What's Wrong With Matt Ryan?
If ever there was a dichotomy between NFL and fantasy football, nobody represents it better than Matt Ryan.
While Ryan is not an elite quarterback, he is good.
But, this year, he is not as good as being the seventh-highest scoring quarterback in fantasy football makes him appear.
Without digging into metrics, Ryan has only produced two start-worthy outings for 12-team leagues. His weekly finishes this year have been QB13, QB17, QB6, QB18, QB25, QB14, QB20, QB10, and QB15.
Julio Jones is a superstar, but his ability has not translated into noteworthy fantasy success for Ryan like it has for himself.
Additionally, Devonta Freeman burst onto the scene this year, announcing his presence among the top running backs and lessening the load on Ryan.
It's time to dig deeper and see just what is going on with Ryan; is something all of a sudden wrong with Ryan, or is our perspective on him flawed?
Through nine games last year, the Falcons ran 615 offensive plays (21st) with 358 of those as pass plays (14th). They ran the ball only 206 times (29th) causing their pass to run ratio to be second highest at 1.74.
This year in the same span, with Freeman's emergence, the Falcons have run more plays (672), ranking them third. Their 374 pass plays are fifth in the league, but the biggest change is in the run game. They have the second most run plays (249) and now have a 1.50 pass to run ratio (16th).
So how much has this play-calling change truly affected Ryan?
Before digging into our Net Expected Points (NEP) metrics, let's dig into his basic statistics to see what it looks like on the surface.
Before the bye, Ryan had thrown for 2,702 yards on a 66.9% completion percentage and had 12 touchdowns to go with 7 interceptions.
Ryan's completion percentage is 3 points above his average, and he is on pace for just over 4,800 yards, which would be a career high. While Ryan's completion percentage and yards look nice, he is on pace for fewer than 22 touchdowns and more than 12 interceptions. The touchdowns are three below his average, but the interceptions are on pace with his average.
Of all 54 quarterbacks to take a snap this year entering Week 10, Ryan had the fourth highest Passing NEP (87.08). Of 31 quarterbacks to drop back at least 168 times, Ryan had a 0.23 Passing NEP per play, ranking him sixth, directly ahead of Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers. He sat as the leader in Passing Success Rate (54.28%), meaning over half of his pass plays counted toward a positive NEP.
Ryan improved in all areas from his numbers last year through Week 10: Passing NEP (9th, 60.18), Passing NEP per play (11th, 0.17), and Passing Success Rate (5th, 51.69%). This improvement translated to the overall passing offense, as the team had the 8th best Adjusted Passing NEP (62.34), which was an improvement from this time last year (9th, 58.31).
Although Ryan is a good passer, as evidenced through his and the team's metrics, just what is it that caps his fantasy ceiling?
Inefficient Receiving Corps
Outside of Jones, the Falcons do not boast a strong supporting cast to help boost Ryan's value.
While Jones was third among receivers with a 79.93 Reception NEP entering the bye, Ryan's second best receiver Leonard Hankerson was 41st (33.72). Sad as it is to admit it, Roddy White is over the hill, and his 72nd-ranked Reception NEP (20.23) tells that story.
Although Jones leads the team, by a mile, in Reception NEP, his efficiency tumbles all way down to White's level. Of 106 receivers with at least 20 targets, Jones (0.672) ranked 60th, which was worse than White (58th, 0.674). Hankerson actually paced the receivers in this category (13th, 0.86) due to his ability to catch first downs, but he is becoming known for his drops.
While Jones has some of the more reliable hands (25th) with a 67.2% Catch Rate, both White (67th, 56.7%) and Hankerson (68th, 56.4%) are struggling to catch the ball.
Although the wide receivers on the team outside of Jones are not the most impressive bunch, Jacob Tamme at tight end is looking like a diamond in the rough who needs more opportunity. Tamme had the ninth highest Reception NEP among tight ends (35.79). Among 33 tight ends with at least 20 targets, Tamme ranked 14th in terms of Reception NEP per target (0.68). He has done this with a 71.7% Catch Rate (seventh).
Jones, entering Week 10, paced the league with 119 targets; Hankerson sat 55th among receivers (39), and Tamme was 11th among tight ends (53). While Hankerson owned the best efficiency on a per-target basis, the problem is his Catch Rate. In order for Ryan's number to improve, Tamme's targets might need to increase after the bye because Jones is already getting the most possible.
Breakout Running Back
Before the season, nobody expected Freeman to burst on the scene like he has done. He is both a force in the pass and run games.
Entering the bye, he was the most targeted back in the league (62), and he had turned those targets into the second best Reception NEP (34.01). Among 54 backs with at least 15 targets, he had the seventh best Reception NEP per target (0.55).
Unfortunately for Ryan, only 1 of Freeman's 10 touchdowns have come through the air. Freeman had the second best Rushing NEP (20.05), and among backs with at least 40 carries, he had the sixth most efficient Rushing NEP per play (0.12). Freeman's efficiency has taken away from some of the opportunity that Ryan normally would have to add to his yards or touchdowns.
While Ryan is a good NFL quarterback, his skills do not translate into fantasy success. Our projections rank him as the ninth best quarterback for the rest of the year.
The problem is that a ninth-placed finish is basically on pace with where he is now, and he has only been a quality start twice this year. Ryan is very matchup dependent; in order for him to win more weeks, he needs more scoring opportunities, which will come from his using his more reliable receivers.
While there is nothing wrong with Ryan on the field, he hasn't been worth the mid-round pick he cost in fantasy formats.