Matt Ryan (4,515) and Philip Rivers (4,478) each threw for around 4,500 yards in 2013, but the similarities end fairly quickly after that as Rivers was a top-10 fantasy quarterback again while Ryan had a largely disappointing season with a career-high in interceptions (17). Both Rivers and Ryan will be well-regarded in fantasy football circles this year, but is one more likely to have a big season than the other?
The Case For Philip Rivers
Rivers seemed to be in serious decline after a dismal 2012 (3,606 passing yards, 26 touchdowns), but the arrival of head coach Mike McCoy and a new offensive scheme last year led to a career-best completion percentage (69.5 percent) and at least 30 passing touchdowns (32) for the first time since 2010. Rivers also threw just 11 interceptions last year, with five coming in two games.
Rivers has been very durable, starting all 16 games in eight straight seasons since becoming San Diego’s starting quarterback. Despite throwing the ball more than 35 times just three times over the final 11 games of last season, Rivers still threw for at least 250 yards or multiple touchdowns in a game 12 times.
The Case For Matt Ryan
Atlanta’s top two wide receivers were rarely on the field together and 100 percent healthy last year. Julio Jones missed the final 11 games with a broken foot, and Roddy White was at less than full strength through most of the season before finishing strongly when he was finally healthy. Having Jones and White back healthy is great news for Ryan.
The Falcons made an effort to upgrade their pass protection this offseason, using the sixth overall pick on offensive tackle Jake Matthews and signing guard Jon Asamoah in free agency. The return of left tackle Sam Baker, who missed all but four games in 2013 after injuring his left knee, should also help keep Ryan upright after he was was sacked 44 times last year.
Ryan has topped 600 pass attempts with a completion percentage over 67 percent in each of the last two seasons, and a pass-oriented Atlanta offense should remain in place for the foreseeable future.
Rivers had a great year in 2013, and better efficiency will help make him a consistent fantasy option even if a late-season trend of throwing the ball less (31.1 pass attempts per game over the final eight games) continues. Ryan’s upward trend in yardage and passing touchdowns ended last year, but with injuries thinning his supporting cast that could have been expected by season’s end.
Upside potential dictates this decision, and that makes Ryan the clear-cut choice. With healthy weapons and a better overall situation, it would not be surprising to see Ryan set new career-highs in yardage and touchdowns while finishing as a top-five fantasy quarterback this year. Rivers just doesn’t have that kind of ceiling, but he is worth drafting as a low-end QB1 if you don’t have to reach for him based on last year.