32 for 32: Will Matt Ryan Return to Form As a Fantasy QB1 in 2018?
Editor’s Note: This is a part of our 32 for 32 QB Profiles series. This post was written by guest writer Eric Moody — follow him on Twitter EricNMoody.
Did you know that Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has finished as a top-15 fantasy quarterback in 80 percent of the seasons he has played in? And don’t forget that he is only one season removed from finishing as the QB2.
Ryan was selected number three overall by the Falcons in the 2008 NFL Draft and currently has a streak of 131 consecutive regular season starts. He has a career completion percentage of 65 percent, averaged 264.4 passing yards, 1.6 touchdowns, and 0.8 interceptions per game in his NFL career. Back in May, the Falcons agreed to terms with Ryan on a five-year, $150 million contract extension with $100 million guaranteed. The franchise believes in him, but do you expect Ryan to return to the top-tier of fantasy QBs?
RYAN’S STATISTICAL BODY OF WORK
Ryan’s most productive season on a per game basis was back in 2016. He also happened to set a career-high in passing yards and touchdowns per game with a career-low in interceptions per game. This season also resulted in Ryan having his highest passing fantasy points over expectation.
Ryan’s fantasy points per game production has been neck and neck with Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers in his up years. That’s when I realized that Brady and Rodgers have had minimal disruption on their respective coaching staffs at the offensive coordinator position. Ryan has displayed that the pendulum can swing from positive to negative depending on the offensive coordinator and supporting cast any given year. You must be wondering how he has fared under different OCs. Let’s take a look…
Mike Mularkey was the Falcons’ OC from 2008 to 2011. His offense leaned heavily on running back Michael Turner and the running game. As a result, Ryan’s averaged only 17.2 fantasy points per game while having an excellent rapport with wide receiver Roddy White and tight end Tony Gonzalez.
Ryan’s production took a step forward with OC Dirk Koetter from 2012 to 2014. This was due to the emergence of WR Julio Jones. Ryan attempted more passes, had more passing yards, touchdowns, but, unfortunately, also more interceptions.
Ryan has shown that with the right OC in place he can be very successful. It took him a year to fully understand and execute Kyle Shanahan’s offensive scheme. The light bulb turned on in 2016 and Ryan had the highest fantasy finish of his career, resulting in an NFL Most Valuable Player award. Shanahan, like Koetter, was able to leverage this offensive success into a head coaching opportunity. The Falcons replaced him with former college offensive coordinator and head coach Steve Sarkisian.
The main issue with Sarkisian is that the Falcons tried to make him Shanahan by keeping the scheme the same. This was the equivalent of hiring a plumber to work on your air conditioning unit. Sarkisian was not able to implement the concepts he excels at and fantasy players saw that with Ryan’s results last season. Can Sarkisian make a big leap from year one to year two in running the offense? The addition of new quarterbacks coach Greg Knapp and running backs coach Bernie Parmalee will help this offense dramatically behind the scenes. Ryan has an excellent supporting cast entering the 2018 season.
The Falcons passing game should continue to revolve around Jones, who has averaged 9.9 targets per game since 2011 and continues to accumulate a high number of Air Yards.
Mohammad Sanu will continue to operate as the team’s No. 2 receiver. His biggest asset is versatility and the ability to be used a receiver, rusher, and passer. Sanu has had 177 targets, caught 126 balls, 1,356 receiving yards, and scored nine receiving touchdowns in two seasons in Atlanta. He can provide fantasy owners with a nice floor lining up opposite Jones. Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman are also likely to be more involved in the passing game this season which would bode well for Ryan.
Jones, Sanu, Coleman, and Taylor Gabriel have all been efficient targets for Ryan since 2013. Gabriel left the Falcons in free agency and is now with the Bears. He will be replaced by Calvin Ridley, who was selected 26th overall pick in the NFL Draft out of the University of Alabama. He was considered by many NFL scouts to be one of the top WRs in 2018 draft class.
The Falcons pass protection is an area of opportunity. The team’s offensive line ranked 12th in pass blocking efficiency rating (79.7), according to Pro Football Focus. Ryan was under pressure on nearly 34 percent of his dropbacks — 15th-lowest rate in the NFL.
The Falcons have an abundance of riches at many offensive positions. Success or failure for Sarkisian as an OC will come down to how he utilizes his assistant coaches (especially quarterbacks coach Knapp) to play to the strengths as opposed to the weaknesses of his players. I expect Ryan to be leaned on heavily after being made one of the highest-paid QBs in the NFL.
ESPN’s Mike Clay has Ryan projected to finish as the QB17. I disagree and see Ryan finishing just outside the top 10 given his previous fantasy finishes and talent around him. He is currently the 16th QB off the board, according to TwoQBs’ redraft ADP. Ryan and Philip Rivers are both terrific options at this stage of the draft. In 2QB Dynasty Leagues, Ryan is also QB16, according to TwoQBs’ dynasty ADP. He has been very durable and could provide you with a starter for years to come given Ryan’s contract extension. It is likely that he will be one of the last QBs left on the board at this stage of the draft worth considering, alongside Patrick Mahomes,Mitchell Trubisky, and Derek Carr.
Ryan is due for some positive regression, and considering his body of work, he is someone you should target late in drafts this summer.
Do you agree or disagree? What did you find most useful? Please leave a comment below or reach out via Twitter @EricNMoody.