If you've kept up with the Falcons this off-season, you've surely come across a heated discussion or two regarding Matt Ryan's value. These arguments, for the most part, stem from a few basic questions.
Is he worth $100 million? Can he lead Atlanta to a Super Bowl victory? Should he be among NFL.com's Top 100?
Is he the "E word"?
Yes, Ryan's supporters and detractors clash on many aspects of this debate, but there's one point that's hard to contest: Atlanta's quarterback is, without a doubt, one of the most accurate passers in the NFL.
By the numbers
Ryan finished the 2013 campaign fourth in the NFL in completion percentage, connecting on 67.4 percent of his throws. This alone is impressive, but it only scratches the surface.
Completion percentage, while a useful stat, does have its flaws. By factoring in throw aways, spikes, dropped passes, etc., it can give an imprecise representation of a quarterback’s ability. For example: Lions receivers collectively dropped 44 passes last year. Should our impression of Matt Stafford be damaged by those drops? Absolutely not.
However, if we disregard intentional incompletions and events beyond the QB's control, a more vivid picture is created. This is where Pro Football Focus’ Accuracy Percentage comes into play, which is explained below:
Taking the commonly-used completion percentage a step or two further, we’ve accounted for a set of factors that help better define a quarterback’s performance on passes that were actually aimed at (and delivered to) a targeted receiver. We add back in dropped passes to give the QB credit for getting the ball to its destination and take away ‘attempts’ that were actually throwaways, spikes, or balls that were batted at the line and those that fluttered from his hand when hit as he threw.
Essentially, Acc. % isolates a quarterback's role in getting the football from his hands into those of his receivers. It is not perfect, but it is a far better alternative to standard numbers found in Monday's paper.
So how does Ryan stack up? Well, in 2013, he finished second in the NFL in Acc. %, behind only Philip Rivers -- doing so in an environment that was far from ideal.
|Name||Att.||Comp||Drops||Throwaways||Batted Passes||Spikes||Acc. %|
|Alex D. Smith||508||308||37||18||11||4||73.1|
|Robert Griffin III||456||274||36||14||9||2||72.4|
Keen observers may note that Ryan's Acc. % was bolstered by the relatively high number of short and intermediate passes he threw in 2013, and they would be correct. However, when we consider the adversity he faced -- which was far more severe than most QBs deal with in a given season -- this detail loses much of its significance.
As fans remember all too well, the Falcons' offensive line was really, really bad last year -- finishing near the bottom of the league in virtually every metric -- which makes Ryan's success even more impressive. In total, defenses pressured Ryan on 43.1 percent of his drop backs -- more than all but three NFL starters. And yet his Acc. % when under pressure finished at 68.2 percent, fourth in the league.
Additionally, among those who took at least 50 percent of their teams' snaps, Ryan had the seventh least amount of time to throw from the pocket. On average, just 2.61 seconds ticked off the clock before he threw the ball, got sacked or scrambled beyond the line of scrimmage.
Of course, the injuries to Julio Jones and Roddy White certainly didn't help, either.
(Here's a fun fact: Ryan's Acc. % when under pressure was better than Joe Flacco's overall Acc. % (67.8) in 2013. Feel free to bring this up next time someone tries to tell you Flacco is the superior passer.)
If we view Ryan's Acc. % on a year-to-year basis, a few points become clear: 1) he's consistently improved from 2009-2013; and 2) he was far better last season than many give him credit for:
This isn't to say Ryan is better than Peyton Manning or Tom Brady or Drew Brees. He's not. And it doesn't mean Rivers was the best QB in 2013. He wasn't. But this does show how well Ryan's precision has developed over the years.
In terms of accuracy, he's become...dare I say...elite. (Editor's Note: He dared.)
All stats acquired via Pro Football Focus.