Recently, ESPN’s NFC South blogger Pat Yasinskas has been posting a list of the top 25 players in the NFC South. Many of the previous players haven’t been very surprising (Roddy White was No. 19, Julio Jones was No. 11, and I know I’m forgetting a couple other players for the time being). I was really counting down until Yasinskas posted Ryan. Surely, I thought, Ryan will be in the top-10, and even then probably in the top-5. I was right about the first of those.
I was a little surprised, but given the national opinion of Ryan around the league, this ranking didn’t really come as a blindside hit. Ryan is a fine quarterback true, but he is not yet elite. Yasinskas did have some positive things to say about Ryan’s game that should give all Falcons fans faith as well as hope for the future:
"The knock on Ryan is he has yet to win in the postseason. You can’t argue that because it’s fact. But I do think Ryan’s postseason drought will end, probably this year. He’s a talented quarterback that works hard, has all the intangibles and has a great supporting cast at the skill positions. The Falcons have made some moves that should help their offensive line and that should allow Ryan more time to find receivers open downfield. Plus, the addition of new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter could mark a huge turning point in Ryan’s career. Ryan fared well under previous coordinator Mike Mularkey, but I’m not so sure the coordinator always put the quarterback in the best situations possible. I also don’t think Mularkey consistently let Ryan do the things he does best. Koetter has a reputation for being more creative and flexible than Mularkey and that’s exactly what Ryan needs. He’s on the cusp of being an elite quarterback. He just needs to be allowed to take the gloves off — and run the no-huddle offense the majority of the time."
That’s more than a mouthful from him, but I felt that it was worth quoting. Ryan certainly has the potential to do a whole lot more within the offense if A) the coordinator allows him more control and B) the offense is opened up a little more even when Ryan isn’t in a no-huddle situation. Mike Mularkey seemed to call plays that were absolutely mind-numbingly boring, but worst of all were extremely predictable. I could have told you a bootleg was coming on 1st down a often the last couple years. Other teams knew it was coming, and played against it. First, it isn’t Ryan’s strong suit (see this article here) and it generally just was a waste of a down. Granted, our offensive line play couldn’t really protect Ryan when he was in the pocket, but it didn’t help trying to get him mobile. As Yasinskas said in the previous paragraph in his article:
"He did all that while being sacked a career-high 26 times and that number could have been significantly higher if Ryan hadn’t sidestepped some hits and thrown the ball away."
I’ve said it before, Ryan is the reason we didn’t lead the league in sacks surrendered, or at least be a league leader. If we protect him properly, there is no reason he can’t be a Philip Rivers type talent, a guy with decent arm strength but little to no mobility, who sees the rush well, avoids it when his line doesn’t pick it up, and is able to make things happen. We absolutely have to bring better talent to the o-line soon, or in the 2013 draft. But again, I digress.
There is a perfect player for Ryan to watch to see exactly how a pocket passer should mold his game after. That person is Tom Brady. Brady is so good and has been for such a long time, that I tend to forget exactly how he plays the position. And truth be told, he IS an absolute statue in the pocket. Ron Jaworski noted in his quarterback countdown that Ryan really needs to work on passing from a muddied or cluttered pocket. Once he does that, he will be vastly improved. He ranked Ryan No. 11, and he ranked Brady No. 3. One of the main things Jaws had to say about his was that despite his severe lack of mobility and his essentially being a statue in the pocket, he is so outstanding at recognizing blitzes, feeling the rush, standing tall in the pocket, and understanding the strengths/weaknesses on his offensive line that he makes up for it, and can stand in the pocket for long periods of time. I can’t argue that, I’ve witnessed it countless times. He keeps the play alive–not outside the pocket– but inside the pocket, and then shreds the defense to pieces. Ryan has to get better in a messy pocket, and the Falcons need to do their due diligence in protecting Ryan, or he will never realize his full potential.
UPDATE: Jaws recently announced the Nos. 1 and 2 quarterbacks on his list. They were Aaron Rodgers at 1, and Drew Brees at 2. Interestingly, the only knock that Jaws could pin on Brees was his arm strength, something that critics of Ryan have also used to detract from his game. The thing that Brees does is use pinpoint accuracy, which more than makes up for lack of arm strength. If Ryan can come close to the accuracy of Brees, he can be nearly as productive as Brees. Offseason training to increase the arm strength is absolutely crucial for Ryan, but accuracy with that arm is equally vital.