While his previous career highs in passer rating (91.0) and touchdowns (28) were close to last year's new highs, his passing yards per game in 2011 (261.1) were almost 30 yards more than the previous season (231.6).
If you take a closer look at his 2011 season, however, you'll see that he could have been much more productive if not for a slow start to the season.
Before the team's bye (Week 8), Ryan was mediocre, at best. During Atlanta's first seven games, he averaged 240.4 passing yards per game and barely threw more touchdowns (nine) than interceptions (eight). Ryan had more games with fewer than 200 yards (three) than he had 300-yard games (two), and he averaged only 6.68 yards per pass attempt.
After the bye, the numbers tell a much different story.
Excluding the season finale, when he threw only nine pass attempts, Ryan had four 300-yard games and at least 224 yards in all eight games, while averaging 298.5 yards per game during that span. Counting the season finale, Ryan posted 20 touchdowns to just four interceptions and averaged 7.94 yards per pass attempt.
Ryan had seven games with a passer rating of 100-plus and six of those games occurred after the bye.
Since becoming a Falcon four years ago, Michael Turner has been a workhorse back with 300-plus carries in three of four seasons. The exception was in 2009 when Turner missed five games. There's an expectation that Turner will get a lighter workload this year, with some of those carries going to the other backs, especially Jacquizz Rodgers.
It's also possible, though, that the Falcons now throw it a little more than they did last year, even though only three teams (Detroit, New Orleans and New England) threw the ball more often than Atlanta.
In his seven seasons, White has been extremely durable and consistent. White has yet to miss a game in seven seasons and has a franchise record five consecutive 1,100-yard seasons. During that span, he has had 80-plus receptions each year, including 100-plus catches in each of the past two seasons.
As a rookie in 2011, Jones missed three games and a 1,000-yard season by only 41 yards. Although Cincinnati's A.J. Green became the first rookie receiver since Marques Colston to reach the 1,000-yard milestone, Jones averaged more yards per game (73.8) than did Green (70.5).
Jones finished 2011 especially strong. During the final four games of the season, he had 20 receptions for 393 yards and six touchdowns.
If Ryan, White, Jones and tight end Tony Gonzalez stay healthy for a full season, there is no reason why Ryan won't set more career highs again this year.
(Strength of) Schedule
Based on the cumulative fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks last year by all of the Falcons 2012 opponents, Ryan and the Falcons QBs have the easiest schedule from a fantasy perspective and fifth-easiest in the fantasy postseason (Weeks 14-16).
In one of the league's most pass-happy offenses—and with a favorable fantasy schedule—Ryan has every opportunity to have his strong finish from last season carry over into 2012. Like many, I really expect Jones to take a big step forward in 2012, which gives Ryan upside from the stat line I am currently projecting for him.
In my list of top-12 fantasy quarterbacks for 2012, Ryan, 27, is younger than all of them with the exception of Matthew Stafford and Cam Newton. With two elite receivers, including the 23-year-old Jones, Ryan should be a consistent top-12 (or better) fantasy quarterback for the next several years.
Projection: (Passing) 4,275 yards, 28 TDs, 12 INTs; (Rushing) 75 yards, 1 TD
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