The 2013 Falcons took a huge step back from everything they accomplished one year prior. After reaching the NFC Championship in 2012, the Falcons followed up that performance with a 4-12 campaign. Quarterbacks typically receive a fair share of the blame in these situations. How much of the downfall was Matt Ryan’s fault?
The short answer: not a lot. Ryan was constantly running for his life behind a poor offensive line. He lost his best receiver when WR Julio Jones broke his foot in the fifth game of the year. Roddy White struggled with ankle and leg injuries that hindered him for the majority of the season. The defense rarely did the team any favors.
Does that sound like a winning formula?
After a miserable year, why should fantasy owners buy Ryan’s stock? There are several reasons why you should bet on a bounce-back year.
Ryan improved his fantasy numbers every year prior to 2013. His passing yards, completions, attempts and touchdowns hit a career best in 2012, when Ryan finished as the No. 7 fantasy quarterback in standard scoring leagues. Considering he’s topped 600 passing attempts in each of the last two seasons, he will continue to throw the ball often giving him more opportunities to put up points.
Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter brought the promise of a vertical passing game to Atlanta when he arrived in 2012. He loves to pass the ball. According to data here at PFF, the Falcons attempted a pass on 69 percent of their offensive plays in 2013, ranking No. 2 overall in the league. Part of the reason that number was so high was due to the Falcons constantly playing from behind, but Atlanta passed 64 percent of the time when in the lead and 60 percent when the game was tied.
For those of you saying, “Yeah, he threw a ton of passes. How does that make him a good fantasy quarterback?” Consider the impact of losing Jones and playing with a banged up White.
Look at the decline in Ryan’s average depth of target (aDOT) from 2012-2013. This stat takes every pass attempt into account and measures how far downfield a receiver was when targeted.
In 2012, Ryan finished with an aDOT of 8.4. Last season, the number plummeted to 7.0, ranking him second to last at his position. You try throwing downfield when WR Harry Douglas is your best option.
Let’s take a closer look at his deep passing. Here are Ryan’s stats on targets of 20-plus yards over the last two years.
With Jones only playing five games, Ryan went from No. 6 to No. 24 overall in accuracy on these passes. How did Jones’ numbers fare with targets of 20-plus yards?
On four receptions of targets 20-plus yards, Jones gained 196 yards and ranked No. 34 overall among all receivers in 2013. Four receptions. These numbers show how valuable Jones is in the Falcons offense and his potential to open up the passing game. He should be 100 percent for the season opener.
Ryan set a career high with 17 interceptions in 2013. More interceptions are to be expected with a higher amount of pass attempts, but a closer look at his turnovers show most came in unfavorable scenarios.
- 10 of the 17 interceptions occurred in the fourth quarter. Seven occurred while the Falcons were trailing by double digits.
- Only one interception occurred when the Falcons held a lead.
- Eight of Ryan's interceptions came when he was targeting Douglas. That's not so much an indictment of Douglas. He isn't a physical receiver, but that's the role he was forced to take on in 2013. Ryan had to force the ball at times in comeback mode. That would've worked better with his top receivers healthy.
Overall, Ryan threw the majority of his interceptions late in games when the Falcons needed to pass the ball. Without an established run game, top-tier receivers or a decent offensive line, Ryan was basically thrown to the wolves.
Atlanta's pass blocking was rated No. 30 by PFF, a massive descent from 2012. The team knew it needed to address the offensive line in the offseason. The Falcons added G Jon Asamoah to replacing a revolving door at right guard, and they drafted OT Jake Matthews to eventually protect Ryan's blindside. Matthews should start at right tackle as a rookie, assuming LT Sam Baker can stay healthy.
With an offensive coordinator who loves to pass, two of the league's top receivers back to full health and an improved offensive line, Ryan possesses the tools he needs to return to his 2012 form. While the health of the Falcons offense could ruin his value (you could say this about every quarterback realistically), at full strength, Ryan can approach the QB6 range. That's probably his ceiling.
In current mock drafts, Ryan is going off the board at 7.07 in 12-team leagues. Quarterback is a deep position in 2014. Waiting for the later rounds to grab your starter is a wise decision. If Ryan slips down the board past Round 7, he is a prime candidate for a late-round steal.