ATLANTA, GA - NOVEMBER 26: Matt Ryan #2 of the Atlanta Falcons scrambles against the Minnesota Vikings at the Georgia Dome on November 26, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
I've been poring over Matt Ryan's career numbers in the last couple of days while I research some posts, and it got the ol' hamster wheel turning. If Ryan did take a leap forward in 2012—and I think we all hope that happens—what would said breakout season look like?
First of all, you have to set the parameters. Ryan has improved by increments every year in the NFL. His accuracy fell in 2011 from 2010, yes, but his overall yardage, touchdowns and yards per attempt rose. I think you would define a breakout as a year when he clears the 30 touchdown plateau and keeps going, manages well over 4,000 yards and nudges that yards per attempt number very close to or over eight. A slash line like the following would easily hurdle his career highs:
4,400 yards, 34 touchdowns, 16 interceptions, 8.2 yards per attempt
If that doesn't seem like an enormous, drastic improvement to you...well, maybe it's not. But Ryan's not a useless quarterback trying to put up impossibly huge numbers. He's a guy who's a handful of successful passes and a lucky break away from being mentioned in the same breath as the league's elite.
I don't think we can assume his accuracy would drastically spike in a breakout year. Consider that his career high 62.5% mark came in 2010, when he averaged a career-low 6.5 yards per attempt. I also expect that he would throw a career high number of interceptions because he would presumably be taking more shots down the field and just plain old passing more in this hypothetical breakout year.
Those extra shots—plus a new coordinator, plus a full season with Julio Jones, plus presumably excellent seasons from Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez, as always—would go a long way toward hitting that line. If Ryan follows through on his promise to build strength and the Falcons can cut down on the career high 26 sacks he took in 2011, I think he's got a real shot of getting there. Consider that he put up a 4,177/29/12/7.4 line in 2011 with a shortened training camp, injuries and ineffectiveness along the line and five games without Jones. Oh, and Mike Mularkey. You know, that guy.
If he could put up the line I listed above, I'd consider it Ryan going from a great young quarterback to the extreme upper echelons. Like I said, I think it's doable.
What do you think a Ryan breakout season would look like, and do you think he'll be able to reach it in 2012?