When the Falcons drafted Matt Ryan in 2008, most analysts believed he would be a good starting QB in the NFL. He wasn’t considered a generational talent (a la Peyton Manning) and certainly wasn’t someone people pegged as a potential top QB in the league. In the past ten years, however, Ryan has proven to be not only good, but sometimes great.
His MVP award in 2016 affirmed he had reached one of the highest points for an NFL QB, even as his critics only quieted slightly. That’s not to say that Ryan is one of the best ever and doesn’t have his flaws, but there’s little doubt he’s been one of the top QBs in the league over the last decade.
Even still, some fans question the logic of paying Ryan. His recent blockbuster contract only ignited those criticisms as Ryan reset the QB market - even if only for the time being (we’re looking at you Aaron Rodgers).
The Falcons don’t exist in a vacuum, though, and any decision to not pay Matt Ryan would have to be coupled with a plan to replace him. The reality in the NFL is that you will never consistently be in contention until you find a franchise QB. With that said, we now have 10 years of NFL draft classes we can look at in determining how easy or hard it would be to replace the Falcons quarterback.
For simplicity, I’m leaving out recently drafted QBs like Jared Goff, Dak Prescott and Carson Wentz. Even though all of them look promising, one to two years of production is hardly enough to predict an entire career off of. I think you’ll see that even if we did include them, the list of good QBs that have come out in the years since Ryan was drafted is still incredibly small.
As I see it, excluding the 3 players mentioned above, there’s a small list of QBs who are quality starters that have been drafted since 2008. This list is more or less limited to:
- Cameron Newton
- Russell Wilson
- Matthew Stafford
- Andrew Luck
- Derek Carr
- Jameis Winston
Given that list and the 3 young QBs aforementioned, that brings us to exactly 9 QBs taken over an entire decade who amount to good NFL QBs. The past 10 years is flooded with quarterbacks that have come and gone, some in as little as 2 years or less (hello Johnny).
To take this further, if you’re going to replace Ryan with someone younger who has come after him, it would make sense to get someone who is at least comparable or better than the QB you’re replacing. While some of the names above are quality QBs, I’m not sure that any of them is demonstrably “a leap above” Matt Ryan. In fact, if you look at this chart below, you’ll see that over the past 3 years, Ryan has been consistently better than nearly all of these QBs, with the exception of 2015:
From 2015 to 2017, Ryan has been the top QB in these key metrics/statistics (within this sample group) 8 out of the possible 13 measurements above (PFF scores weren’t available to me before 2017). The next highest QB on the list was Russell Wilson with 3 (all of which happened in 2015).
While statistics aren’t the end of any discussion, the near dominance of all of these stats over a three-year time frame does paint a picture of just how good Ryan has been compared to the guys who could have potentially “replaced” him. Again, this isn’t to say that Ryan has been the best in the NFL or that his game is flawless. This is a simple reality check on how difficult it is to find a quality QB in the NFL.
I also realize many of you will point out the “weapons” Ryan has had at his disposal over the years. First, Ryan has often been given weapons, but at the cost of playing on teams with dismal defenses. While Newton and Wilson may not have had a Julio Jones, both QBs played with top-5 defenses for several years - something Ryan has yet to do. Additionally, the “weapons” argument is impossible to quantify, because we simply have no proof that another QB would do better/worse in the same offense as Ryan. It’s all speculative.
With all of that said, this is not intended to be a knock on the other QBs mentioned. Many of them are high quality starters whose teams are thrilled to have them. What this does highlight, however, is how difficult it is to find a top-tier QB. The fact that this list can be whittled down to just a handful of players over an entire decade is proof enough. The fact that Ryan still stands out amongst them is a testament to how good he truly has been.
He’s not flawless and his place in NFL history is yet to be written, but let’s not pull any punches here either: the Falcons are damned fortunate to have Matt Ryan, and he is worth every penny they paid.