ESPN’s QB ratings: Matthew Stafford 10th, Matt Ryan 11th

Credit: AJC

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Falcons QB Matt Ryan currently stands 10th on the NFL's list of career passing yards.

Credit: AJC

Ranking NFL quarterbacks was, for the longest time, an exercise with few surprises. The top five always was Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger – not necessarily in that order. Manning retired after the 2015 season, leaving one spot open.

Matt Ryan was usually – but not always – in the top 10. In the summer of 2016, he was No. 13 in Mike Sando's ESPN rankings. That year he was voted MVP. In the summer of 2017, he was No. 5. He was again in 2018.

Sando would break his QB rankings into tiers. In 2017, Ryan was at the bottom of Tier 1. In 2018, he was at the top of Tier 2. Debates as to whether Ryan was – to use the word I’ve come to loathe – “elite” have consumed many of our idle hours. My belief: If he’s not in the E-class, he’s close enough. You might disagree. We all can agree that he’s pretty darn good. Or so I thought.

ESPN’s quarterback rankings have returned, this time as compiled by Jeremy Fowler. There are no tiers. There’s a top 10 and then, as in college football/basketball polls, those “also receiving votes.”

Ryan also received votes. Whoa, Nellie.

He’s a solid 11th, tepid as it sounds. He received 14 top-10 votes from Fowler’s panel of “more than 50 league executives, coaches, scouts and players.” Roethlisberger was next, with eight.

Rodgers and Brees are still ensconced in the top five. Brady is not. Since the article is behind the ESPN-plus paywall, I’m reluctant to list the entire top 10 in order. I will share this, the headline being a giveaway: No. 1 is Patrick Mahomes. He just signed an extension that could be worth $503 million. That’s not a misprint. It’s the biggest contract in sports history.

The major takeaway from ESPN’s table is that five of the top 10 quarterbacks are 27 or younger. One is Carson Wentz, which I find slightly surprising. The other – at least to me, anyway – is that Matthew Stafford ranks ahead of Ryan.

Writes Fowler: “Maybe the tightest race of the position was Stafford vs. Ryan at No. 10. Ryan had slightly more top-10 votes but Stafford's average overall was higher. Expanding the voting to Ryan vs. Stafford exclusively gave Stafford the edge as well. He scares opposing teams more.”

Stafford – of Georgia, you'll recall – was the No. 1 draft pick in 2009, a year after went Ryan No. 3 overall. Stafford has made the Pro Bowl once; he has never made All-NFL. Ryan has made the Pro Bowl four times; he was All-NFL in 2016. Stafford has never presided over a playoff victory; the Falcons are 4-6 in postseason games under Ryan. In regular-season play, Stafford has engineered 28 fourth-quarter comebacks and 34 game-winning drives; Ryan's totals are 30 and 38.

Ryan has played in 40 more regular-season games. (He went nearly a decade between missed starts, of which there have been three in 12 years.) His career completion percentage is 65.4; Stafford’s is 62.5 Ryan’s yards-per-pass is 7.5; Stafford’s is 7.2. Ryan’s passer rating is 94.6; Stafford’s is 89.3. Ryan has thrown 321 touchdown passes; Stafford has thrown 246. (Ryan has also thrown 13 more interceptions.) Ryan has had Julio Jones for nine seasons; Stafford had Calvin Johnson for seven.

Maybe, probably, I’m making way too much of this. You can argue that Stafford has been the best thing about some crummy Detroit teams. (Although Johnson was, in his day, the class of NFL receivers.) But any ranking that has Stafford – or Wentz – ahead of Ryan gets my attention. It also makes me say, “Really?”

Ryan is 35 to Stafford’s 32. ESPN’s top 10 includes three quarterbacks older than Ryan, two of whom are on the high side of 41. Stafford did have his best season, passer-rating-wise, in 2019, but he missed the Lions’ final eight games with a back injury. Last season was among Ryan’s lesser ones, though he managed 4,466 yards passing. Stafford hasn’t topped that since 2013.

Maybe, possibly, I’m falling into the trap of believing what I see most. The last time I saw Stafford in person was Oct. 26, 2014, in London. (The Falcons blew a 21-0 halftime lead; Ryan threw maybe his worst interception.) I see Ryan all the time. I can attest that he threw a few bad interceptions last year, too. I can accept someone thinking he’s not the NFL’s best quarterback, even among its five best. I have a hard time imagining there are 10 better.