First, Falcons fans should be thrilled that our QB played in such a way as to belong in the MVP conversation. After a rough 2015, he has bounced back incredibly, leading the top scoring offense in the league while taking the Falcons back to the playoffs and an NFC South title.
Regardless of what some may say, Ryan is a viable candidate for MVP along with Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and several others. In this series, I’ll lay out the case for why Ryan should be the MVP of the 2016 season. Whether or not he wins it is a different matter, but I believe there is a strong case (and strong support) for the 9th year veteran out of Boston College.
Stats alone shouldn’t dictate who wins the MVP award, but they are definitely a factor. Additionally, excelling in just one stat may not tell the whole story. For instance, Drew Brees finished with over 5,000 yards yet again, but his entire body of work (and his team’s losing record) keeps him out of any serious MVP discussions.
As for Ryan, almost all of his stats speak volumes about the kind of season he had. Here are some of the more significant ones:
- First in QB Rating at 117.1 - which is the fifth highest rating in NFL history
- Second in passing TDs with 38 against only 7 interceptions
- Second in passing yards with 4,944
- First in yards per attempt at 9.26 - which is the highest ever in NFL history for a season
- The only QB in 2016 to throw at least 1 TD pass in all 16 games
- Third in completion rate at 69.9%
- Second in yards/game at 309.0
Clearly, Ryan had a very impressive season when looking at raw stats. However, stats never tell a complete picture. They don’t necessarily account for whether a completed pass was actually off-target but saved by the receiver. They also don’t account for whether a bigger play was missed or whether a completion was successful (for instance, gaining only 5 yards when 8 were needed for a first down). That’s why it helps to also take a look at advanced stats, to see if a player’s season was heavily influenced by the players around him.
In the world of advanced stats, there are three predominant players. First, Football Outsiders has been a highly respected resource for years, especially with their DYAR (Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement) and DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average). You can read more about the methodology behind these stats here.
Pro Football Focus has gained steam in recent years as a respected source for advanced stats. They grade individual plays for every player in the league, taking into account various nuances that normal stats don’t capture.
Finally, ESPN’s Total QBR also aims to put better context around how a Quarterback really played. If a QB throws a 2 yard pass that the receiver runs 90 yards in for a TD, QBR doesn’t heavily weigh that towards the QB. This stat does a good job of taking away “freebies” from QBs and rewarding them for “clutch” throws.
So, how did Ryan rank in some of these various metrics?
In both DVOA and DYAR, Ryan was first in both categories. His DYAR score of 1918 was over 300 yards above the next highest QB (Brees - 1581). His DVOA percentage of 40.2% was almost 7 percentage points higher than runner up Tom Brady at 33.8%.
Matt Ryan's 1950 total DYAR is the 10th highest QB season since 1989, a list that only includes Manning, Brady, Rodgers, Brees.— Scott Kacsmar (@FO_ScottKacsmar) January 3, 2017
The year-end rankings for QB at Pro Football Focus had Tom Brady as their highest graded QB at a 99.3 overall score. Ryan was second with a 93.1 overall score, with Aaron Rodgers coming in third at 92.6.
Finally, ESPN’s Total QBR ranked Matt Ryan first on the year, with an 83.4 Total QBR, with Tom Brady coming in second at 83.1. Aaron Rodgers was fourth with a 77.0 rating.
Matt Ryan's performance today makes him the 2016 Total QBR champ. He posted an 83.3, barely edging out Tom Brady at 83.1— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 2, 2017
Most games with 7.9+ YPA in 2016— Scott Kacsmar (@FO_ScottKacsmar) January 3, 2017
Matt Ryan - 16
Cousins/Luck/Dak - 9
Brady/Roethlisberger - 8
5 QBs - 7
Rodgers + 3 QBs - 6 https://t.co/A7tNhoSyxt
As you can see, even the advanced stats all point towards Ryan having a fantastic year, with all but one of the stats putting Ryan firmly in first place. Advanced stats don’t always confirm what you see in conventional stats, but in this case, they only reinforce that Ryan has had an amazing season.
Since merger, 11 quarterbacks have era-adjusted QB rating of 140 or higher. These are *the* best all-time seasons. Matt Ryan 2016 makes it. pic.twitter.com/SEzeop18XI— scott pianowski (@scott_pianowski) January 3, 2017
While breaking NFL records is never a pre-requisite for an MVP candidate, it does help put the entire season into a different light. In Matt Ryan’s case, he broke quite a few records in 2016. Here are some of the more significant ones:
- All-time NFL leader in consecutive 200+ yard passing games (55 - and still active)
- Highest Yards per Attempt in any 16-game season (9.26, minimum 400 attempts)
- Threw a TD pass to 13 different receivers in a single season
- Threw a 2 or more TD passes to 10 different receivers in a single season
- QB Rating of 117.1, the fifth highest in NFL history
- Lead an offense that scored 540 points - tied for 7th most in NFL history
Breaking one record is impressive, but breaking several of them in the same season speaks to a particularly special season. Again, this does not necessarily secure the case for Ryan by itself, but as a part of his larger body of work, it is very impressive.
As the saying goes, the numbers speak for themselves. Both the conventional stats and advanced stats all point to Ryan easily being the best QB in the league in 2016. While Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers also had incredible seasons, Ryan was statistically higher than both of them across the board.
12-playoff teams' strength of schedule ranks:— Ben Hayes (@BenHayes212) January 2, 2017
Additionally, of those three QBs, Ryan actually faced the hardest defensive schedule according to DVOA rankings. Ryan faced 6 of the top 10 passing defenses and only faced 3 bottom-10 passing defenses all year. If anything, this only makes Ryan’s statistics even more impressive. He didn’t beat up on lesser competition. He was forced to go against some of the best, and still put up the numbers that he did.
Our next article will focus on some of the criticism being thrown at Ryan and why they don’t hold enough weight to keep him from being MVP.