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Matt Ryan Is Back In The Elite Conversation

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Want to feel old?

Well, how about if I told you Matt Ryan is 31 years old. Maybe it feels about right for some, but for people like me, that number sounds outrageous. It feels just like yesterday when Ryan was selected with the third overall pick from Boston College in the 2008 NFL Draft. After garnering a passer efficiency rating of 126.2 over his four seasons in college, expectations were sky high for the Pennsylvania native and he didn’t disappoint early on.

During his rookie campaign, Ryan looked like a veteran. He displayed great composure and proved he’s capable of commanding an NFL huddle, which is a very underrated component all elite quarterbacks must possess. Rookie quarterbacks Dak Prescott and Carson Wentz are revealing similar qualities as we speak. For his efforts, Ryan earned NFC Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.

Not only did Ryan perform well individually, he helped lead the Falcons to the playoffs for the first time in four years. In their wildcard matchup against the Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta fell short to the tune of 30-24, but it was a major step in the right direction for a franchise looking for hope.

Two years later, Ryan earned Pro Bowl honors for the first time after having a touchdown to interception ratio of 28 to 9, while throwing for a then-career high 3,705 yards. Nonetheless, Ryan’s best season to date was in 2012. Ryan threw 32 touchdowns (career high), while only throwing 14 picks. Also, Ryan completed nearly 70 percent of his passes (68.6).

Unfortunately, after the 2012 campaign, ‘Matty Ice’ struggled over the next three seasons. Now, it’s not as if Ryan magically forgot how to play under center. The three-time Pro Bowler still garnered plenty of yards and touchdowns, the issue was turning the ball over, especially in untimely situations. From 2013-2015, Ryan threw 47 interceptions. To put that into perspective, throughout the previous four seasons, Ryan threw the ball to the opposing team 49 times.

Names such as Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger held major weight during Ryan’s three-year regression and they still do to this date. Many figured Ryan would remain a ‘B’ list quarterback for the remainder of his career.  If the first half of this season is any indication, then it’s time to insert Ryan back into the group of elite quarterbacks.

At the midway point, Atlanta holds a record of (5-3) and the majority of the credit goes to the offense. Atlanta leads the league in total yards (3,402), total yards per game (425.3), passing yards (2,510), passing yards per game (313.8), total points (262) and points per game (32.8).

When dissecting those numbers, it’s clear as day how explosive Atlanta’s aerial attack is. Ryan has a touchdown to interception ratio of 19 to 4 to go along with 2,636 passing yards while completing 69.2 percent of his passes with a quarterback rating of 115.8.

Before Sunday’s contest, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers gave his take on Ryan. 

“I think he’s one of the good guys,” Rodgers stressed. “I think he’s one of the elite guys as well. He’s had a great year playing excellent, making great throws. He and Julio have a great connection, but he’s been getting the other guys involved as well. Two good backs who can stretch the field in the run game and the passing game, and it’s fun to see Matt doing well. I look forward to seeing him.”

In a back and forth shootout, Ryan got the last laugh, as he led Atlanta down the field for the go-ahead touchdown with 31 seconds to spare, which is plenty of time for Rodgers, but the Falcons defense was able to prevent Green Bay from getting in field goal range. Atlanta won 33-32.

Sure, there’s still another half of the season to go, but for now, it’s safe to say Ryan is back in the elite discussion. If the season were to end today, one could make a strong case for him being the MVP. In the same breath, if Ryan wants a real chance of earning MVP honors, the Falcons record must warrant such an accomplishment.

When asked about beating Rodgers, Ryan had this to say.

“I don’t really think of it that way. I think more so, going into it you know it’s going to be a game like that, playing against Aaron. I think maybe I’ve played him six times throughout my career and it feels like every game goes like that. They’re going to make plays. He’s a special player. He played really, really well today, we were just lucky enough to make one more play.”

With Ryan tinkering on the borderline of being elite, for him to get the nod without any hesitations, he has to win in January. For his career, he’s (1-4) in postseason play.

Considering where he was last year, Matt Ryan will take regular season elite for right now.


About Mark Gunnels

Mark Gunnels

Mark Gunnels is an NFL columnist for Football Insiders. He has several years of experience covering the NFL and NCAA football. He's the radio color commentator for Lincoln University football. Mark's work has been featured on Sports Illustrated, Fox Sports and Yard Barker.