Photo by Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire
Let me give you two quick stat lines:
4,095 yards on 529 attempts paired with 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
4,944 yards on 534 attempts alongside 38 touchdowns and 7 interceptions.
Now what if I told you that those two stat lines were produced by the same player? The first of the two listed above is Matt Ryan’s most recent season. The second is Ryan during his MVP campaign where he led the Atlanta Falcons to the Super Bowl. Ryan is just one season removed from throwing for almost 1,000 more yards and a whopping eighteen more touchdowns. So what happened between the 2016 and 2017 season that caused such a vast decline?
Changing of the Guard
The biggest factor was the change of offensive coordinator. Kyle Shanahan produced a top ten all-time offense in 2016 that put up 33.8 points per game. Fast forward a year later and Steve Sarkisian’s regime regressed to 22.1. This regression of the offense as a whole mirrors Ryan’s decline. Recency bias plays a huge role in fantasy football and often affects too many players’ decisions. Ryan’s lackluster performance in 2017 gives many fantasy footballers hesitation when it comes to selecting him. However, let us take a look at what happened the last time Ryan was in his second year with a new OC.
Ryan’s Passing Numbers Over Last Three Seasons
2015 was Shanahan’s first of two with the Atlanta Falcons. During that year, Ryan threw for yardage, touchdown, and interception totals very similar to the 2017 season on 85 more attempts. Ryan’s second season under Shanahan was immensely better and you should expect a similar trend to take place in his second year under Sarkisian. It is difficult to replicate the MVP season Ryan had in 2016, but with another offseason in this offense, Ryan’s numbers will see major improvement.
Red Zone Inefficiencies
Ryan and company sputtered in the 2017 campaign and this led to many drives leading to field goals instead of touchdowns. In 2017 the Falcons converted a touchdown on only 49.2% of their red zone trips. This was 23rd in the league. This number was down from 64.6% in 2016, which was top ten, when the Falcons were shredding defenses. Atlanta has had another offseason to gel under Sarkisian and made the addition of standout wide receiver Calvin Ridley in the draft. This will not only give Matt Ryan another weapon, but will free up Julio Jones to make more big plays in the red zone where he is double teamed more often than not.
A Full Arsenal
Ryan has perhaps the best collection of offensive weapons in the NFL around him. Julio Jones finished second in yardage last season and figures to vastly improve on his three touchdown performance from a year ago. Taylor Gabriel, who was miscast in Sarkisian’s scheme, left for Chicago and was replaced by the prolific Calvin Ridley. Mohamed Sanu will continue to be a viable target for Ryan and build on the five touchdowns he scored last season. All three of these receivers have the ability to be effective on the outside and in the slot. This is a lethal combination and going to be hard for opposing defenses to deal with. The Falcons also have a pair of backs that finished top-30 in rushing yards last year. Devonta Freeman tied for 11th best in rushing TD and is a viable receiver out of the backfield. Sarkisian has also vowed to get Tevin Coleman more involved in the passing game. This is great news considering Coleman averaged 13.6 yards per catch during the Falcon’s 2016 campaign. There have also been reports that TE Austin Hooper and Ryan have had private workouts to better their chemistry and gain a better understanding of one another. Lastly, Ryan was protected by the second best O-line according to PFF in 2017. Led by center Alex Mack, Atlanta hopes to continue the success they had last season and have also made the addition of guard Brandon Fusco. Fusco graded out with a 96.5 in pass blocking efficiency according to PFF. With these weapons and this protection around him, Ryan has no choice, but to succeed.
Under the Radar
Currently, Matt Ryan’s ADP is pick 107 according to Fantasypros.com and his ECR is sitting at 111. This means Ryan could be hanging around in the seventh round in a sixteen team league and even longer in more shallow leagues. Not to mention Ryan has the 13th easiest schedule of all QBs. ESPN.com has Ryan ranked as the 15th best QB in standard leagues. This is incredible value for a QB who has proven he can put up top five numbers. All of these factors make Matty Ice late round gold. You could overpay for a QB in the first five rounds of your draft. Or you could remain patient and take Matt Ryan in the later rounds and potentially get a top tier QB for pennies on the dollar.