive plays. But that should also change under Shanahan. Not only are receivers likely going to be asked to run more combo and complementary routes, but the team will also make a point of generating yards in chunks.

All of these factors make me believe that Ryan is due for a resurgent season. Shanahan is going to make an effort to put less on Ryan’s plate this year and it should result in Ryan having one of his best seasons. Not just in terms of his ability to dominate the box scores, but also his ability to really shine on tape.

So there’s a good chance that a year from now, Ryan will have regained a spot or two at the top of these rankings.

About the Author

Aaron Freeman
Founder of FalcFans.com

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