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Column: Matt Ryan already elite, even without a Super Bowl win

In the quarterback business, there are several different tiers of success when discussing an NFL career. In the case of Atlanta Falcons QB Matt Ryan, the only tag left to attach to his name, besides a Super Bowl win, is to be considered “elite.”

Filling the prolific shoes of possibly the most exciting player in NFL history in Michael Vick would have been a tough start to any professional career. This is especially true for a rookie quarterback thrown into the starting position, but Matt Ryan stayed steady and continued to produce elite level numbers from the very beginning.

Let’s get this out of the way early on… Matt Ryan is an elite quarterback, and doesn’t need a Super Bowl win to prove it. The numbers speak for his career, and they speak loudly.

After a legendary career at Boston College, the Falcons picked Ryan third overall in the first round of the 2008 NFL Draft. Atlanta’s pick seemed immediately validated when Ryan was named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, leading his team to 11 wins and a wild card berth under a first year head coach in Mike Smith.

Ryan’s sophomore slump in 2009 wasn’t near as ugly as it has gotten for some quarterbacks in the past, and still left the Falcons in good shape at second in the NFC South. That would be the last time Matt Ryan has thrown for less than 3,700 yards since.

Nine season in, Ryan has solidified himself as an elite level NFL quarterback, and doesn’t need a Super Bowl win to prove that. He had an elite rookie season, has never lost his starting job, has posted elite numbers on a consistent basis through nearly a decade. There shouldn’t be any doubt that Matt Ryan has solidified his elite status, and is a future Hall of Fame quarterback.

“I’ve continued to improve throughout my career, and worked really hard to get the most out of myself,” Ryan said during a Super Bowl press conference, showing that his consistency isn’t a fluke, but the result of a lot of effort on top of raw talent.

For the 2016-17 season, Ryan led the NFL in QB rating (117.1), was first in Defensive Yards Above Replacement (1,918), second in PFF grading (38.3), and first in Total QB Rating (84.4). Collectively, his 2016 season ranks as top five in league history. His 7.91 yards per attempt this past season was an NFL record.

Under his third offensive coordinator, Ryan finished the regular season with 4,944 passing yards, and 38 touchdowns, both career highs. He also threw single-digit interceptions with seven, which was a career low.

In the 2016-17 postseason so far, Ryan has tossed seven touchdowns without throwing a pick. Only six other quarterbacks have surpassed that stat, and each of them won the Super Bowl. In fact, Ryan hasn’t thrown an interception since December 4, and has completed 212 passes since that point.

One season doesn’t make an elite quarterback, however, so let’s look at Ryan’s total career.

By the numbers:

NFL Records

  • 57 Consecutive 200+ yard passing games – Career
  • 4 Consecutive 3+ touchdown playoff games – Career
  • 7.91 Yards per attempt – Season (2016)
  • 90.5 playoffs QBR – Postseason (2012)
  • 2,508 completions in the first seven years of QB career (2008-2014)
  • Matt Ryan and Julio Jones: First quarterback-receiver tandem of Super Bowl era to combine for at least 500 yards passing and 300 yards receiving – Game (Oct. 2, 2016 vs. Panthers)

Matt Ryan also holds 18 Atlanta Falcons franchise records, each of which continue to grow with each game played. 

Awards/Honors

  • AP NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year (2008)
  • PFWA NFL Most Valuable Player (2016)
  • 4× Pro Bowl (2010, 2012, 2014, 2016)
  • First-team All-Pro (2016)
  • Bert Bell Award (2016)
  • 8x Player of the Week

Only nine seasons in, Ryan is near the top of nearly every single meaningful career NFL quarterback statistic both as an active player, and all-time.

  • Seventh active and 18th all-time leader in passes completed (3,288)
  • Seventh active in passing yards (37,701)
  • Ninth active in passing touchdowns (240)
  • Fourth active and fifth all-time in passing yards per game (265.5)
  • Eighth active and 11th career passer rating (93.6)
  • Third active and career in passes per game completed (23.2)
  • Fifth active and eighth all-time in pass completion percentage (64.9%)
  • Eighth active and 10th career in passes intercepted percentage (2.3%)
  • Sixth active and 12th all-time in game winning drives (33)
  • Fifth active and 14th all-time in game comebacks (25)
  • Ninth active in passing touchdown percentage (4.7%)
  • Eighth active in total offense (36,903)

Haters and skeptics are entitled to continue doubting Matt Ryan’s status as an elite quarterback, but they risk looking silly and losing credibility in the process.

The days of wondering if Ryan belongs in conversations about the best NFL quarterbacks in history are long over, and Super Bowl or not, that fact doesn’t change going forward.

Written by 

Blake Silvers is an editor at the Rome News-Tribune, and a contributor at Fansided. His work frequently appears on FoxSports.com, and he has also written for Bleacher Report in the past.