Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 6/4/12
Finish this sentence: The highest scoring fantasy football player in 2012 will be __________.

I'm sure a great deal of you penciled in Aaron Rodgers. In a recent poll conducted by Football Nation, Rodgers is the overwhelming favorite to be the first overall draft pick. That's not at all surprising after his brilliant 2011 campaign in which he charted 4,643 yards, 45 touchdowns, 3 rushing touchdowns, and only 6 interceptions (in 15 games).

Most others probably suggested Drew Brees or Arian Foster or Ray Rice. And I'm sure a few brave souls might even favor Cam Newton or Matthew Stafford.

Obviously, we won't know that answer until sometime late December. But whatever the case may be and whatever format you play in, I can confidently say that zero percent of you finished that sentence with Matt Ryan.

As per usual, the highest scoring player for 2011 was a quarterback. In fact, eight of the top-ten, including the top-five, and 65% of the top-twenty were all quarterbacks. This is nothing new and nothing shocking. The evolution of the pass-first offense is nearing its prime and it's just a matter of time before we all end up drafting quarterbacks in the first round.

"Matty-Ice" Ryan won't be drafted in the first round. Or the second. Or the third. Or the fourth.  In fact, Chris Harris of ESPN has Ryan ranked 85th, just below the 49ers' defense and just above Donald Brown. Is it justified? Well, it's only June and I suppose there's plenty of time to waffle over rankings, but I find it surprising that Ryan, the 10th highest scoring player of 2011, is ranked below the likes of Ben Tate and C.J. Spiller, guys who are second on the depth chart at their respective positions. 

That's right. Ryan was the 10th highest fantasy scorer last year. He turned in his best season since being drafted by Atlanta in 2008 with 4,177 yards (8th), 29 touchdowns (tied 6th), and a passer rating of 92.2 (8th). He led his team to the playoffs for the third time in his four-year career (he is still looking for his first postseason win but that has little relevance in fantasy football). And he is currently falling to the 8th and 9th rounds in mock drafts.  In summation, Matt Ryan is the most undervalued quarterback going into 2012.

I won't blame anyone for leaving Ryan out of their top-ten quarterback rankings. It's understandable that Rodgers, Brees, Newton, Stafford, Tom Brady, Eli Manning, and Tony Romo are at the top of everyone's list. Mix in Peyton Manning, Phillip Rivers, Michael Vick, and Ben Roethlisberger and you've got an argument to push Ryan out of the top-ten and barely above the top-fifteen. I'm not here to suggest that you should select him above any of the aforementioned stat-stars; I'm here to suggest that if you're not going to draft a quarterback in the first two rounds, you'd be best served to wait as long as possible. And if you're looking for a late-round quarterback gem, there is none better than Ryan.

Consider this: Rodgers, Brees, Brady, Newton, and Stafford all averaged 20+ fantasy  points per game. Which is why I'd be surprised to see any one of them survive the second round. After that, Romo, Rivers, and Manning(s) will be claimed by the fifth round or shortly thereafter. Those three (Peyton doesn't qualify for obvious reasons) averaged 17 points per game or fewer. Ryan averaged 16.

I'm sure few will argue against the fact that success in fantasy football is all about getting the best value per draft pick. Manning (Eli) is a great example. Last year, he was overlooked and drafted late. In the end, in real life, he was the Super Bowl MVP. In fantasy, he was a QB2/waiver wire rock star that was 2 parts frustration and 1 part liberation that saved many teams. This year, there will be no surprises as the Mannings won't make it past five rounds. What's remarkable is that Ryan was nearly as productive as Eli. They were tied for passing touchdowns (29). Ryan had one more rushing touchdown, Eli had four more interceptions. The big difference being 700 yards in favor of Manning. Or 43.5 per game. Which, if you're counting, means roughly one fantasy point more per contest.  Note that Ryan will be drafted a full 20-30 picks later than Eli (and Peyton, Romo, and Rivers).

The concern with Ryan is his consistency. He's not a boom or boost player per se, he's just consistently blah. In 2011 he had only six games of 300 yards or more. He had four with fewer than 200. In Week 2 he threw 4 touchdowns, a great game by any standards had it not been for 2 interceptions and a under whelming 195 yards. He followed up the next 5 weeks with only 1 touchdown per game while racking up another 5 interceptions. Matty "Frustration" Ryan; I think I can speak for most when I say that every time I saw Ryan in my opponent's lineup, I wasn't the least bit concerned.

Still, Ryan was the 10th highest scorer in 2011. And there's little reason to think that he'll fall much short of that feat in 2012.

Football is all about matchups. Matchups are the pulse by which Vegas odds are measured. It's even more true with fantasy football. We choose our starters based on the defenses they face. We choose them based on who they share the field with. Matty Ice shares the field with one the best wide receiver tandems in football: Roddy White and Julio Jones. Sprinkle in a future hall of fame tight end, and one of best offensive lines in football, and you have a quarterback whose late-round potential outweighs the risks of any first-round flavor of the month. Sure, you can draft Newton early and hope that he somehow repeats the 14 rushing touchdowns he had last season, but be warned that he's more likely to repeat his 17 interceptions.

The Falcons are not a powerhouse team. They're not going to build early leads and grind the clock. With an NFC South that's likely to represent at least two playoff teams, the Falcons will be playing from behind. Their first three games are against the AFC West. Week 1 is a likely tune-up fight with the Chiefs. Week 2 will be a barn-burner against newly knighted Broncos' quarterback, Peyton Manning. Week 3 will be a high-scoring, whoever has the ball last wins, passer showdown against the Chargers.

That may be the most overlooked criteria when it comes to a fantasy candidate. With running backs, you want your host team to be winning by an uncomfortable margin. The opposite is true with quarterbacks. You want a team that is consistently falling behind, specifically in the second half. As was the case eight times last year for the Falcons. That's a situation that I expect the them to fall into early and often this year. Their defense is just bad enough to not secure leads. Their offense is just good enough to convince head coach Mike Smith to pass on the field goal unit during 4th down situations in favor of his quarterback.

But the money-shot comes towards the end of the season, when fantasy football championships are at stake. Week 12 they travel to Tampa Bay to face 2011's 21st ranked pass defense. Week 13 they host New Orleans' 30th ranked pass defense. Week 14 they travel to Carolinas' 24th ranked pass defense. Week 15 they host the Super Bowl champions' 29th ranked pass defense. Week 16, the Fantasy Football Super Bowl for many of us, they face Detroit's flag-happy 22nd ranked pass defense.  And the most important consideration of all of those games, as with most games in December, is the weather: three of them are indoors, one is in Florida, the other is in North Carolina. The conditions will be above average for quarterbacks, especially considering the over/under of those matchups, which I expect to be about 54.5.

Again, I'm not suggesting that you draft Ryan above Romo or the Mannings or Rivers or Brady, etc. (although I would totally draft him above the Mannings and Rivers). I'm saying that Ryan will score within +/- 55 fantasy points of the top-ten highest scoring players for 2012. Meaning, if he does miss the top-ten, it won't be by much. I'm starting to think that the "Ice" in "Matty Ice" stands for his diamond in the rough status of fantasy football and not his cold-blooded play on the field.

Stupid Fact That Won't Help You In Any Way

When it comes to quarterbacks with two first names, Matt Ryan is the 3rd best in NFL history (Tom Brady, Jim Kelly).

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