Among most fantasy pundits, there’s a prevailing school of thought at the quarterback position—and that school teaches patience all day every day. While it may be tempting to add the likes of Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs or Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers, the belief is that the edge having an elite quarterback grants your fantasy team isn’t worth the liability it creates at running back or wide receiver.
It’s a wise draft strategy—one that I’ve been recommending for years. It may well be that by the time fantasy draft season gets fully underway I’ll do so again here at Fantrax.
They call that foreshadowing.
However, this article isn’t about that draft strategy. It’s about the poster child for it in 2019. A quarterback who offers elite fantasy upside without the price tag to match. A signal-caller who, per the early ADP data at Fantasy Football Calculator, is coming off draft boards some four and a half rounds after Mahomes. He’s a player who offers the best of both worlds—the opportunity to have your cake and eat it too.
This article is about “Matty Ice”— Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons.
The Falcons Disappointed in 2018, But Matt Ryan Didn’t
For the second year in a row, the Falcons backslid in 2018. After winning the NFC title in 2016 (also the year that Ryan set career highs across the board en route to being named the NFL’s MVP) and getting knocked out in the Divisional Round in 2017, the Falcons missed the playoffs altogether last season—largely because injuries decimated the team on both sides of the ball.
However, while the Falcons may have struggled as a team and Matt Ryan took a beating playing behind an offensive line that struggled most of the year, statistically speaking the soon-to-be 34-year-old had one of the better seasons of his career. Ryan’s numbers in 2018—a 69.4 completion percentage, 4,924 passing yards, 35 touchdowns, seven interceptions and a passer rating of 108.1—trail only his MVP season of 2016. In most categories they barely trail that 2016 campaign. Ryan also added three rushing scores and even caught a touchdown pass.
It marks the sixth time in Ryan’s career he’s topped 4,500 passing yards, the third time he’s thrown more than 30 touchdown passes and the sixth time he’s finished as a top-eight fantasy quarterback.
Most importantly to the folks reading this article, depending on whether your league awards four or six points for passing touchdowns, Matt Ryan finished 2018 as either the third or second-ranked quarterback in fantasy points—trailing either Mahomes and Ben Roethlisberger of the Steelers or just Mahomes. It was the second time in three years he’s finished inside the top-three.
Oh, and just as he has in 10 of his 11 NFL seasons, Ryan didn’t miss a game in 2018. He’s missed all of two in his career.
Sometimes the best ability is availability.
The Team Around Matt Ryan is Better in 2019 Than a Year Ago
In both the NFL and fantasy football, a quarterback is often only as good as the supporting cast around him. And in 2019, the players and coaches around Ryan are better than last year.
The receiving corps remains one of the better groups in the NFL. It’s hardly a state secret that Julio Jones is arguably the best wideout in football—he led the league with 1,677 receiving yards in 2018 and hasn’t finished lower than third in the league in that category since 2013. Second-year pro Calvin Ridley has the makings of a star in his own right after setting a franchise record with 10 touchdown grabs as a rookie. Veteran Mohamed Sanu has topped 65 receptions and 700 yards each of the last two years, with nine scores over that span. And fourth-year tight end Austin Hooper was quietly a top-six fantasy option in 2018.
That’s not a bad group.
Matt Ryan absorbed more sacks and hits combined (76 per ESPN) than during any season of his career, Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff told ESPN’s Vaughn McClure that improving Ryan’s protection was an offseason priority.
“Make no mistake about it: We knew what we needed to do this offseason and that was to continue to fortify that line and make sure that we were protecting Matt,” Dimitroff said. “And we weren’t going to run into what we ran into last year.”
Sure enough, that’s exactly what the Falcons did, spending two first-rounders to re-make the right side of the line by selecting guard Chris Lindstrom at No. 14 and tackle Kaleb McGary at No. 31. Both figure to start from Day 1.
There will also be a new offensive coordinator in Atlanta this year in Dirk Koetter, who will be reunited with Ryan after serving as the team’s OC from 2012 to 2014, As Will McFadden reported for the team’s website, Ryan told an Atlanta radio station he’s eager to work with Koetter again.
“I’m excited to work with Dirk Koetter again, it felt like my time spent with him early in my career was really productive. I’ve learned a lot since then, and I think we both can be better as we move forward. ”
Ryan topped 4,500 passing yards all three years than Koetter was OC, and if you don’t think that he’s a sizable upgrade over the departed Steve Sarkisian I present this video of Falcons fans watching Sarkisian call plays last year.
Tape don’t lie, folks.
If there’s a potential weakness in the Atlanta offense, it’s likely the running back position, Tevin Coleman bolted for San Francisco in free agency, and while Ito Smith had his moments last year, the depth chart is a little shaky behind Devonta Freeman—the same Devonta Freeman who had fewer than 100 total yards and missed 14 games a year ago.
However, the notion of Atlanta struggling a bit on the ground might be a blessing in disguise for Ryan’s fantasy production. Atlanta was 27th in the NFL in rushing—and Ryan had a huge statistical season.
Value, Value, Value
So, what we have with Ryan is a four-time Pro Bowl quarterback with an MVP award under his belt who has posted top-three fantasy finishes in two of the past three years. That’s quite the resume.
That quarterback has a dangerous array of passing-game weapons at his disposal, including arguably the best wide receiver in the NFL today, a rising young star and a capable, sure-handed veteran. The offensive line in front of him should be better this year than the unit that allowed 42 sacks last year. And a new offensive coordinator should help add some pop to a scheme that was stale and predictable at times the past couple of years.
The situation’s favorable.
Despite that resume and situation, Matt Ryan is being drafted behind Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks, Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts, Baker Mayfield of the Cleveland Browns, Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers, Deshaun Watson of the Houston Texans and in many cases Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints.
Ryan out-pointed them all in 2018—and while he may not out-point them all again in 2019, it’s a safe bet he’ll outscore quite a few of them.
In short, Matt Ryan looks like one of the best values in fantasy football at the quarterback spot—a player more than capable of a top-five finish who doesn’t carry a top-five price tag.
And that’s the kind of value that wins leagues.
A member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and Pro Football Writers of America who resides in Columbus, Ohio, Gary Davenport has been featured on a number of fantasy websites and in nationally circulated publications, including the USA Today Fantasy Football Preview and the magazines distributed by Fantasy Sports Publications Inc., for whom Gary is both a contributing author and associate editor. Gary is an eight-time FSWA Award finalist and two-time winner who has been a finalist for that organization’s Fantasy Football Writer of the Year award each of the last three years. He won the honor in 2017. Gary also appears regularly on Sirius XM Radio (including live from Radio Row at Super Bowl XLIX) and over-the-air stations across the country. He knows football. Or so he’s heard.
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