According to ESPN analyst and former NFL quarterback Ron Jaworski, Matt Ryan is the 11th best quarterback talent in the NFL. I can’t really argue too much with his placement on the list, and I certainly can’t argue with what Jaws had to say about Ryan when breaking down his game film.
"Number 11 on my quarterback big board is Matt Ryan. You know what I really appreciate about Ryan? He has improved in each of his four years as the Falcons starter. How about this, folks? He’s won 69 percent of his NFL starts. That’s pretty good!"
No kidding, Jaws. Routinely this is one of the most highly touted aspects of Ryan’s game: he wins. He may not be a spectacular athletic or arm talent, but he is very good, and is capable of doing good things with his talent. It is true that he has gotten better every season as a quarterback, and to be completely honest, I believe he still has a good bit of room to grow yet.
"Ryan is a timing and rhythm passer. He hits his back foot, and the ball comes out. First down was the explosive play down for Ryan. He had 24 completions of 20 yards or more. …I also like Ryan’s natural feel for anticipating throws."
Watching many of the routes and route combinations that Mike Mularkey drew up over the past couple seasons, it is obvious the connection that Ryan has with his receivers, and that he is outstanding at anticipating the route and making a throw before the receiver makes the cut. Just look at when Roddy White makes a catch on a curl route or an out route; the ball is out of his hand while White’s back is still turned to Ryan. The ball is right on the receiver, not allowing the defensive back to make a play on the ball. Up until this season, Ryan has not had outstanding arm strength, and his detractors have pointed this out. He has had to work hard on his anticipation and familiarity with the offense to make plays, and not simply on his arm. As has been reported all off-season long, his arm strength will be improved. This will enable him to make plays not only with his familiarity with the play, but also with his physical tools.
"In 2011, Ryan was given more responsibility at the line of scrimmage. The ability to control the game before the snap is an increasingly-important attribute in today’s NFL."
The no-huddle offense is something that the Falcons allowed Ryan to do a lot more in 2011, and he thrived when he was allowed to have control over the offense. Perhaps it was simply the poor play-calling by Mike Mularkey, but when Ryan was given control of the offense, the Falcons scored. I would only expect increased control given to Ryan in 2012. It is something he is both ready for, and capable of controlling. In today’s NFL, being able to run the offense without depending on the offensive coordinator is truly a great attribute to have.
One final thing is separating Ryan from the Top-10 on his list:
"Ryan is right on the edge of being a top-10 NFL quarterback. I love the way he’s engaged in every single game. But there’s still one element of Ryan’s game that needs work. He must become more consistent in what I call a ‘muddy pocket’, with bodies flying around him. Right now, he needs that comfortable cradle, that functional space. If he improves in that area, he’ll crack my top 10."
This is something that Greg Cosell mentioned in his NFL Films blog a few weeks ago. He pointed out that Ryan possesses all the needed traits, talents, and attributes to be an elite quarterback– including more than sufficient arm strength. The problem is that Ryan has truly struggled when he has lots of pressure in the pocket. While he didn’t get sacked a massive amount in 2011, he was hit alot, and at times it was obvious to Falcons fans that he wasn’t comfortable in the pocket, and was bailing out early. He was feeling phantom pressure when he really needed to just stand tall in the pocket and continue to look down the field. The two areas that Ryan needs some improvement (arm strength and maintaining presence in the pocket) are things he is certainly working on. We already know that his arm strength is something that he has improved, and will continue to improve.