Full disclosure: Way back in 2008, when Mocking The Draft was just a baby website and I was weighing in on the network-wide mock, I had the Falcons landing Jake Long and Joe Flacco with their first two picks. Long’s sad injury history and Flacco’s career suggest that wouldn’t have ended as well for Atlanta as Ryan has, but it’s a fun sort of alternative timeline to think about.
Of course, Ryan and Flacco have inevitably been compared over and over again as the best two quarterbacks to come out of that fateful 2008 class. Ryan went #3 overall to Atlanta and Flacco went 18th to the Baltimore Ravens, in a year where the best two quarterbacks other than them were Chad Henne (53 starts, 58 touchdowns, 63 interceptions) and Matt Flynn (seven starts, 17 touchdowns, 11 interceptions). The Falcons and Ravens were legitimately the only two teams to get it right in this class.
With a potential matchup between Ryan and Flacco shaping up for this Sunday—we still don’t know if Flacco will be healthy and starting—I thought it’d be fun to look at the two quarterbacks and see how they stack up all these years later.
169 games, 99-70 record, 3940/6027, 65.4% completion, 284 touchdown passes, 131 interceptions, 7.5 yards per attempt, 94.7 quarterback rating, 312 sacks, 373 carries, 1,120 rushing yards, 7 touchdowns, 60 fumbles
163 games, 96-67 record, 3499/5670, 61.7% completion, 212 touchdown passes, 136 interceptions, 6.7 yards per attempt, 84.1 quarterback rating, 333 sacks, 345 carries, 811 yards, 16 touchdowns, 81 fumbles
There was a time where if you squinted, Ryan and Flacco looked pretty close in the ol’ statistical analysis. Those days have passed, as the sole edge Flacco has on Ryan at this point is his number of rushing touchdowns, which probably isn’t enough to make anyone consider him the better quarterback.
There are arguments to be made for Flacco’s supporting cast, which has more or less always been inferior to Atlanta’s, and the quality of his coaching. Those are legitimate arguments that probably level things off a bit, but frankly there’s no real argument left at this point. Matt Ryan is, almost always has been, and likely will continue to be the better quarterback in the regular season than Flacco.
Had Atlanta wound up with Flacco instead of Ryan, they likely still would have been a successful football team, because he’s a quality quarterback, he has always had a live arm, and he’s proven to be quite durable over the years. Would they have been as good as if they had Ryan, especially considering the quality of their defenses over the years? Full stop: No.
But what about playoffs, you say?
10 games, 4-6 record, 237/351, 67.5% completion, 2,672 yards, 20 touchdowns, 7 interceptions, 7.6 yards per attempt, 100.8 quarterback rating, 25 sacks, 23 carries, 43 yards, 1 touchdown, 6 fumbles
15 games, 10-5 record, 253/447, 56.6% completion, 3,223 yards, 25 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, 7.2 yards per attempt, 88.6 quarterback rating, 28 sacks, 50 carries, 87 yards, 1 touchdown, 6 fumbles
Tragically, both quarterbacks have elevated their games in the playoffs. Flacco’s numbers are colored heavily by his 2012 11/0 TD/INT run in his Super Bowl win, while Ryan’s are likewise colored by his 2016 9/0 TD/INT run en route to a Super Bowl loss. But it’s clear that given how well both players have played in the postseason, they deserve better. Ryan will go down as one of, if not the, best quarterback in postseason play never to win a ring unless the Falcons get the ship righted sooner than later.
But it is clear here that both quarterbacks are capable of playoff magic and have exhibited it, and both deserve rings for their play. It’s a shame only one has one.
There’s little question that by almost any statistical measure—and you’re welcome to use your eyeballs to come to the same conclusion if the numbers don’t sit well in your belly—Ryan is the better quarterback. He’s put together a Hall of Fame-caliber career, while Flacco has fallen well short of that mark. It would be misleading to say that Flacco is not a good quarterback, however, and he’ll go down in Baltimore history as a champion and the greatest they’ve ever had under center. Had the Falcons ended up with him in the 2008 NFL Draft, I have little doubt they still would have been a successful team that might have even made Super Bowl runs in 2012 and 2016. Baltimore with Ryan might have been a juggernaut, however.
So there’s your pretty open and shut case for Ryan over Flacco. Let no man or woman say that they aren’t both good quarterbacks, but I’m quite happy to have personally made the wrong projection all those years ago.