Matt Ryan's Fantasy Impact on the Colts

Mar 23, 2022
Matt Ryan's Fantasy Impact on the Colts

On March 21, the Indianapolis Colts traded a third-round pick to the Atlanta Falcons in exchange for quarterback Matt Ryan. After 14 seasons as the Falcons’ starter, Ryan will replace recently traded Carson Wentz as the signal-caller for the Colts. The fantasy impact for Indianapolis will largely depend on whether the Colts tailor an offense for Ryan or Ryan adjusts to Indy’s method. In Atlanta, Ryan typically operated a pass-first offense while the Colts slanted more towards the run in 2021.


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The Evolution of Matt Ryan

After being drafted third overall in the 2008 Draft, Ryan’s career got off to a successful, albeit modest start, never throwing for at least 30 touchdowns in a season in his first four years and barely scratching the fantasy QB1 surface. In 2011, Atlanta brought in Dirk Koetter as their offensive coordinator. That hire would kick off an era where Ryan led one of the most pass-heavy offenses in the league over the last decade and change.

Matt Ryan Neutral Passing Rate, 2008–2021
Year Team Pass % in Neutral Game Script Rank
2008 ATL 45.4% 30
2009 ATL 56.1% 14
2010 ATL 55.6% 12
2011 ATL 54.1% 18
2012 ATL 64.1% 1
2013 ATL 64.6% 2
2014 ATL 63.6% 1
2015 ATL 59.3% 13
2016 ATL 60.5% 8
2017 ATL 54.8% 19
2018 ATL 64.0% 5
2019 ATL 64.3% 3
2020 ATL 62.3% 4
2021 ATL 59.2% 13
AVG 59.1% 10

Whether it was Koetter, Kyle Shannahan, or Steve Sarkisian on the headset, the Falcons have let Ryan chuck the rock mostly at will. That approach, however, has resulted in one of the most volatile year-to-year fantasy quarterbacks in recent history. While Ryan has finished as a QB1 in terms of fantasy points per game six times since 2012—with four top-seven finishes and a pair of top-three seasons—he’s also had four campaigns where he hasn’t even been a high-end QB2, including a QB26 finish in 2021.

Matt Ryan Fantasy Finishes, 2008–2021
Year Age G GS Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TD TD% Int Int% Y/A AY/A Y/G FP/G Rank
2008 23 16 16 265 434 61.1 3440 16 3.7 11 2.5 7.9 7.5 215.0 12.8 19
2009 24 14 14 263 451 58.3 2916 22 4.9 14 3.1 6.5 6.0 208.3 14.1 18
2010 25 16 16 357 571 62.5 3705 28 4.9 9 1.6 6.5 6.8 231.6 16.1 12
2011 26 16 16 347 566 61.3 4177 29 5.1 12 2.1 7.4 7.5 261.1 17.8 9
2012 27 16 16 422 615 68.6 4719 32 5.2 14 2.3 7.7 7.7 294.9 19.9 7
2013 28 16 16 439 651 67.4 4515 26 4.0 17 2.6 6.9 6.6 282.2 16.6 18
2014 29 16 16 415 628 66.1 4694 28 4.5 14 2.2 7.5 7.4 293.4 18.5 7
2015 30 16 16 407 614 66.3 4591 21 3.4 16 2.6 7.5 7.0 286.9 15.5 26
2016 31 16 16 373 534 69.9 4944 38 7.1 7 1.3 9.3 10.1 309.0 22.0 2
2017 32 16 16 342 529 64.7 4095 20 3.8 12 2.3 7.7 7.5 255.9 15.0 19
2018 33 16 16 422 608 69.4 4924 35 5.8 7 1.2 8.1 8.7 307.8 21.9 3
2019 34 15 15 408 616 66.2 4466 26 4.2 14 2.3 7.3 7.1 297.7 18.6 10
2020 35 16 16 407 626 65.0 4581 26 4.2 11 1.8 7.3 7.4 286.3 18.3 12
2021 36 17 17 375 560 67.0 3968 20 3.6 12 2.1 7.1 6.8 233.4 13.7 26

Although Ryan’s individual results have been a roller coaster, one constant in Ryan’s career has been his ability to support high-end fantasy wide receivers and tight ends.



How Matt Ryan’s Pass-Catchers Have Fared in Fantasy

Since Ryan’s rookie season, three individual wide receivers have combined for 14 half-PPR WR1 fantasy campaigns with eight instances of a receiver finishing in the top six at his position with Ryan as their quarterback. Additionally, Ryan has helped orchestrate eight TE1 seasons which include five top-six finishes and a pair of top-three seasons.

WR and TE Fantasy Starters With Matt Ryan, 2008–2021
Player Year Pos G GS Tgts Tgts/G Rec Yds TD .5 PPR .5 PPR/G .5 PPR/G Rank
Julio Jones 2015 WR 16 16 203 12.7 136 1871 8 307.1 19.2 2
Roddy White 2010 WR 16 16 179 11.2 115 1389 10 258.7 16.2 3
Calvin Ridley 2020 WR 15 15 143 9.5 90 1374 9 236.5 15.8 4
Julio Jones 2019 WR 15 15 157 10.5 99 1394 6 224.6 15.0 4
Julio Jones 2016 WR 14 14 129 9.2 83 1409 6 218.4 15.6 4
Julio Jones 2018 WR 16 16 170 10.6 113 1677 8 269.4 16.8 5
Julio Jones 2017 WR 16 16 148 9.3 88 1444 3 207.9 13.0 6
Julio Jones 2014 WR 15 15 163 10.9 104 1593 6 245.4 16.4 6
Roddy White 2011 WR 16 16 180 11.3 100 1296 8 227.6 14.2 7
Roddy White 2008 WR 16 15 148 9.3 88 1382 7 220.6 13.8 8
Roddy White 2009 WR 16 16 165 10.3 85 1153 11 224.0 14.0 9
Roddy White 2012 WR 16 15 142 8.9 92 1351 7 223.1 13.9 11
Julio Jones 2011 WR 13 13 95 7.3 54 959 8 174.5 13.4 11
Julio Jones 2012 WR 16 15 128 8.0 79 1198 10 222.3 13.9 12
Julio Jones 2020 WR 9 9 68 7.6 51 771 3 120.6 13.4 13
Calvin Ridley 2019 WR 13 10 93 7.2 63 866 7 165.5 12.7 16
Roddy White 2014 WR 14 14 125 8.9 80 921 7 172.1 12.3 17
Calvin Ridley 2018 WR 16 5 92 5.8 64 821 10 174.8 10.9 26
Calvin Ridley 2021 WR 5 5 52 10.4 31 281 2 55.6 11.1 29
Harry Douglas 2013 WR 16 11 132 8.3 85 1067 2 157.2 9.8 31
Mohamed Sanu 2017 WR 15 15 96 6.4 67 703 5 140.8 9.4 32
Roddy White 2013 WR 13 13 97 7.5 63 711 3 118.6 9.1 36
Tony Gonzalez 2012 TE 16 16 124 7.8 93 930 8 187.5 11.7 3
Austin Hooper 2019 TE 13 10 97 7.5 75 787 6 152.2 11.7 3
Tony Gonzalez 2009 TE 16 16 134 8.4 83 867 6 164.2 10.3 5
Tony Gonzalez 2011 TE 16 16 116 7.3 80 875 7 169.5 10.6 5
Tony Gonzalez 2010 TE 16 16 108 6.8 70 656 6 136.6 8.5 6
Tony Gonzalez 2013 TE 16 16 121 7.6 83 859 8 173.7 10.9 7
Austin Hooper 2018 TE 16 7 88 5.5 71 660 4 125.5 7.8 9
Kyle Pitts 2021 TE 17 15 110 6.5 68 1026 1 142.6 8.4 12

Of course, having talent such as Roddy White, Julio Jones, and Tony Gonzalez to throw to helps but Ryan’s ability to drop back and throw it 600 times per season has helped his supporting cast as well. In addition to a multitude of plug-and-play fantasy players that have caught passes from Ryan, Atlanta has produced another eight receivers that finished as WR3s or better in fantasy. Given his history as a high-volume passer, it’s been reasonable for Ryan to have as many as three fantasy-relevant pass-catchers at almost any point in his career.

How Matt Ryan’s Past Translates to the Colts’ Present

There are a couple of red flags that suggest Ryan won’t be as pass-happy in Indianapolis as he was in Atlanta.

One primary concern is that Ryan’s efficiency has consistently waned in recent years and that finally resulted in a drop in volume in 2021, albeit with a new playcaller. After peaking at 10.1 adjusted yards per attempt in 2016, that metric steadily declined to sub-7.0 last season for just the fourth time in Ryan’s career and the first time since 2013. Even with the 17th game added to the schedule in 2021, Ryan threw fewer than 600 times for the first time in four seasons.

In terms of efficiency and volume, Ryan’s 2021 was actually quite similar to what Wentz produced for the Colts last season. With Wentz, Indianapolis ranked in the top half of the league in rushing rate in neutral game script, while finishing last in neutral pace. Given Ryan’s age and his recent dip in production along with a limited pass-catching corps in Indy, it seems much more likely that Frank Reich leans heavily on his star running back than try and recreate the passing attacks that Ryan led in the mid-to-late 2010s.

This isn’t to say that Ryan and the Colts won’t offer each other some mutual benefits. Ryan gets a slight upgrade in protection (Colts ranked 13th in adjusted sack rate allowed last season; Falcons ranked 20th) and should see more positive game script in 2022 on a team with divisional title aspirations. Although Ryan’s efficiency has decreased in recent seasons, he still offers a potential upgrade over Wentz in terms of accuracy—Ryan ranked seventh in on-target rate last season (SportsInfoSolutions), compared to 25th for Wentz with both posting similar average throw depths.

The biggest beneficiary of Ryan’s arrival figures to be Michael Pittman Jr. The second-year receiver broke out in 2021 with a half-PPR WR19 finish but his volume was erratic. Pittman had five games with double-digit targets but also had six contests where he was thrown at five or fewer times. With Ryan’s history of zeroing in on his favorite receiver(s)—Ryan has targeted a specific player on at least 25% of passes in a season 11 times—it’s reasonable to expect Pittman to maintain the 26% target share that he saw last year, but with more consistency on a game-to-game basis. If Ryan can at least maintain his accuracy, Pittman has high-end WR2 upside and should easily settle in as a fantasy starter in all formats.

The Bottom Line

  • Matt Ryan has historically thrown at one of the highest rates in the league but has struggled to maintain high-level efficiency on a year-to-year basis.
  • Ryan’s recent dip in production combined with a move to one of the best rushing teams in the league suggests Ryan will throw as little as he did in 2021, and maybe even less.
  • Ryan is undraftable in traditional redraft formats and will be unappealing as a streamer except in the absolute best matchups since he offers no rushing upside. In best ball, Ryan is a low-upside QB2/QB3 but does offer stability as a likely every-week starter. As with most late-round best ball quarterbacks, he is best utilized when drafted to complete a team stack.
  • With the offense likely still running through Jonathan Taylor, Ryan’s arrival does nothing to drop Taylor’s value as a high-end first-round fantasy pick.
  • Michael Pittman Jr. was in trouble of seeing his stock tumble if Indianapolis brought in an incapable quarterback. Ryan’s history of supporting top-tier fantasy pass-catchers gives Pittman some built-in upside on his current WR27 ADP. Improving on his WR19 finish from last season is well within Pittman’s range of outcomes and his target volume on a game-to-game basis should be more consistent than it was in 2021.
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