SI.com wonders: Does Matt Ryan still have room to grow?

"Hey, Roddy. Do I look mature to you?" (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Matty Ice asks Harry D.: "Do I look mature to you?" (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

After Sunday’s nervous victory over Minnesota, Falcons coach Mike Smith spoke of Matt Ryan — who’d had his best game of the season — and the “maturation process.” Which sounded a bit odd, given that we around here have, fairly or not, never considered Ryan anything less than mature. He was a starter from Game 1 of Year 1, and he’s 26 now. Speaking of which …

Jim Trotter of SI.com offers a look at four NFL quarterbacks — all of whom were drafted in Round 1 in 2008 or 2009, all of whom had almost immediate success, none of whom are having a noteworthy statistical season in 2011. The four: Mark Sanchez of the Jets, Joe Flacco of the Raves, Josh Freeman of the Bucs … and Matt Ryan.

Trotter makes the case that, because more collegiate quarterbacks are playing in pro-style offenses, more quarterback draftees enter the NFL ready to play from Game 1 of Year 1. But he also writes:

It also could mean that QBs are coming into the league with less room to improve than they did a decade ago, when offenses were more ground-oriented. If true, could fans and some owners be setting themselves up for frustration and disappointment if the players fail to reach elite status before their first contracts expire?

Confronted with this argument, Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff — who drafted Ryan with the third overall pick in 2008 — told Trotter this: “It never came up in conversation that maybe [Ryan] had maxed out because of the system he had been under. But it’s interesting that you would think that way. Maybe there is something to it.”

Toward the end of Trotter’s story we hear from Dimitroff again, and this time he addresses a point yours truly has been batting around, sort of, since the end of Ryan’s second season: That Matty Ice could be closer to Eli Manning than to brother Peyton — a very good quarterback but not quite a great one. Said Dimitroff:

There are some very valid levels below that elite [quarterback] level that can allow organizations to be successful and make runs at Super Bowls. Everyone needs to understand that. Owners and team builders and head coaches need to realize that you can win with very good quarterbacks. They don’t have to necessarily be the elite quarterback of the league to be successful as a team.

Is this a concession from TD the GM, or just a reflection of reality? (The latter, I’d say.) But I advise you to real the article for yourself. And thanks to reader Steve Young of Alpharetta – who’s not, I’m assuming, the Steve Young who succeeded Joe Montana in San Fran — for bringing it to my attention.

By Mark Bradley

268 comments Add your comment

NC Dawg

December 2nd, 2011
10:28 am

Mark Bradley

December 2nd, 2011
10:38 am

Kudos again, NC Dawg.

Nom Nom Nom Chucks....Taylor or Norris

December 2nd, 2011
10:42 am

Gimme Second Mark!!

Me Too

December 2nd, 2011
10:42 am

Matt Ryan is only limited by the coaching staff and mainly Mike Mularkey.

Seen (Sean Payton) This (cross picket lines and play as a scab) B4

December 2nd, 2011
10:42 am

I think it’s a valid point and I also recall either you or Schultz writing a column suggesting that Ryan may be more akin to Chad Pennington (albeit with a better arm) than Tom Brady. Bottom line, if this organization had the right tools and personnel, they could’ve won a title with Bartkowski…the Cowboys could’ve won with Danny White…Eli already won a ring…the list goes on and on (and the aforementioned Falcons and Cowboys came darn close). Heck, we came within 60 minutes of a title with Chris Chandler. I believe in Matt Ryan and in the success of the current regime (40 wins since 2008, second only to Pittsburgh and NE I believe).

Me Too

December 2nd, 2011
10:42 am

Enter your comments here

Clay

December 2nd, 2011
10:43 am

Of course he has room to grow — he’s only 26 and has several parts of his game he can improve upon. Will he? That remains to be seen.

matt r

December 2nd, 2011
10:43 am

Modern offensive systems in football, pros and even most college, are so QB focused that you are screwed immediately if you don’t have an outstanding player there. The onus is on one player to always make the right decision AND execute perfectly. Works great if you have Drew Brees, notsomuch 90% of the time. Falcons are one of the few teams that is very run-focused which does Ryan a great service (even though the offense looks a lot like the others). This is what makes an offense like Georgia Tech’s interesting… the coach is essentially taking the pressure off the QB to always do something perfect and putting the pressure all on himself to call the right plays. The team still needs to execute, but that pressure is more evenly distributed.

Big Crimson 75

December 2nd, 2011
10:44 am

I’d take Matty “ice” over all 4. Does anyone need reminding again of this teams condition prior to his arrival??

Seen (Sean Payton) This (cross picket lines and play as a scab) B4

December 2nd, 2011
10:45 am

That being said, I also believe they need to win a playoff game this year. The path lies through the 5th seed: wildcards will play on the road at NFC East and NFC South winners (likely Dallas/NY and of course NO). We can beat any of those teams on the road and that would set up a game vs. San Fran (another winnable game) assuming the other wildcard wins (a big if since it will be Detroit or Chicago…). A road playoff win is definitely in sight and that will go a long way to giving this regime, and Matt Ryan, creditibility.

GT92

December 2nd, 2011
10:45 am

There’s only one Aaron Rodgers and everyone else is pretty much a notch below. Other than Brady and Payton, Matt Ryan is right there with the top guys. He’s a leader and one of the best guys you’ll ever have in a locker room.

Jesse

December 2nd, 2011
10:45 am

His main problem is in big pressure moments he over throws the ball and they sail on him. He can’t force balls into places. He’s great when he has time and can throw to a spot, but he can’t zing a ball into a small space. Just watch.

Steve

December 2nd, 2011
10:46 am

SI has not been relevent in the last 20 years. BUT they might have a point, I doubt it

jay

December 2nd, 2011
10:48 am

Matt still hasn’t made the step of reading the entire field in a quick manner. That’s the only reason I can explain having so many weapons, but not shredding defenses. I give him 1-2 more seasons and he will be semi-elite. All of the elite QB’s took 5-6 years in the league to reach that status.

NC Dawg

December 2nd, 2011
10:49 am

Thanks Mark…and Kudos to your “How Munson would have called it” article. One of the best ever!

tonyb

December 2nd, 2011
10:51 am

Way unfair to Ryan. This is only his 4th year in the league. Drew Brees and Arron Rodgers did not achieve their level of success in that short of period of time. I think this has been by far Matt’s best year. He’s reading defense’s (see his success in no huddle) and he spreads the ball around very well (which means he sees the field). For all of Julio Jones talent, he is still a rookie and that puts more pressure on the QB. Oh, and one more thing he does very well. The guy wins. Period. It looks like he and the team are on track for their third playoff appearance in 4 years.

We live in an age when people want instant results. Matt, at 26, is still a young QB. People want him to be at Drew Brees level in 4 years. That’s not realistic. Let him grow, and with the weapons the Falcons are putting around him, one day he will walk off the field with the Lombardi trophy in his hand.

blazerdawg

December 2nd, 2011
10:54 am

IMO, Dimitroff’s last comment was a statement in reality. That seems to be the way he communicates and treats people. But, I also think it is a challenge to Ryan – that he has a chance to become elite. If Dimitroff sees it, then I beleive it.

SimpleDawg

December 2nd, 2011
10:55 am

I think what we have in Matt Ryan is simply a good NFL caliber QB. He has strengths and he has limitations. With the right personnel around him, he and his team can be very successful. Without a good complement of talent, the QB and team never reach a consistent level of success.

On the other hand an elite NFL QB can be moderately successful, even on a bad team, but he too needs good players around him to succeed and to ascend to the highest level of success.

Now, we’re talking about coaching as to how to get to the top with either player and surrounding talent. And, someone has to be consistently successful at drafting good talent.

>>>>and before the idiots start…..Michael Vick is not an elite NFL QB. He is a unique player with a unique skill set that allows him to be successful some times, and look completely lost other times, due to his lack of study and attention to detail. Some days a diamond, some days a stone.

Objective fan

December 2nd, 2011
10:56 am

One thing missing in the Ryan debate is how many of the elite QBs took off once they were paired with dynamic playcallers. Brady – Weis, Peyton – Moore, Rodgers – Sherman then McCarthy, and even Brees had to get away from Schotty and get with Payton (arguably the best in the business) to show what he’s capable of. Heck, look at what Reid did with Vick last season.

Mularkey is a nice coach, but he’s never been on the level of those other coaches. It’s tough for me to judge Ryan until they find a better playcaller who will bring in a more passer-friendly scheme.

coloradobulldog

December 2nd, 2011
10:58 am

Ryan has never had a losing season as Falcon QB. He has a ton of come-from-behind victories. Forgat the other stats. If he keeps those up his whole career, I’d be happy.

vafalconfan

December 2nd, 2011
11:01 am

Under Mularkey we will never see Matt Ryan;s true talent develop

Telfo

December 2nd, 2011
11:02 am

the style of offense we run limits him in terms of stats for sure. He isn’t going to rack up huge yardage numbers throwing so many short passes.

Cobb Dawg

December 2nd, 2011
11:06 am

At one time, it was said that it takes five years to “grow” an NFL quarterback. That was the rationale that was used to explain John Elway’s more-or-less gradual ascension in the league. It may be true that college QBs enter the draft more NFL-ready than in Elway’s time, but I still think it takes a few years for most to reach that elite level. Ryan’s job is to keep working hard and learning. Everything else will work itself out.

CO_Braves

December 2nd, 2011
11:10 am

If we expected Matt to be elite, then we were most likely going to be let down. Not saying he can’t be elite, but those are rare and difficult to come by. Peyton, Brady, Brees and Rodgers are the only QBs I would consider elite right now, and last draftee out of those 4 was in 2005 (Rodgers). Brees didn’t reach that level until his 6th pro season. Point is, the book isn’t done on Ryan and I do think there is room for growth with him. Whether he does grow or not is another thing. I do think that Mularkey and the coaches have hindered him from showing potential growth recently, hopefully they continue to let Matt be Matt and reach his ceiling.

JSS

December 2nd, 2011
11:12 am

Funny, SI was “relevant” when Peter King was picking the Falcons for the Super Bowl back in the Summer.

OK, Ryan will be close to 28 years old come the end of next season… There’s only been 2 late blooming elite level QBs since Kurt Warner broke the mode in 1999. He’s an average NFL QB. Notice I did not say “bad” or “below average.” He’s never surpassed 4,000 yards passing or 30 TDs. 4 QBs are on the pace to hit the vicinity of 5,000 passing yards this year. Ryan is not in that conversation…

Falconoid

December 2nd, 2011
11:16 am

Remember, San Diego let Drew Brees go. Part of that was his shoulder issue, but Brees had had a bounce-back season after they drafted Rivers. The Chargers let Brees go because they thought Rivers upside was higher than Brees. Brees landed in a system perfect for his skills that elevated him to the highest levels. Rivers has not been shabby either (until this year and he’s arguably playing hurt.) So Ryan may yet rise. We’ve yet to see him in the no-huddle all game long. We’ve yet to see him have full control of the offense. When Mularky lands in J-ville as head coach, the next o-coordinator will be the key hire that determines his next level of development (Bratowski? Billick.)

Gman 84

December 2nd, 2011
11:23 am

The Falcons are what they are. They are worth watching and fairly entertaining. They generally beat everyone they are supposed to beat. They really don’t have much hope of beating the elite teams though.

Better than mediocre but not good enough to win it all.

Hillbilly D

December 2nd, 2011
11:27 am

The article makes a valid point. I do think Ryan would show improvement with a better OL in front of him. That’s been a problem even before Ryan arrived, in my opinion.

The best pure QB’s playing right now, in my mind, are Rogers and Brees. Brady has that intangible that separates the great from the good; he knows how to win.

Aint's Killer

December 2nd, 2011
11:36 am

Ryan is just fine. For every person working a job, there is always room for improvement somewhere. Deep passing for instance. But the guy is still young, and this is his first year throwing to Julio Jones. I suspect next year or the following season Ryan to Julio is all we’re gonna hear.

And it is correct that to win a SB a team does not need an elite QB, just a smart one. And that we do have.

I know we are hungry, but let’s give Ryan a little more time before we run him outta town. Our time just may be upon us yet.

mountain_jim

December 2nd, 2011
11:38 am

Another vote for Mularkey is holding him back. Smith is too, getting too conservative with a lead.

I hope Mularkey get’s the Jax job and Smith lets TD help him pick out a better, more agressive, OC.

Some better oline pass-blockers would help as well. It takes time to pump fake and see all your reads.

Still Matt needs to improve his deep balls and no looks and look offs also.

JSS

December 2nd, 2011
11:41 am

@ Hillbilly…
That is the funny about Ben Roethlisberger, he has that same thing that Brady has… When you look at his number, you say “blah!” Then you see his intangibles lines, 20 comebacks and 26 game winning drives including that massive Super Bowl comeback… Of course they both lost a Super Bowl, but they ramp it up when it has counted. He was a sleaze, but as a QB, he did it effectively…

Aint's Killer

December 2nd, 2011
11:43 am

And I wish people would stop calling Payton an elite QB. He has very good stats, but in my eyes he is not elite. A couple notches above his brother, but not Montana, and Brady like.

To me, if you are looking for elite QB’s, we’re talking about QB’s who have won multiple SB’s.

Joey

December 2nd, 2011
11:47 am

A QB at any level is only as good as his OC. Rodgers, Brees, Brady wouldn’t be quite so spectacular under Murlarky.

Josh Freeman is also a talent being wasted, in my opinion.

extremus

December 2nd, 2011
11:48 am

I really like Matt Ryan from everything I’ve heard about him both as a player and a person; he sems to be mature and carries himself professionally. A friend of my brother’s who’s met him in person says he’s humble and pretty much just an everyday guy, and a nice one at that. The Falcons could certainly have done worse with that 1st Round draft pick a few years back.

Has Matt Ryan reached his limit of development as an NFL quarterback? From a skillset standpoint, most likely, meaning he’ll never have a downfield cannon for an arm. So no, in that regard he’s not Peyton Manning or Drew Brees. But he is also, I personally believe, being held back by the offensive system currently in place here, and that fact is on display every Sunday. When Ryan is running the no-huddle, the offense generally runs smoothly and efficiently; when he’s not it tends to stall. Also, as has been noted above, the offensive line, while better the last few weeks, has often allowed Ryan to be rushed and/or take way too many hits. Neither Manning nor Brees could have done much better the first few weeks of this season under the circumstances Ryan faced.

Is Matt Ryan an elite quarterback? Not yet, and who knows whether he ever will be. But give him more control of the offense and better protection, and he could be a Superbowl-winning quarterback. Personally, I’d take the latter in a heartbeat given a choice, and I’d suspect he would as well.

Joey

December 2nd, 2011
11:56 am

I don’t mind run-oriented offenses – they can usually enable you to beat teams you should beat. The problem comes when your running-offense plays the better (playoff) teams.

The Falcons will not beat the Packers or the Saints at playoff time.

Not until Mularkey is gone.

dean

December 2nd, 2011
12:03 pm

Trent Dilfer and some guy named Brad Johnson won Super Bowls.

I like the Falcons’ chances down the road.

JSS

December 2nd, 2011
12:05 pm

He (Ryan) is going to run into the same issue that Boomer Esiasan ran into eventually in the No Huddle. When you finally account for the runner in the No Huddle, then eliminate the shallow cross. Blam, then the No huddle is Buffalo against the Cowboys or the Redskins… You can only get away with that offense with massive weapons and the QB that can trigger it in a massive way… Jim Kelly yes, Thurman Thomas yes, Andre Reed yes… The Falcons setup, no……….

JSS

December 2nd, 2011
12:07 pm

Trent Dilfer was nearly 11 years ago, those are exceptions not the regular scenario… You’re counting on reaching a SB and having Rex Grossman or Kerry Collins staring across the field against you… Ain’t happening!

dean

December 2nd, 2011
12:09 pm

Defense wins championships. Offense is for TV ratings.

Hillbilly D

December 2nd, 2011
12:12 pm

JSS

Yeah, I just overlooked Roethlisberger. He’s cut from the same mold. And like you, I’m talking strickly on the field stuff.

One of my all-time favorite QB’s was Ken Stabler. Not the greatest or flashiest of QB’s but when it came crunch time, he turned it up a notch. Some guys rise to the occasion and some kinds shrink away from it. Most any NFL QB can win, if he has enough pieces around him but the really good ones can compete with pieces missing.

Hello

December 2nd, 2011
12:13 pm

Vick is awful like always. Where is ‘Choke’ now? Choking on his words.

Jay

December 2nd, 2011
12:13 pm

Ryan really hasn’t shown much improvement the last two years. His ceiling is lower than we suspected, and his arm strength is average on a good day. We won’t win a Super Bowl with him as QB.

P B Orr

December 2nd, 2011
12:14 pm

This is just a stupid topic. I’d rather read about Kim Kardashian, and let me tell you, I don’t want to do that either.

Matt Ryan has been the main pillar of rescuing a dead program, killed by a miserable, vicious, self-involved felon who has succeeded in destroying another coach’s career. He is nothing but a credit to his family, his team, and his new city. I’ve watched a great deal of football since the 1960s and childhood, and I’ve never felt the same sort of pride for one of my players. That includes Hank Aaron, Jeff Van Note, Eric Vail, and Dale Murphy. His accomplishments go far beyond the field. This program was dead – it was a disgrace on and off the field, and he saved it practically single-handed.

Hillbilly D

December 2nd, 2011
12:14 pm

That should be strictly. I just threw that in to see if anybody caught it. :lol:

Big Lou

December 2nd, 2011
12:18 pm

@ JSS

He should pass 4000 yards this year, and he will be close to 30 touchdowns. Currently he’s 2887 yards and 18 touchdowns with 5 games left. He’s been improving on yards thrown from last year.

Also, he reached 28 touchdowns last year. The guy is really close to being up there.

JSS

December 2nd, 2011
12:19 pm

It is better to have both segments…

Mike

December 2nd, 2011
12:21 pm

Lets look at it real quick:

- Eli Manning did beat Bret Favre’s Packers and Tom Brady’s Patriots for a Super Bowl win. – Peyton Manning, Bret Favre, Aaron Rogers, and Drew Brees have one Super Bowl championship each. That’s exactly the same number as QB’s like Doug Williams, Trent Dilfer, Brad Johnson, Eli Manning, Kurt Warner…
- Dan Marino didn’t win a Super Bowl that I remember.
- John Elway was 0-3 in Super Bowl’s until Terrell Davis and a solid running game showed up.
- How many Super Bowl’s would Brady really have if SpyGate wasn’t in full gear? Likely only one…two on the outside.
- Joe Montana, Steve Young, Terry Bradshaw, Troy Aikman…all had Hall of Fame talent up and down the rosters on both sides of the ball.

So basically, YES Matt Ryan is good enough to win a championship, and no Matt Ryan does not have to be the next Aaron Rogers to do so. He just has to be good enough to manage the offense, make plays, and not kill the team with mistakes. Its a team sport. If the Falcons around him step their game up too on both sides of the ball, the championship will come…just like it eventually did for Tampa Bay.

P B Orr

December 2nd, 2011
12:21 pm

Bart Starr, who Ryan reminds me of in spades, won 7 games in his first 4 years. Then he won 5 championships and nearly a 6th, in 7 years. Questions, anyone?

Joey

December 2nd, 2011
12:23 pm

Folks are talking (writing) about the Falcon’s Super Bowl chances? Isn’t that kinda like the cart getting ahead of the horse?

Dang, let’s see 1 (ONE) playoff win, or even one competitive playoff game, first.

Joey

December 2nd, 2011
12:28 pm

I think Starr was surrounded by about 14 future Hall of Famer also, along with a head coach named Lombardi.

They probably helped with the championships . . .