Will Matty Ice Return in 2014?

Despite consistency and regular season success, Matty Ice still has to fight the doubters. Can he win the fight in 2014?

Whether you’re a prospective fantasy owner or - God forbid - an Atlanta Falcons fan, chances are you’ve been asking yourself the same question for the past seven off-seasons: Just how valuable is Matt Ryan?

Yes, the prototypical pro-style gunslinger has undeniable league cred since taking the reins in post-Mike Vick Atlanta as a rookie. He marched into madness and proceeded to average 15.7 starts, 3,912 yards, 25.5 touchdowns, and 10 wins per season since 2008, making the playoffs four times.

But as most of us also know, with a 1-4 mark in the postseason, a lack of red-zone mastery, and the simple fact that his peers are named Tom, Peyton, Drew, and Aaron, Matt Ryan is still hounded by doubters, "elite" seekers, fantasy owners and fans alike who spend every summer wondering: Are we getting Matty Ice? Or Matty Nice?

The answer is, well, complicated. But let’s let the numbers tell it.

Matt Ryan's Career Metrics

Below is a table showing Matt Ryan's basic statistics, as well as his Total Net Expected Points (NEP) per year. If you've never visited numberFire before, NEP is the main metric we use to determine how many points were added or lost by a particular player over the course of a season. You can read more about it here.

SeasonTotal NEP (League Rank)Passing YardsTouchdownsInterceptionsCompletion Percentage
201357.58 (16th)4,515261767.4
2012169.09 (3rd)4,719321468.6
2011103.49 (8th)4,177291261.3
2010116.56 (5th)3,70528962.5
200956.24 (14th)2,916221458.3
200894.65 (9th)3,440161161.1

It's a tale of two Ryans, and what’s clear is that, when at the top of his game, Ryan can be top-five material, at least in terms of Total NEP. And when he’s not, we’re looking at a quarterback ranked 10th to 15th.

2013 was ugly, with Ryan taking a whopping 44 sacks on a league-high 204 pressures and tossing 17 interceptions, which is going to destroy your Total NEP no matter who you are. That being said, a closer look at 2013 reveals a glimmer of hope.

The Falcons came into the season as a Super Bowl contender, only yards away from glory with all the returning firepower one could ask for and Ryan locked up with a $103 million extension. But by Week 5, injuries had destroyed both sides of the ball, a plague that continued throughout the entire year.

On offense, Ryan lost his Pro Bowl receivers Julio Jones (IR) and Roddy White (everything); his run game in Steven Jackson (quad) and fullback Bradie Ewing (IR); and obviously the line in Sam Baker (IR) and Mike Johnson (IR). The defense followed suit, with key contributors going down all over the depth chart, most notably cornerback Asante Samuel (everything), pass-rusher Kroy Biermann (IR), defensive tackle Corey Peters (IR), and outside linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (IR).

The roster was quite simply destroyed, and the Falcons staggered to a brutal 4-12 record. In the midst of it all, steady but unable to staunch the bleeding, was Ryan.

But while the picks and NEP are nasty, Ryan still put up the fourth-most yards (4,515) and fourth-best completion percentage (67.4) in the league. He was very literally "running" for his life on every drop back, with absolutely no one to throw to on the perimeter, and no run game or defense to help him out. And he still managed to stay healthy and put up stats.

So, if we can agree that 2013 was an outlier – a freak disaster for the Falcons, a forgettable bump in the road for Ryan – then we can feel a little bit better about Ryan’s prospects for the future, right? Maybe, but the question still remains: how does he measure up against his peers?

In looking at the top Total NEP seasons for quarterbacks over the last six years, we begin to see where Ryan slots in:

SeasonPlayer NameTotal NEP
2013Peyton Manning262.88
2011Aaron Rodgers250.29
2011Drew Brees234.01
2011Tom Brady227.28
2012Tom Brady196.19
2009Peyton Manning187.88
2013Drew Brees181.78
2009Philip Rivers177.01
2009Drew Brees176.00
2008Drew Brees175.98
2012Matt Ryan169.09
2012Peyton Manning166.90
2013Philip Rivers161.10
2010Tom Brady158.14
2009Brett Favre155.29
2012Aaron Rodgers149.71
2009Aaron Rodgers149.60
2008Peyton Manning146.31
2012Drew Brees145.69
2009Tom Brady144.00

All except Favre are still in the league and playing at a high level, although Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers can feel a little bit of Ryan's performance pain after similarly forgettable 2013 campaigns. But Ryan's ceiling has him breathing some rarefied air, up among some of the best passers to ever play the game.

But for every ceiling, there is a floor, and Ryan's name shows up on this list most often among some different company. His other Total NEP seasons rank 32nd, 46th, 51st, 75th, and 78th, and slot more consistently in among the likes of Eli Manning, Tony Romo, Ben Roethlisberger and company. A second or even third tier, if you will.

The Next Generation

And just to complicate things further, looking to the past only serves us so well, mainly because of the tectonic shift that the quarterback position has undergone over the past three seasons. The dual-threat generation has arrived, and is just now reaching its prime, and many rank the likes of Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, and Colin Kaepernick ahead of Ryan in fantasy football for 2014.

So where does that leave us? With a bit of a puzzle wrapped in an enigma, unfortunately. Whether or not Ryan belongs in the top 10 quarterbacks for 2014 depends largely on unknowns.

If the Falcons' revamped offensive line comes together behind a healthy Baker, new center Joe Hawley, road grader guard Jon Asamoah, and sixth pick tackle Jake Matthews, then Ryan will conceivably have more time to throw to his healthier lethal weapons on the outside.

But what about the run game? And the defense? And what will life and the offense be like without Tony Gonzalez, the best tight end to ever play the game and Ryan's most-trusted security blanket?

That's a lot of questions that Ryan and the Dirty Birds have to answer. And while every team has its issues and unknowns in the offseason, the Falcons seem to have a lot for us to chew on before our drafts.

On his way out of Atlanta, Gonzalez said it straight: "Matt's an excellent quarterback. But he's not elite. He's this close. He'll get there, but he has some learning to do." Wise and telling words from someone who knows, and probably as fine a point as we can put on this.

Sure, Matty Ice belongs in the top 10, but only time will tell if winter is truly coming, or if there are just too many question marks in his way.