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Is Matt Ryan historically underrated? Taking stock of his legacy with stats and context

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The case for future Canton.

Atlanta Falcons v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

To both Falcons fans and outsiders, I believe it’s fair to say that Matt Ryan’s career has been pretty interesting. If you’re on my side of the fence, you acknowledge Ryan as one of the Top-5 quarterbacks in the NFL today, arguably the best quarterback from 2016-2018 and a Top-30 quarterback in the history of pro football.

If you’re on the other side of the fence, you probably view Ryan as a garbage time Andy Dalton upgrade who has had the benefit of playing in a dome, chucking balls to Julio Jones and a historically great set of weapons. I’d say the truth is probably somewhere in between—your location may vary—but a lot closer to my side of the fence than the other.

Falcoholic readers may remember me leading the Matt Ryan bandwagon as early as 2015. Things were a little bit different back then. Ryan had yet to win a Conference Championship and he had yet to win a league MVP award. He put up pretty numbers, sure. But they usually hung below those of Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers.

It wasn’t easy talking up a quarterback with only 10 #QBWINZ in his last 32 starts (10-22 from 2013-2014). Context didn’t really matter then and I suppose it doesn’t really matter now. But I’ll go there.

Ryan ranks No. 1 amongst active quarterbacks in career postseason passer rating.

But with a 4-6 win/loss record, who cares?

Remember when he blew the 2012 NFC Championship game?

And who can forget “28-3.” Was anyone surprised when “Matty Ice” choked away Super Bowl LI?

I’m either hitting you with a laundry list of excuses, or a refreshing bit of context. Again, your location on the spectrum probably varies.

The Falcons finished 7-9 in 2018, a disappointment for sure. You already know about the defensive injuries and the limitations of Sarkisian’s offense. I suppose I’m just piling on the excuses. Oh well, cue the tweet.

Even when Atlanta was losing, defenses were still struggling to stop Ryan.

The “dome quarterback” finished 2018 with a higher passer rating outdoors (99.2) than Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers had outdoors (96.7).

If you have the opportunity to watch Ryan’s tape from 2016-2018 (maybe minus the game I already mentioned one time too many), I encourage you to do so. His footwork in the pocket, ability to stand tall and deliver passes with tremendous touch and accuracy is rare. Falcons fans may not want to hear it, but Ryan’s play reminds me of Brees in that regard.

Eleven years into his career, what should Ryan’s legacy be?

Ranking Ryan

My metric QBS2 combines a quarterback’s league-ranking in passer rating, DVOA (Football Outsiders) and Total QBR (ESPN) and adjusts for era. QBS2 Prime takes the average of a quarterback’s 10 best seasons. By that measure, Ryan’s score (78.74) tops that of Hall of Famers Bart Starr (75.32), Troy Aikman (69.21) and John Elway (68.31). Despite playing during the most competitive quarterback generation in NFL history, Ryan’s efficiency has been historically excellent.

His 4,052 pass completions and 46,720 passing yards are both all-time NFL records for quarterback production through the first 11 seasons of one’s career.

Only Manning (333) and Dan Marino (298) have thrown more touchdown passes than Ryan (295) through the first 11 seasons of their careers.

When I ranked the Top-50 quarterback in Pro Football History following the end of the 2018 season, Ryan landed at 27th on my list.

Like anyone else, he has the potential to move up or down as time goes on.

If wins and rings are “the measure” isn’t it fair to say that Ryan’s legacy will be determined by the performance of his teammates and coaches?

If he were to regress in 2019 and play closer to the level of Brady (2018) or Flacco (2012), but his supporting cast improves, leading to more wins and an eventual ring, Ryan’s legacy changes in a big way, no?

Food for thought.

Wherever you rank him, I’d be interested in hearing your opinion!

Ryan Michael is a Pro Football Analyst who specializes in quarterback statistics, analytics, film-study and interviews with NFL veterans. He has used his own era-adjusted metric, QBS2, to grade every qualifying starting quarterback since 1937. For more information, you can visit his website at www.quarterbackscore.webs.com and follow him on Twitter @theryanmichael