Now that the NFL Draft is over, the talk has begun over the biggest remaining signing the Falcons have to make: Matt Ryan's extension. Now that Joe Flacco, Tony Romo and Aaron Rodgers have secured their futures, most analysts believe Ryan is next. And why not - he had his best statistical season in 2012 and finally took the Falcons to a playoff victory.
But the question now turns to where Ryan should fit in the QB pay scale. Some people think he'll slot in right behind Rodgers, while others think the lack of a championship ring on his finger should slot him below Flacco but above Romo. The larger question, though, is whether Ryan is truly in the category that deserves the big pay day. Before we pay our franchise QB a king's randsom, I think it wise to consider whether Ryan is truly a top 5 QB in the league.
For my purposes, I'm going to look at two different advanced stats to make this determination: ESPN's Total QBR and Pro Football Focus' QB grading. I'm staying away from basic stats like passer rating and yardage totals, because these do not consider many of the intangibles that make a Quarterback truly valuable to his team - such as converting critical 3rd downs, or performance in critical moments. Both of these advanced stats take this into account, and weigh them with an amount of importance while also considering interceptions that happened due to a WR, rather than those that were legitimately the fault of the QB. These stats also better align with a teams W/L record than basic QB rating, suggesting that they give you a better measurement for determining if a QB is contributing to or hurting a team's chances of winning.
2008 Season - ESPN QBR Ranking: 3rd - PFF Ranking: 2nd
There's a reason Ryan won the rookie of the year award in 2008 - he was clearly one of the most clutch QBs that season, coming in a surprising 3rd in the Total QBR ratings for that season. In ESPN Total QBR, the 2008 season was dominated by Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, while Aaron Rodgers slotted in right behind Ryan at 4th. The only QB ranked higher on the PFF scale was Peyton Manning.
Now - many will correctly argue that the Falcons were a predominantly run-based offense in 2008, which is absolutely true. However, when called upon, Ryan delivered better than most QBs in the league. His last-minute heroics began showing up early, and when he started calling plays out of the no-huddle as a rookie, people were stunned at how quickly he was picking up the NFL game.
2009 Season - ESPN QBR Ranking: 14th - PFF Ranking: 20th
The only year under Ryan where the Falcons missed the playoffs, the 2009 season was hampered by injuries to both Michael Turner and Ryan. The 9-7 campaign did give the Falcons their first back-to-back winning seasons in franchise history, but was a let-down nonetheless.
2010 Season - ESPN QBR Ranking: 2nd - PFF Ranking: 1st
One of the best regular seasons in Falcons history, Ryan lead the Falcons to a 13-3 record and the best record in the NFC. He continued to rake in the fourth quarter comebacks, and took a bigger role in the offense. The only QB who ranked higher in ESPN Total QBR in 2010 was Tom Brady.
The 2010 season also featured some impressive performances out of our franchise QB, including a last minute win against the Packers during the regular season, and a great no-huddle based performance against a stout Ravens defense.
2011 Season - ESPN QBR Ranking: 5th - PFF Ranking: 4th
The 2011 season started off with some major struggles on the offensive line that has tainted the perception of how people see this season. But Ryan finished the regular season on a tear, and ultimately finished 5th in ESPN Total QBR. He trailed only Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Tony Romo (I know) in the rankings. On the PFF charts, only Brees, Rodgers and Brady ranked higher.
This was also the first season in which Ryan passed for over 4000 yards, a clear sign that the offense had been fully turned over to our franchise QB.
2012 Season - ESPN QBR Ranking: 3rd - PFF Ranking: Tied-5th
Another stunning 13-3 season capped with the first playoff victory under Ryan, Matty Ice once again took his team to the #1 seed in the NFC. Amassing 4700 yards under the new Koetter lead offense, Ryan took a huge leap forward and was topped in ESPN Total QBR ranking by only Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. The PFF chart had Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Drew Brees ahead of Ryan, who was tied with Russel Wilson at 5th. Were it not for the disastrous Arizona game, Ryan would have leaped ahead of Brees for fourth on the list.
Ryan continued to amass fourth quarter comebacks during the season and also put up one of the best completion percentages of any NFL QB, while also maintaining his impressive 2:1 TD-to-INT career ratio. Ryan was in the early discussions for league MVP, a clear sign of respect for the signal caller.
Interestingly, Ryan actually was ranked 1st in the post-season PFF Ranking for 2012. Joe Flacco and Colin Kaepernick were 2nd and 3rd respectively.
Say what you will about Ryan and his upcoming contract, but it is clear that the advanced stats support the notion that Ryan is not only a top-10 QB, but has also consistently been one of the top 5 QBs since he entered the league - the 2009 season not withstanding. While his detractors will undoubtedly point to his playoff record and lack of a championship ring as reason to not include him, Ryan has consistently gotten better each season and his 2012 post-season performance was about as much as you could ask from a franchise QB.
There's little doubt that the Falcons will get Matt Ryan a new contract soon. If these stats are any indication, we can expect him to receive top-5 money - and deservedly so.