When Matt Ryan‘s 2016 season is brought up in conversation, there is always one thing leaps to the forefront: that almost unbelievable blown lead in Super Bowl LI.
The MVP season that came before it is almost an afterthought; the career-high 92.2 passing grade, the best single-season deep passer rating we at PFF have ever seen, the eighth-best single-season success rate (percentage of passing plays that generated positive expected points added) ever recorded by an offense, all somehow lost in the shadows of that eventual 25-point squandering.
But the reality is that Matt Ryan's 2016 season showed us all just what the perpetual top-10 quarterback could be at his very best: the league's most valuable player. That year, Ryan completed a career-high 69.8% of his pass attempts for a career-best 9.3 yards per attempt, ending the year with 4,994 passing yards, 38 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. His 90.3 passing grade fell short to only that of Tom Brady (94.5) when the regular season was all was said done, while his 128.9 passer rating from a clean pocket, his 78.3 adjusted completion percentage, his 87.2 passer rating under pressure and his 136.1 passer rating on deep passes ranked first, fourth, third and first among 2016's quarterbacks, respectively.
In fact, in the 13 years that PFF has graded games, Matt Ryan's 2016 season was only the fifth time that a signal-caller had finished a regular season ranked in the top-five in all four of those statistical categories.
The highlight and the driving force of that MVP-winning campaign was Ryan's production as a deep passer, as he was simply sensational throwing the ball deep down the field. Through 16 games, Ryan completed 32 of his 63 deep pass attempts for 1,149 yards, 11 touchdowns and not a single interception; 24 of his attempts earned the big-time throw designation in our grading system, while just two of those 63 passes were deemed to be turnover-worthy.
Since 2006, there have been 440 instances where a quarterback has attempted at least 25 deep passes throughout a regular season. Among those, Matt Ryan's 2016 season ranks first in passer rating (136.1), ninth in adjusted completion percentage (57.1%), 12th in yards per deep pass attempt (18.2) and tied for third in passing grade (99.4).
Things haven't quite gone as well in the two years since. His overall grades of 88.3 in 2017 and 84.3 in 2018, while still good, weren't up to the elite standard he set for himself in 2016, and his “accuracy plus” rate (the rate at which he puts the ball in the perfect spot for his receiver) and passer rating on deep passes fell from 36.7% (3rd) and 136.1 (1st), respectively, in 2016 to 20.8% (15th) and 79.0 (21st) in 2017 to 28.6% (T-13th) and 113.9 (5th) in 2018.
Luckily enough, the 2019 NFL schedule can give Ryan the push he needs to return to MVP consideration.
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