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Is Matt Ryan becoming must-start option?

11/29/2010

The 9-2 Atlanta Falcons currently boast the best record in the NFC, and while wide receiver Roddy White and running back Michael Turner are the ones making the greatest contributions to fantasy football, certainly some credit must go to third-year passer Matt Ryan. I'm occasionally asked why I don't rank Ryan better on a week-to-week basis, especially for home games, and I generally answer that he's just not one of the top quarterbacks in fantasy football. His formidable career win-loss record at home notwithstanding, fantasy owners judge players statistically. So let's take a closer look. The question: When Matt Ryan plays at the Georgia Dome, should fantasy owners consider him a must-start?

Ryan is 19-1 in his career at the Georgia Dome after Sunday's impressive 20-17 victory over the Green Bay Packers; the last quarterback since 1966 to win 19 of his first 20 home starts in a career was Danny White, for the 1980-82 Dallas Cowboys. That said, Ryan's career statistics at home aren't exactly extravagant, with 29 touchdowns in those 20 games and an average of 217.9 passing yards per contest. Those rates/numbers are better this season, with 12 touchdowns in six games and 257 yards per game. If you, the savvy fantasy owner, knew you could get 250 passing yards and a few scores from your quarterback, you'd be confident in using him. Of course, Ryan has reached 250 yards and two touchdowns in only two of those six home games.

Perhaps the timing of this blog isn't helping Ryan's case, because he produced only 11 fantasy points (197 yards, one touchdown) in Sunday's win, hardly a stalwart game for fantasy owners. Turner was the game's offensive star with 110 rushing yards and a touchdown, while tight end Tony Gonzalez caught the lone touchdown pass. Ryan is currently tied for 19th in standard quarterback scoring for the week, with the Monday night game still pending. The point here is that despite his home-field "heroics," there's just no evidence to suggest that Ryan is in the top tier of fantasy quarterbacks, even at home. If his numbers were better at home and he was still somewhat average overall, that would say quite a bit about his reliability on the road, too.

Ryan has a few 20-point outings at home this season and one on the road, but I wouldn't call him someone you launch above Drew Brees or Tom Brady when he has a home game. Granted, he's not making mistakes at home -- he ranks seventh in the league in home passer rating, which tends to reward a lack of interceptions rather than gaudy totals in passing yards and touchdowns -- but he's also not putting up fantasy-riffic numbers.

Overall, Ryan has 171 fantasy points this season; 101 of them have come in six home games, or 16.8 per game. That leaves 70 for the five road contests, or 14 per game. Certainly Ryan is better at home, but let's not go overboard, either. Most quarterbacks are more comfortable at home and produce better stats away from hostile crowds. Playing home games in a dome, with weather not a factor, helps, too. Entering Week 12, Ryan ranked eighth in standard scoring among quarterbacks, but he's closer to the tier below him rather than pushing his way into stud territory.

Another factor in judging Ryan the rest of the way is that he has only two regular-season home games left, and one is against the New Orleans Saints. The other is against the Carolina Panthers in Week 17. You know how every season Peyton Manning owners start to frown a bit when December arrives? Well, maybe it's a bit premature to say the Falcons' Week 17 game will be meaningless, but if there's any team that could rest starters that week, it's Atlanta. Ryan's next three games are all on the road, and in road games he's not a top-10 quarterback this season.

Ultimately, Ryan is likely to garner MVP votes, and I can't say he doesn't deserve some; the Falcons are one of the league's top teams, and the quarterback generally gets a large dose of credit in those cases. If I were drafting a team from scratch today, home/road numbers included, I'd pick White and Turner among the best at their positions, and Ryan would be a borderline top-10 call. I'd rather have one of eight clear-cut quarterbacks (Philip Rivers, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Michael Vick, Ben Roethlisberger, Kyle Orton), and I can't see a scenario in which Ryan infiltrates that group, even when he is playing at the Georgia Dome (which, for two-thirds of the remaining weeks, he isn't). Ryan is having a fine statistical season, but even in home games, he's not a must-start.