NFC South

Has Matt Ryan Entered the NFL's Elite Quarterback Class?

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 30: Matt Ryan #2 of the Atlanta Falcons scrambles against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the Georgia Dome on December 30, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia  (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images
Jim MorrisContributor IJanuary 3, 2013

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is not a household name.

You won't find his jersey hanging in man caves across the country. You won't find him modeling the latest designer boots, or driving the back roads of the South listening to traditional country music. He doesn't give you discount double checks. And, the closest he has been to hosting Saturday Night Live was a Thursday night thriller against New Orleans.

Matt Ryan has yet to achieve the elite status of Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees or Eli Manning, and he has yet to accrue a Super Bowl ring like those mentioned.

His commercial airtime may not put him in that club of NFL quarterbacks, but when you consider his time on the field, Ryan's name should be considered among the elite.

Consider this: Ryan is fifth or better in most statistical categories, including passing yards (a franchise record 4,719), yards per pass attempt (7.7) and yards passing per game (294.9). He's averaged over 3,700 yards passing in just five seasons. His 32 touchdown passes accounted for fifth best in the NFL this year, and entering the playoffs he has a career-best 99.1 passer rating.

Matt Ryan's 68.6 completion percentage is tied with Peyton Manning for the league's best. (The only season Ryan's completion percentage has dipped below 60 percent was 2009.) He threw an average of 26.4 completions per game, which ranked him third among his NFL quarterbacks.

With 56 wins in his first five years, Matt Ryan has won more than any quarterback in NFL history. Since arriving in Atlanta, he's led the Falcons to a 33-5 home record.

In 2012, Ryan drove Atlanta downfield for six game-winning drives in 2012 (four of those while facing a deficit). Only Andrew Luck had more.

The Falcons have slowly and strategically put their offense in the hands of Ryan over the years—never more so than this past season.

Noted for a balanced attack in recent years, Atlanta's offense in 2012 put three receivers on the field more often. They accelerated the tempo of their offense by going with a no-huddle attack. These are all signs that head coach Mike Smith and Co. trust in Ryan's abilities and decision-making—a trust that only the elite quarterbacks enjoy.

Quite frankly, Matt Ryan is the best player on a team with the NFL's best record. His numbers prove him to be one of the most prolific quarterbacks of 2012. Yet, much like his team, the number on Ryan's elite card will be punched only after he leads them to a playoff win.

Until then, he's just the best Falcons quarterback since Steve Bartkowski.

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