Matt Ryan’s career has been a rollercoaster ride from the start. Just a distant memory, many considered Ryan a likely bust due to his poor completion percentage, high interceptions, and limited athletic ability in college. However, his first pro pass went for a touchdown to Michael Jenkins.
Twelve years later, we know most of what Ryan’s career looks like. He racked up rookie of the year, multiple Pro Bowls, and even an MVP award. He frequently has some of the most passing yards in the NFL. He eclipsed 50,000 passing yards. He is certainly the best quarterback in Falcons franchise history.
However, that is only part of the story. Ryan has had four different offensive coordinators, one twice, each one running a completely different offensive system. Some of those transition years were full of mistakes. Ryan rarely had a defense above average, and a competent run game in only a handful of Michael Turner and Devonta Freeman years. Together, it totaled to one almost Super Bowl berth and one almost Super Bowl win.
Does that mean Matt Ryan is worthy of the Pro Football Hall of Fame? Robert Mays of The Athletic looked at Ryan’s career to find out.
Hall of Fame debates are often complicated, but Ryan’s case is particularly knotty. Any answer from “of course” to “of course not” would seem reasonable. Ryan has an MVP award, but 2016 was also the only time he was ever voted first- or second-team All-Pro. He ranks ninth all time in passing yards, but those numbers are inflated by today’s pass-happy approach. Every argument in Ryan’s favor seems to have a counter.
As discussed, there is good and bad. The bad itself is frequently when Ryan is saddled with a new coordinator and no defense, where he is stuck trying to put the team on his back with limited help from the offensive line or the run game.
Mays took a look at adjusted passing yards to find out if Ryan is just the recipient of the heavy passing offenses of the more modern era. He stacks up well, with similar players typically already enshrined in the Hall of Fame. However, Mays thinks Ryan may be most comparable to Ken Anderson, a quarterback who does not have that honor.
You can really go in any direction with this. In my opinion, Ryan lacked the coaching stability and the post-season success that would make him a shoe-in on his first ballot. If Ryan had two Super Bowl rings and everything else remained the same, I do not think we would even have this conversation.
Compared to most quarterbacks, Ryan’s career has been remarkable. He ranks 22nd all time in Pro Football Reference’s approximate value. His presence has stabilized the Falcons. During Ryan’s tenure, the Falcons’ average finish in Football Outsiders’ offensive DVOA has been 11th. They’ve finished outside the top 15 only once — the year before Ryan and Kyle Shanahan took over the NFL in 2016. He’s started at least 14 games every year of his career. For a decade and a half, the Falcons have largely been relevant because Ryan was their quarterback.
The bad is rare, but the things missing from Ryan’s resume are, in large part, due to bad defenses, no run game, or some awful coaching. Mike Mularkey, Dirk Koetter (twice!), and Kyle Shanahan while he was still figuring things out off of a disastrous outing with the Cleveland Browns. Shanahan, of course, did pretty good in 2016.
Ryan’s career is no doubt winding down, and things with the team are certain to change after what looks like another lost season. In retrospect, it is frustrating that this team has so frequently failed to get Ryan help outside of pass catchers.
Mays hits it on the head. After 12 years, the team’s mistakes leave us wondering what if or what could have been if they could get over that final hump.
Maybe if Ryan had his own version of the Sean Payton-Drew Brees partnership, we could have seen what he was truly capable of accomplishing. Maybe if Shanahan sticks around for three or four seasons, Ryan’s career and the conversation might be different.
Mays generally agrees the stats are there, Ryan’s value to the Falcons, and a lot of similarities to Hall of Fame quarterbacks. However, he ultimately follows his “gut,” which says Ryan is just not quite a Hall of Fame player.
Falcons fans will certainly hope Mays is incorrect. Ryan still has some additional time to show his value in the NFL, but with his age, he may be heading toward the path of another quarterback Mays compares to Ryan: Philip Rivers. Another great player that rarely had the supporting cast to get the type of wins you see for Hall of Fame players.