Fantasy Football Crystal Ball: Matt Ryan

Michael WhooleySenior Writer IJuly 27, 2009

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 03:  Quarterback Matt Ryan #2 of the Atlanta Falcons throws a pass under pressure from Bertrand Berry #92 of the Arizona Cardinals during the NFC Wild Card Game on January 3, 2009 at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

Rookie quarterbacks are not supposed to play well. Rookie quarterbacks are not supposed to lead their team to the playoffs. And as fantasy football owners know, rookie quarterbacks are not supposed to be relevant in fantasy football.

Apparently, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan did not get that memo.

Ryan was essentially handed the job upon being drafted, but as he took over a team with only one legitimate weapon in wide receiver Roddy White, most assumed the young quarterback was a year or two away from being relevant in fantasy football. Then, he goes out and throws a 62-yard touchdown pass to Michael Jenkins on the very first attempt of his professional career.

Of course, we know now that an improved offensive line and a great free-agent addition in running back Michael Turner really helped turned the Falcons into a winner last season. Those two things also allowed Ryan to grow into the job without being overwhelmed by it at the same time. Ryan ended up having quite a successful season as he threw for 3,440 yards with 16 touchdowns, 11 interceptions and a 61.1 completion percentage.

The big question is this: Does Ryan have staying power or was last season a fluke?

The good news for Falcons’ fans is not only does Ryan have staying power, but he’s got the skill set to turn into one of the league’s top passers some day. Looking at his numbers, you can see this as his completion percentage was above 60, he had a positive touchdown-to-interception ratio, averaged more than seven yards per attempt, and posted an impressive 87.7 quarterback rating. For any player that’s pretty impressive, but for a rookie that’s incredible.

Another reason to like Ryan for the upcoming season and the future is the free agent signing of tight end Tony Gonzalez, who goes to Atlanta after an illustrious 12-year career as a Kansas City Chief. The Falcons already have a good tight end in Ben Hartsock, but his strength is blocking, whereas Gonzalez is the top pass-catching tight end in the league.

Last season, despite having to deal with three different quarterbacks in Kansas City, none of which were too good, Gonzalez caught 96 passes for 1,058 yards and 10 touchdowns. His presence in the lineup will help open up the offense considerably. Before, teams could focus most of their attention to running back Michael Turner and White, but now Gonzalez will add that third dimension that makes it tough for opposing defenses. In addition, Gonzalez gives Ryan a great red-zone target as White is better between the 20s and Jenkins is just too inconsistent.

Perhaps the one negative against Ryan is that at the end of the season last year he tailed off. In the last three games of the regular season, Ryan threw four interceptions with just two touchdowns, and saw his completion percentage drop from 65.2 to 54.2 to 47.6. However that is an extremely small sample size, and it did come at the end of the season, which is a tough time for rookies who haven’t adjusted to the extended schedule of the NFL. It should be noted that although Ryan did not play well in those three games, the Falcons did win all of them.

Ryan brings a lot to the table. He’s a great leader and is a lot of fun to watch on the field. He’s going to continue to grow and develop as a quarterback, and considering he’s only entering his second season, it will be interesting to how far his growth goes.

But, what Ryan also brings to the table is consistency. He has great ability to play well from week to week, and that’s something fantasy football owners love. Ryan may not go out and throw 40 touchdowns or 4,500 yards this season but from a fantasy perspective, he’s not going to lose you any games.


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