Now for another installment of our Fantasy Stock Watch periodical. This series takes a look at players who either exceeded their anticipated contributions this year, or failed to live up to them and what we can expect come 2014. The biggest concern: you want to draft based on value, rather than paying for stats that will be hard to repeat and/or paying an expectant price for development that may not come.
Fantasy Stock Watch 2014: Other Entries
Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons
2013 ADP: 39 (QB6)
2013 Position Rank: QB15
2013 Expectations: Matt Ryan
Matt Ryan entered 2013 on the top of many breakout lists. He’d posted three consecutive top 10 QB seasons, including finishing seventh in scoring at the position in 2012 and was coming off a 4700 yard, 32 touchdown performance. With the addition of Steven Jackson to run the ball and all the major elements returning to the offense, we expected further progression from the 5th year pro as the Falcons continued to be very relevant in the playoff hunt. His yardage and touchdowns had increased in each season since his 2009 sophomore campaign and he had led the NFL in completion percentage, with a healthy 7.7 YPA in 2012.
It was going to take only minor growth to propel Ryan into the top of the non Manning/Brees/Rodgers tier of QBs.
2013 Results: Matt Ryan
None of that played out for Ryan, or his teammates. The only numbers that went up over 2012 were his sacks and interceptions – setting career highs in both areas. His 44 sacks were the third most in the league this season, behind an offensive line that played bad enough to get their coach fired and prompt their veteran leader to point out that Ryan won’t survive 2014 without improvement in the area.
On top of that, none of the elite group of skill position players in Atlanta played a full season with Steven Jackson and Julio Jones both missing significant time while Roddy White played in 13 games but was hobbled for the bulk of them. Harry Douglas did his very best to fill the void created at WR, and contributed with a number of big games. His 1000 yard season is laudable but he doesn’t do for a QB what a healthy White and Jones do. With 83 catches and eight scores, Tony Gonzalez was the only fantasy drafted Falcon who did what we expected him to do on draft day, and his red zone presence was one of the only reliable tools available to Ryan this season.
Injury and protection significantly derailed Ryan’s 2013 campaign. He posted strong yardage numbers, in large part due to the fact that the Falcons spent a lot of time trailing, but did little else to help his owners. With 4515 yards, 26 TDs to 17 picks and an 89.6 QB Rating, Ryan’s 2013 left a lot to be desired.
Again, he lost his best pass catcher, most productive running back and played with a Pro Bowl WR who was a shadow of his former self for much of the season. As bad as the production was, there is actually a degree of hope for 2014 in how Ryan performed with his limited supporting cast.
Consider this: Ryan was sacked on 6.3% of his dropbacks this year, as part of the 3rd most 44 sacks that we referenced. He was pressured on 290 pass plays this season, by far the most in the league (Carson Palmer was second with 249). The fact that Ryan managed to complete 67.4% percent of his passes given this is almost heroic, and it is bolstered by the fact that he completed 56.3% of the passes who threw while pressured, the third best mark in the league. Eight of his 17 interceptions were thrown while under duress.
2014 Outlook: Matt Ryan
We referenced two reasons for Ryan’s decline in fantasy production above: the play of his offensive line, and the injuries to his supporting cast. Both should improve in 2014, but neither is without it’s caveats.
Atlanta has made a commitment to fixing the offensive line, starting with the ouster of their 2013 line coach and his replacement with Mike Tice. Tice hasn’t always had success in terms of keeping his QBs upright, but he will instill a physical mentality in the Atlanta pass blockers – a unit that ranked 3rd worst in that metric this season according to Pro Football Focus – which is something that they sorely lacked this year. With early picks in every round of the draft, expect Atlanta to make adding to the trenches on both sides of the ball a focal point. There is no guarantee that they’ll be better next year, but the unit can’t be much worse.
On the supporting cast side of things, we’ll start with the bad: Tony Gonzalez appears to be 100% retired this season, and we’ve mentioned that he was one of the only dependable parts of Atlanta’s offense for 16 games this season. He’s been so for Matt Ryan since the two arrived in Atlanta. His presence (and his 800+ yards and eight scores) will be missed. Still, Atlanta boasts one of the best WR duos in the league when healthy, and though Roddy White appears to have lost a step this season he came on hot down the stretch, suggesting that if he can enter the 2014 campaign at 100% he still has plenty to contribute.
White finished the season with just 94 targets, considerably fewer than Harry Douglas but 59 of them came over the last five weeks. During that span White drew double digit touchdowns three times, and scored touchdowns in three games. He also added 502 of his 711 receiving yards to close the year. Yes, the last five games are a fairly arbitrary line to draw, but they came after a clear return to health for White and shouldn’t go unnoticed. His contributions during that span bode well for what he can offer Ryan next year, and for his own fantasy value. At this juncture, White is locked in as a top-end WR2.
He’ll be behind Julio Jones, though. In his five games this season, Jones’ two touchdowns were disappointing but his production was otherwise everything we’d hoped for it to be, he led the league in yards per route run this year, at 2.74 (just ahead of Calvin Johnson and Josh Gordon) and is a candidate to be near the top of the WR pantheon again in 2014, provided all offseason reports are as they should be. Jones is draftable as a top 5 WR next year, and again, he’ll have lots to offer Ryan. He was on pace to lead the league in receiving, and with a potential 1500 yard man on his side next year, Ryan should see a benefit.
While we’re talking about returning Falcons, I think Steven Jackson has a fair bit to offer in terms of scoring if he can stay on the field, despite an underwhelming 2013 season – but that is a topic for another post.
In short, Ryan will miss Gonzalez and we just laid out a lot of ‘ifs’ (if the line plays better, if White looks as good for 16 games as he did to close the year, and if Jones is the same player he was before the injury) but the outlook for Ryan in 2014 isn’t much different than it was heading into this past season – the good news is, the price will be much better as your fellow owners have a had time getting past the 2013 Falcons’ season.