Editor's note: This article originally appeared on DraftSharks.com.
Matt Ryan entered 2013 as a consensus fantasy starter.
His TDs, passing yardage and yards per attempt steadily improved each year from 2010-2012. The former 3rd overall pick peaked in 2012, tossing for 4,719 yards and 32 TDs. Ryan also completed a sparkling 68.6% of his passes, giving him 3 noteworthy career highs. Fantasy owners were rewarded, as Ryan finished 9th, 8th and 5th among QBs over that span.
The uptick in production wasn’t fluky. Atlanta hit on WR Julio Jones in the 2011 draft. One year later, they reduced plodding RB Michael Turner’s load after discovering that his tank ran dry. All along, TE Tony Gonzalez and WR Roddy White provided 2 ultra-reliable targets.
Those factors – combined with Ryan’s NFL maturation – helped his attempts rise from 434 as a rookie to 615 in 2012. That’s a significant difference of 181.
Last year, Ryan fired off even more passes. His mark of 651 ranked 2nd only to Peyton Manning’s 659. Just knowing that number would lead you to believe he finished as a top-5 fantasy QB. Instead, he barely cracked the top-10.
Indeed, Ryan’s largely successful pro career hit a roadblock. He finished with a respectable 4,515-26-17 line, but it could have been much better.
Jones sat out 11 games with a foot injury. White missed only 3 matchups but played through leg injuries for most of the season, affording this dynamic duo just 5 games together (Week 1 through Week 5).
Ryan was fantasy’s 5th-best QB over that stretch. But he simply couldn’t maintain such an elite pace – despite the surprising play of WR Harry Douglas.
After a Week 6 bye, Ryan tallied 2+ TDs just twice over the next 7 weeks. He rebounded with multi-TDs outings in 3 of the last 4, but most of his fantasy owners were probably eliminated at that point anyways.
They can take their frustration out on Atlanta’s O-line. The unit surrendered a whopping 44 sacks, easily a career high for Ryan. Pro Football Focus gave only the Giants and Cardinals worse pass-blocking grades. LT Sam Baker missed 12 games with a knee injury. Replacement Lamar Holmes earned the 4th worst pass-blocking grade among OTs, per PFF.
The Falcons’ front office made sure to plug holes along the O-line this offseason. First, they inked nasty G Jon Asamoah. Then, they grabbed NFL-ready OT Jake Matthews in May’s draft. With Baker returning to full health, this group now has the firepower to protect their franchise QB.
While Tony Gonzalez retired, the Falcons’ pass-catchers remain a strength. And with Steven Jackson, Jacquizz Rodgers and rookie Devonta Freeman in the backfield, Atlanta has 3 RBs with solid receiving skill sets.
The health of Jones’ twice-fractured foot will require special attention. Another extended absence could seriously torpedo Ryan’s chances at another QB1 season. But for now, word regarding his foot has been 100% positive. It’s a storyline we’ll track closely throughout 2014.
Draft Sharks Bottom Line:
Ryan’s current ADP has him coming off the board 9th among QBs. He’s not a blatant value at that price, but as we’ve seen, he possesses elite upside. Stability certainly helps build his fantasy case. Ryan’s appeared in all 16 games for 4 straight years and now enters his 3rd season under OC Dirk Koetter.