It's hard to believe nearly eight years have gone by since Matt Ryan made his NFL debut. From that first pass to his remarkable poise, from steadfast leadership to thrilling comebacks, the veteran signal-caller has established himself as one of the league's premier QBs. Today, Ryan celebrates his 30th birthday, so we decided to reflect on what he's accomplished thus far in Atlanta.
During his 20s, Ryan established himself as the greatest quarterback in Falcons history. In that span he set an abundance of franchise records, including single season and all-time marks in passing yards and passing touchdowns.
While the Falcons have endured their fair share of adversity throughout his tenure, Ryan himself has remained incredibly consistent. According to analyst Ryan Michaels, the Boston College graduate is one of two NFL quarterbacks to put up three consecutive years with 4,500-plus passing yards and 25-plus TD passes while maintaining a completion percentage above 66. The second is Peyton Manning.
In fact, no QB has ever completed more passes in his first seven years than Ryan. Only one — surprise, Peyton Manning — has tallied more passing yards before his eighth NFL campaign. Moreover, Pro Football Focus has graded Ryan as a top-five QB in all but two of his seasons with the Falcons, prompting PFF writer Gordon McGuiness to call his development a best-case scenario for the position.
True, Ryan's playoff experience may not be extensive, but the notion that he can't perform under the spotlight is wholly false. Believe it or not, his Total QB rating during the 2012 playoffs (90.5) ranks first in the stat's nine years of existence.
A big reason why Ryan has done so well is the precision with which he throws the ball. Thanks to PFF's accuracy percentage, we can quantify just how good he's been in this regard. (Accuracy percentage, explained in detail here, is more or less an improved version of completion percentage. Its goal is to isolate the performance of quarterbacks — doing so by removing dropped passes, throwaways and the like from consideration).
Comparing Ryan's marksmanship to those of his peers is nothing short of illuminating. For example, he's one of just four QBs to post an accuracy percentage above 75 in 2012, 2013 and 2014. The others: Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Philip Rivers.
The high number of screen plays Atlanta ran certainly enhanced Ryan's figures, but that doesn't mean he can't thread the needle on difficult passes. In 2014, for instance, Ryan led the NFL in accuracy percentage on throws of 20 or more yards. That isn't a result of a small sample; conversely, he fired 69 total deep balls in 16 games — more than Brees, Matt Stafford, Tom Brady and Tony Romo, among others.
If we take it a step further and remove all of Ryan's screens from the equation, his 2014 completion percentage would only drop to 64. Eli Manning, Russell Wilson, Joe Flacco and Andrew Luck all finished 2014 with worse overall completion rates.
Indeed, No. 2 has achieved a lot in his career. And, while Ryan is no longer a spring chicken, a lot of data suggests he has plenty good years left. With an improved supporting cast and a new coaching staff in place, his best days may well be in front of him.