Matt Ryan was fantasy football’s fifth highest scoring quarterback through the first month of the 2013 season, notching a healthy 21 points per contest on the strength of eight touchdowns and a 72 percent completion rate.
Ryan, in fact, had averaged 20.4 fantasy points every week in the 20 regular season games he had played since the start of the 2012 campaign, when the Atlanta Falcons had ditched their previously conservative game plan for a more open, spread out, aerial attack.
It was in Week 5 of the 2013 season that Ryan lost his most lethal threat, Julio Jones, for the season. Roddy White gimped through a few games before finally sitting for a few games in October. Ryan, perhaps unsurprisingly, fell from the ranks of the elite quarterback producers.
What we might want to note is that Ryan wasn’t anything close to a startable fantasy option through most of the 2013 season. He was barely a quarterback streamer.
I assigned Ryan — who is being drafted as the eighth quarterback off the draft board — a median equity score of -1, meaning he would finish as QB9 this season. His high equity score of three would place him among fantasy’s top-5 quarterbacks. Altogether, this makes the Falcons’ signal caller a safe option with some decent upside.
I think it’s fair to question Ryan’s equity scores, and here’s why: I used the RotoViz similarity score app as a baseline tool for creating each player’s median and high projections.
The app doesn’t know that Ryan has lost his safety blanket, Tony Gonzalez, to retirement, and it doesn’t know that Julio’s foot is still not completely healed and that he’s “eying” a Week 1 return. Jones, for what it’s worth, says his recovery has felt like an “eternity.”
I adjust projections accordingly, accounting to mitigating factors that will surely have an impact on a player’s season-long numbers. I’m thinking that I may have been too generous with Ryan’s median and high prospects though. The RotoViz Game Split app — a great little tool — helps us understand why.
Here are Ryan’s numbers with Gonzalez (in split) and without his ageless tight end who dominated the red zone for four seasons.
|In split||Out of split|
I understand that the last time Ryan wasn’t throwing passes to Gonzalez, George W. Bush was in the Oval Office, but these numbers represent a serious drop off. Atlanta’s offensive approach has changed dramatically since the Gonzalez era began, moving from a Michael Turner-centric system to a pass-oriented scheme. Still, these splits are gigantic.
Now let’s look at Ryan’s numbers with Julio in the lineup. This will be more instructive, telling us more about how Ryan might perform with and without his best pass catcher.
|In split||Out of split|
This, I think, should make us hedge on spending a fifth round draft pick on Ryan in 2014. If you do that, you’re likely planning on starting Ryan every week, no matter what. Julio Jones’ presence makes a 4.4 point difference in Ryan’s weekly output. That should terrify you.
Julio’s 2013 foot injury was actually a re-injury, and one that the Falcons are approaching with great caution. The freakish wideout has now missed 14 games in his first three NFL seasons — more than enough to raise questions about his season-long availability.
Just how bad was Ryan without Julio in the lineup in 2013? From Week 6-17, Ryan averaged 15.3 fantasy points per game — good for QB16 numbers — and threw 16 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Ryan Tannehill, Alex Smith, and Carson Palmer are among the quarterbacks who posted more fantasy points than Ryan during that horrid span.
Atlanta is widely expected to resort to many more three-receiver sets with Gonzalez resting comfortably poolside this season, meaning Harry Douglas could be running a lot of the routes Gonzalez ran during his time as a Falcon. That’s what we might call a downgrade, in real and fake football circles.
Perhaps only Matthew Stafford‘s fantasy worth is more closely linked to a single player — Calvin Johnson — than Ryan’s value is linked to Julio’s availability. That should scare us. I would be much more comfortable drafting Russell Wilson in the eighth round or Tony Romo at the end of the ninth round than Ryan in the fifth.
Ryan’s equity scores are flimsier than most. That, unfortunately, is not baked into his current average draft position.