After 3 weeks of NFL action, there is not a quarterback in football playing the position better than Matt Ryan. While most of the focus in the early season has been on poor officiating and teams that are underperforming, Matt Ryan has led the Falcons to a 3-0 record and looks poised to join the elite group of quarterbacks in the league. At 27 years old,with 5 years of experience under his belt and a solid group of weapons to work with, Matt Ryan might finally be in a position to put together an MVP season in Atlanta. After 3 weeks, Ryan leads the league in passing TDs, completion percentage, and quarterback rating. He still has 6 division games to play against the NFC South- a division that is having a ton of trouble stopping the pass- meaning as great as Ryan’s production has been thus far, the best still may be yet to come.
So who benefits most from Ryan putting it all together this year? It is tough to pinpoint one player because one of the things Ryan has done in the young season is to do an excellent job of spreading the ball around, however, there are some trends that look like they might be here to stay which will effect these guys. Also, who suffers from Ryan being so effective in the passing game? Here are the answers:
Matt Ryan is playing well enough for both Jones and White to be elite receivers
Julio Jones and Roddy White:
Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez, and Julio Jones have all been targeted at least 23 times in the first 3 games which is keeping the defense guessing. While Gonzalez has seen a lot of action in the early going, the numbers point to the idea that he may begin to fade in importance in the offense. Ryan has seen his completion percentage jump to 72%, from a previous career high of 62.5%, by leading the league in completion percentage on throws of 10+ yards (a stat in which he has never even cracked the top 10 in his career). While Gonzalez used to be a threat down the field in his young days, Roddy White and Julio Jones offer a better option for Ryan when he continues to make deep and intermediate throws. Both White and Jones came into the season with high expectations from fantasy owners. The way Ryan is running the offense and making decisions when throwing the football reinforce the fact that White and Jones deserved the expectations. They may have a below average game on a rare occasion, those games should be few and far between while Matt Ryan continues to play at a high level.
While Ryan’s play will boost the value and production of Ryan’s pass catchers, it has an adverse effect on his running game. While their passing numbers are superb, the Falcons running backs have been abysmal to start the season, rushing for only 3.3 yards per carry through the first 3 weeks. Part of the problem may be that Michael Turner’s workload and age have finally started to take a toll on him (listen to any 2 Guys Fantasy podcast to hear more about Turner’s imminent decline), but the larger issue may be that Ryan is becoming too efficient throwing the ball. Unlike in years past when the Falcons would look to pound the ball with the run when they were not throwing, in 2012 Ryan is using the screen pass to move the chains when he is not throwing to one of his receivers. Since he has never been a threat whatsoever in the passing game, Turner suffers most from the change in philosophy. Fantasy owners should expect to see poor results from Turner as the year wears on, while more versatile backs like Jason Snelling and Jacquizz Rodgers see more of the field.
Matt Ryan and the Falcons have seemed poised to take the next step for several years now. After winning the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award in 2008, Matt Ryan seemed destined to do great things for a franchise that is still seeking its first Super Bowl title. His past few years have been good, but 2012 looks like it will be the year where we say Matt Ryan finally started putting everything together.