NFL Soup|Tuesday, May 21, 2013

2013 Fantasy Football Draft Strategy: Should You Draft Matt Ryan or Tom Brady? 

We’re now just over a week from opening night of the 2013 NFL regular season, which means that we’re right in the middle of fantasy football draft season, as well. We here at NFL Soup are doing all we can to get you prepared to dominate your league, and we’ll be continuing to offer similarly unique content throughout the season.

Fantasy versus is one of the weekly articles we’ll be rolling out, but we figured we’d start with a few preseason editions in case you’re facing a tough call in your draft with a couple of players rated very similarly. Our first debate? New England Patriots QB Tom Brady and Atlanta Falcons QB Matt Ryan.

Both Brady and Ryan rank amongst the league’s elite at the position, without question, but which is the more desirable fantasy starter for you? Kevin Roberts and I will each make the case for one of them, and it’s up to you to decide which argument is more convincing.

So, let the games begin.

The Case for Matt Ryan (by Taylor Smith)

Matt Ryan has been Atlanta’s starter since being drafted third overall out of Boston College in 2008, and, at 28, he’s still getting better. Excluding the 2009 season in which he was limited to just 14 games due to injury, Ryan’s numbers have improved on a yearly basis across-the-board. In 2012, Ryan posted career-highs in completion percentage (over 68 percent), yardage (4,719), touchdowns (32) and even rushing yards (141). The Falcons have become a more and more pass-happy offense through his five seasons thus far, and Ryan’s 615 attempts last year were by far the most of his career.

In every year he’s been in Atlanta, Ryan has had one of the league’s most useless pass-catching running backs playing in his backfield in Michael Turner. Turner’s 19 receptions in 2012 were the most he had in any of his five seasons with the Falcons. He also ran for a miserable 3.6 yards-per-carry, so it’s not like opposing defenses were really having to ratchet things up in order to stifle the Falcons’ rushing attack, allowing them to key-in more on the passing game. Now, Steven Jackson is in town to replace Turner. To compare, Jackson caught 38 passes in 2012 alone, which is just 10 fewer than Turner had in his last three years combined. The presence of a legitimate pass-catching option out of the backfield is a luxury Ryan has never had, and it could prove invaluable to the Falcons’ offense.

Jackson is very solid, but the real weapons to be excited about are the receivers. Julio Jones and Roddy White combine to form what is arguably the NFL’s most potent wide receiver duo. While the young and rising Jones is getting most of the attention, White is still as steady as they come. He’s caught at least 82 passes for at least 1,150 yards in each season since 2007, and he’s able to feast on the attention drawn by the more explosive Jones. I haven’t even mentioned Tony Gonzalez yet. Gonzalez is a top-five fantasy tight end year-in and year-out, and with the great physical condition in which he keeps himself, there’s no reason to think he’ll slow down much even at 37 .

Very few teams have the kind of offensive arsenal afforded to Matt Ryan with the Falcons. With all of the question marks surrounding the Patriots’ skill positions heading into this season, I’d be more comfortable opting for the still-improving Matt Ryan and his boatload of toys as my fantasy starter in 2013.

 The Case for Tom Brady (by Kevin Roberts)

I don’t really have an argument to go against Ryan, as he’s a heck of a quarterback and with truly elite weapons all around him, he should continue his trend of getting better and better with each passing season. With that said, he’s simply not on Brady’s level.

In fact, Brady finished with over 340 fantasy points in 2012, with Ryan topping out at just over 304. And that was Ryan’s all-time best season across the board. To me, that’s the writing on the wall right there. In his best season, Ryan couldn’t top Brady.

Consider that Brady also had to go to work without Rob Gronkowski for five games, Aaron Hernandez for six others and Brandon Lloyd as an inconsistent #2, it’s pretty amazing Brady did what he did.

But that’s just Brady. He’s been doing the same thing for three straight years now, and you could probably call it five straight had he not torn his ACL in week one back in 2008.

In fact, if you put his averages of five of the last six years into that 2008 campaign, Brady hasn’t dipped below 3,900 passing yards or 28 touchdowns at any point. In fact, he did both just once, and otherwise has been good for 4,300+ passing yards and 34+ passing scores just about every year.

You can call it the system or give mad props to Brady’s weapons, but the reality is, even before he exploded with Randy Moss back in 2007 (remember, 50 touchdowns, and all), he was still putting up 24-28 touchdowns and 3,500+ yards every year despite playing with pions like Deion Branch and David Givens.

In other words, Brady and the New England Patriots system have been on a whole new level for about six years now, and there’s little in the way of a seventh straight elite season.

Oh, but then there’s the personnel. Yes, Wes Welker, Lloyd, Danny Woodhead and Aaron Hernandez are all gone. And Gronk isn’t 100% and may not be for a few weeks.

However, Shane Vereen is replacing the departed Woodhead and he’s better. He’s even replacing Hernandez to a certain degree as a move option in the offense, which should help alleviate that loss.

Then there’s free agent acquisition Danny Amendola, who is arguably the more complete talent when compared to Welker. He’s more explosive, has better size, and has shown the ability to make more plays down the field. He has been labeled as an injury-prone player, which could be a problem, but if he can stay healthy, the drop-off out of the slot might not even be noticeable. Heck, there might even be improvement there.

Gronk may miss some time, I get it. But undrafted rookie Zach Sudfeld has even better size, soft hands, and underrated athleticism. He may not be a definite long-term solution, but if Gronk is only out 2-3 weeks, he’ll certainly help the Patriots get by. Add in impressive undrafted rookie Kenbrell Thompkins and 2013 draft picks Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce, and the Patriots are young and more explosive from a talent perspective at wide receiver than they’ve been in a long time.

Don’t forget Julian Edelman, either, who would be a fine backup option should Amendola ever go down for any period of time.

But the root of all of this is the Patriot Way, and of course, Tom Brady simply being Tom Terrific.

The main thing I keep going back to is this: Back in 2010, when the Pats cut ties with Randy Moss, they relied heavily on two rookie tight ends to aid their passing attack. They were the immensely talented Gronkowski and Hernandez, and they teamed up to help Brady hit 3,900 yards and 36 touchdowns (just four picks, too!).

The point isn’t what Brady’s numbers were with those guys, but what he did with two wet behind the ears rookies. He made them stars, and they worked perfectly within the offense to make Brady look good, too.

Why should 2013 be any different for Brady? He’s a precise passer who relies on timing and accuracy. If the pass protection is there, he can make anyone look like a star.

It just turns out that this year, at least in the early going, it’s going to be relative unknowns like Sudfeld and Thompkins, as well as Amendola and Vereen. And while everyone else is a prisoner of the moment and of circumstance, I’m going to grab Brady and never look back.

Who do you believe? Comment below who you think the better quarterback will be or hit us up on Twitter @NFLSoupTaylor and @NFLSoupKevin!

About the author: Taylor Smith

Taylor Smith has been with NFL Soup since its inception, and is a jack of all trades, helping with breaking news, fantasy football advice and NFL Draft coverage. Smith also heads NFL Soup’s live chats and radio shows. Taylor also contributes content to our sister sites, MLB Soup, NBA Soup and NBA Water Cooler. He lives in San Diego, where he also is a writer for the L.A. Clippers. Follow him on Twitter @NFLSoupTaylor.

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