Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
With an abundance of athletic weapons at his disposal and a coaching staff that seems to be itching to install the league's next top-flight passing offense, it's no wonder it's so difficult to find a fantasy owner who doesn't like Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan this season.
But at his current average draft position (ADP)? No thanks.
In the past month, the Ryan speculation has turned his ADP Index into something resembling the Nasdaq Composite during the dot-com boom of the late 1990s. As a result, Ryan has gone from an underrated value buy to someone who simply costs too much.
I'm not saying it isn't feasible that Ryan, also known as "Matty Ice" for his cool under pressure, exceeds his career highs in all passing categories this season. That's entirely possible and maybe even probable. But at a 4.02 ADP (up from 7.02 on Aug. 1), Ryan is going sixth among QBs, one round ahead of Michael Vick and Eli Manning, nearly two full rounds ahead of Peyton Manning, nearly three ahead of Tony Romo and exactly three ahead of Philip Rivers.
The perception is that the Falcons are going to open up the playbook this season and become a pass-first team, which explains Michael Turner's fall to the late third round. However, it's a fallacy that the Falcons were a run-heavy team in 2011. What they were was a Michael Turner-heavy team when running the ball and a run-first team on first downs.
Overall, however, the Falcons ranked 11th overall in the NFL with 453 rushes, while placing fourth in the NFL with 594 passing attempts, 566 of them by Ryan.
I really don't see Ryan exceeding 600 passing attempts in 2012, regardless of how many passing weapons the team has. The Falcons still have Turner, and they also want to implement Jacquizz Rodgers into the offense both on the ground and through the air.
The team's new game plan will likely have more of an effect on Turner than Ryan. Of the team's 453 runs last season, a whopping 301 went to Turner. That's 66 percent. Rodgers was second with 57 rushes.
Atlanta also ran the ball 271 times on first down, compared to 182 on all other downs combined. So while we may see the Falcons limit Turner's touches in favor of Rodgers and throw more on first down, it likely won't result in many more passing attempts overall than they had last season.
That means Ryan is going to have to improve in the two areas he can most directly control: completion percentage and yards per attempt. Eli Manning threw just 23 more passes than Ryan last season and completed a similar percentage, but Manning threw for 756 more yards due to an 8.4 yards-per- attempt average (compared to Ryan's 7.4).
The presence of the speedy Julio Jones helped Ryan's YPA last season, but it's going to be difficult for Jones to exceed or even duplicate the 17.8 YPC he posted last season if he receives more targets and catches 20 or 30 more passes than the 54 he snared last season.
There is one category Ryan can improve in that would have a direct and immediate effect on his value: the number of touchdown passes he throws. However, Falcons coach Mike Smith has proven that he likes to punch the ball in with Turner when he gets close.
Of the 50 rushing scores Turner has in his four years with the Falcons, 38 were from five yards or closer. Even if the Falcons open up the playbook and sling the ball all over the field on early downs and between the 20s, don't expect Smith to suddenly abandon his old red zone philosophy. Turner's nose for the end zone has been a major factor in the team recording 43 wins in the four years Smith has been the team's head coach, and Smith knows it.
The presence of Roddy White, Jones, Harry Douglas, Tony Gonzalez and Rodgers will undoubtedly make the Falcons a very exciting bunch and improve Ryan's numbers, but I don't expect the improvement to match his fourth-round ADP.
The Sports Network projects Ryan to have 4,594 passing yards on 590 attempts, 32 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
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