Matt Ryan among NFL’s best deep passers

The 2020 football season is still a ways away, but there are enough known factors with each NFL team that predictions can start being pieced together. ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) is one such prediction model, and it has offered its predictions on which teams will make the postseason this year and how the standings will shake out.

It does not place the Falcons in the former category, giving Atlanta just a 31-percent chance to reach the playoffs. ESPN’s FPI ranks the Falcons No. 18 among the league’s 32 teams and projects 7.5 wins for Atlanta. The model has two NFC South teams ranked in its top 10 – the New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The Saints are projected to reach 10.2 wins and have an 83-percent chance to reach the playoffs, while the Buccaneers have a 63-percent chance to play past the regular season and a projected to reach 9.1 wins.

If Atlanta is going to buck the FPI projections, it will need to play well right out of the gate and finish strong in one of the toughest divisions in the NFL.

To see the rest of ESPN’s projections, click here.

Here are some other articles for Falcons fans to check out today:

NFL.com: NFL’s top 10 deep passers

As is the case with many aspects of his play, Matt Ryan doesn’t get the credit he deserves for his ability to throw the ball downfield. Even a portion of Falcons fans like to criticize Ryan for, what they believe, is a weak arm. Well, the stats have a different story to tell.

NFL.com writer Nick Shook, using Next Gen Stats, listed the 10 best deep passers from the 2019 season. The primary metric used in his piece is completion percentage above expectation, but there were several other factors weighed as well. In this particular ranking, Ryan measured out as the ninth-best deep passer in the league last season.

“Welcome to the weeds. Some quarterbacks had higher passer ratings on deep passes, but the completion percentage above expectation still reigns supreme here, despite Ryan’s negative TD-to-INT ratio. Look, it wasn’t the best campaign for the Falcons, but Ryan still gave it his best, dropping six DIMES while throwing into tight windows on 34.5 percent of his deep attempts. That might have been what produced his five interceptions, of course, but the positive completion percentage means he was still more effective going deep than he wasn’t, even when incomplete stats like interceptions tell a different story. Don’t overlook his pressure percentage of 32.7, either.”

To see the rest of Shook’s list, click here.

Ryan earned the first NFL MVP Award in franchise history after a stellar 2016 campaign, but he’s played at a very similar level since that season. In fact, No quarterback in the league has topped Ryan’s 18,429 passing yards since 2016, and his 119 touchdown passes are tied with Drew Brees for second most in that time, just behind Russell Wilson’s 121.

Ryan also has the most completions in the NFL since the 2016 season – 43 ahead of Brees, who is second in that metric – and he has the fifth-best completion percentage as well.

Yet despite that sustained high level of play, CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora does not believe Ryan is a “Bona Fide Franchise Quarterback.” In his recent revisiting of NFL quarterback tiers, La Canfora has the following players listed as franchise quarterbacks: Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, Russell Wilson, Deshaun Watson, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Carson Wentz and Ben Roethlisberger.

He has Ryan listed on the tier below in what he calls, “Top Pros, Proven Winners.”

“Ryan isn’t getting any younger either, and the cast around him is not what it once was,” La Canfora writes. “At his price point, Ryan just sneaks into the top-10.”

It’s hard to understand what role money plays in La Canfora’s reasoning, but that can be set aside. There’s no arguing with probably half of his top-tier group, but the inclusions of Watson, Wentz and Roethlisberger at this point raise some eyebrows. Watson is undoubtedly a good player, but he’s yet to put together the type of statistical resume or on-field success that Ryan has. Wentz looked well on his way to an MVP season of his own in 2017, but he’s yet to regain that level of play due to injury. And Roethlisberger’s best days are far behind him, and he missed most of last year with an injury of his own.

That Ryan is considered a cut below those players is a bit of a head-scratcher. Then again, La Canfora did have Cam Newton as a franchise quarterback in every edition of this list, dating back to 2016, prior to this recent edition. He has never, by the way, included Ryan in that top group – even the year after Ryan’s MVP season.

You have to wonder if something else is in play here.

To see the rest of La Canfora’s quarterback tiers and how it all shakes out, click here.

NFL.com: Most underappreciated players in NFC

During his time with the Falcons, Grady Jarrett has developed into one of the best interior defensive linemen in the NFL. He was finally rewarded for his play in 2019 with his first trip to the Pro Bowl, and Jarrett’s future looks bright.

Falcons fans don’t need any explanation of just how good Jarrett is on a snap-by-snap basis, but he still isn’t often in the same national conversation as some other top defensive tackles like Aaron Donald or Fletcher Cox. Perhaps that’s why NFL Network analytics expert Cynthia Frelund named Jarrett as the most underappreciated player on the Falcons’ roster.

“Jarrett’s ability to stop the run made him an extremely efficient member of the Falcons’ defense, as he tied for the NFL lead with 20 run stuffs last season (per Next Gen Stats),” Frelund writes. “My spatial models show that his ability to pressure opposing quarterbacks ranked fifth (in pressure-rate percentage) among interior defenders.”

Now an important leader both on and off the field for the Falcons, Jarrett will need to play a vital role for the defense if Atlanta is to make another trip to the postseason in 2020.

To see the rest of the NFC players who Frelund believes are underrated, click here.

NFL.com: Elite pass-catchers from 2019 season

Calvin Ridley was on pace for his first 1,000-yard season before an abdominal injury ended his season with three games remaining. Prior to that injury, however, the second-year receiver was blossoming and forming a very potent duo for the Falcons opposite of Julio Jones.

No NFL fan needs a reminder of just how talented Jones is, but Ridley’s ascension last season might have been a bit under the radar, nationally. Therefore, it’s heartening to see him included in Nick Shook’s piece about the league’s top pass-catchers in the NFL in 2019.

Shook used a variety of metrics to create this list, but his defining stat appears to be “catch rate above expectation,” which is simply the difference between a player’s catch rate last season compared to his expected catch rate, calculated by Next Gen Stats.

In Ridley’s case, he earned the fifth spot on Shook’s list with a plus-8.7-percent difference between his actual catch rate and his expected catch rate. This put him ahead of players like Amari Cooper, George Kittle and Emmanuel Sanders.

“A very intriguing detail in Ridley’s line: In a receiving corps that features Julio Jones, Ridley saw double teams more often than anyone else in this group (at a rate of 5.4%),” Shook writes. “He also enjoyed a greater cushion than the rest at an average of 6.6 yards at time of snap. Aware of Ridley’s 4.43 speed, teams rarely pressed him, instead content to cover him with numbers while also trying to keep his superstar teammate from destroying them. Matt Ryan will probably keep throwing to Ridley plenty, as the Atlanta quarterbacks compiled a 113.5 passer rating when targeting him. The Falcons will hope that produces more wins in 2020 than it did in 2019.”

To see the rest of Shook’s list of top pass-catchers from last season, click here.

ESPN: Alex Mack takes on virtual coaching role

This NFL offseason will likely expose those teams who have quality in-house leadership amongst its players and those who don’t. Fortunately, the Falcons have players like Alex Mack who is capable of lending a helping hand to his fellow offensive linemen during these virtual classes. A six-time Pro Bowler, Mack is one of the smartest players on the Falcons’ roster and a student of the game in every sense. With a lot of youth on Atlanta’s offensive line, Mack’s experience is crucial at times like this.

“I think it’s just harder for the linemen to group up, whenever that’s safe to do so, and work on the things that they need to work on,” Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said. “That’s an easier thing to do at the appropriate time for quarterbacks and receivers than it is for O-linemen. But Alex as a leader in the meetings, like when I sit in on O-line meetings right now, to see Alex, that’s what he’s done in the NFL and the enthusiasm for which he approaches virtual meetings in May is impressive.”

Vaughn McClure wrote in greater detail about Mack’s involvement with the offensive line this offseason for ESPN, which you can read here.

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