Is Matt Ryan an Elite NFL Quarterback?


Matt Ryan is a three-time NFL Pro Bowler.  He has led the Atlanta Falcons to five winning seasons, four playoff berths and the 2012 NFC Championship game.  But the most often asked question about Ryan is “Is he an elite NFL quarterback?”

According to the Internet outside of Miami Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill, Matt Ryan is the most searched NFL passer with regards to eliteness on Google.  While he’s certainly Top 15, is Ryan a Top 10 QB?  Is he Top 5?  What’s the cut off point for elite?

In this exercise, let’s use alliteration to our advantage.  We will see if Matt Ryan is an Elite 11 passer or an Elite 8 quarterback.  To me, Top 11 usually means that he is a perennial Pro Bowler and Top 8 signifies that he’s usually in the playoffs.  You can use statistics to make or break a case, but I’m going to do this one a little differently.

More from Atlanta Falcons

In this extreme hypothetical, let’s say that every player is no longer tied to contracts going into 2015.  Roger Goodell abolishes the salary cap and all 32 teams enter a league-wide draft from the veteran pool.  With regards to the other 31 starting NFL quarterbacks in this Madden-like scenario I’ll answer the following question: Does Matt Ryan or this other guy give you a better chance to win a Super Bowl in 2015-16?

In the AFC, I would take Ben Roethlisberger, Andrew Luck, and Peyton Manning all over Matt Ryan in this scenario.  Ryan wins over Tom Brady because of the Deflategate scandal that will cost him four games in 2015-16.  I find Matt Ryan more consistent than Andy Dalton, more accurate than Joe Flacco, and more polished than Ryan Tannehill.  The most difficult determination for me in the AFC is when talking about Philip Rivers.  It’s really a push between Rivers and Ryan, honestly.  So Matt Ryan would be the fourth or fifth best passer in the AFC in 2015-16.

In the NFC, I like Aaron Rodgers the most of any quarterback to win my re-drafted team a Super Bowl.  I would give Drew Brees and Russell Wilson a very slight edge over Matt Ryan as both have already won Lombardi Trophies in their NFL careers.  Now it gets interesting.

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) passes the ball against the San Francisco 49ers during the second quarter of the final regular season game at Candlestick Park. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Is Matt Ryan better than Matthew Stafford, Cam Newton, Tony Romo, and Colin Kaepernick?  Kaep doesn’t throw nearly as catchable of a ball as Matt Ryan.  How much does Stafford playing with Calvin Johnson inflate his passing statistics?  I’ll give Ryan the edge over Stafford at the moment as Ryan has made it to more playoffs (4 to 2) and Pro Bowls (3 to 1) than the former UGA standout.

Cam Newton is exactly the type of player and leader the Carolina Panthers need.  He has great football savvy and does whatever it takes to win.  But I think Matt Ryan would thrive in almost any offense in the NFL where Newton would need a strong defense to keep games close. Cam doesn’t strike me as a passer than can win shootouts with great regularity.

Tony Romo has had to do everything for the Dallas Cowboys in most seasons he has been the starting quarterback.  With an outstanding offensive line and All-Pro RB DeMarco Murray, Romo flourished in 2014.  Both Romo and Ryan are great quarterbacks that receive a ton of criticism for not winning a Super Bowl.  All things equal, it’s too close to tell me for me so it’s a push like with Philip Rivers.  So in the NFC, Matt Ryan is anywhere between a Top Four and Top Eight passer.

So my Elite Eleven in the re-draft scenario are as follows: 1. Aaron Rodgers 2. Andrew Luck 3. Peyton Manning 4. Ben Roethlisbeger 5. Russell Wilson 6. Drew Brees 7. Philip Rivers 8. Matt Ryan 9. Tony Romo 10. Cam Newton 11. Tom Brady.

Like I said Tom Brady is still incredible but the Deflategate scandal will cost him four starts.  So Matt Ryan is an Elite Eleven QB, barely an Elite Eight QB, and nowhere near a Top Four QB.  Where you set the bar determines eliteness, but Atlanta is in good hands to have Matt Ryan as their quarterback in 2015 because he is a Top 10 Passer in the NFL.