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HISTORY WILL BE KIND TO MATT RYAN'S 2008 season (16 touchdowns and 3,440 passing yards). Over the last 30 years only Peyton Manning (26 TDs, 3,739 yards in '98), Jim Kelly (22 TDs, 3,593 yards in '86) and Dan Marino (20 touchdowns, 2,210 yards in '83) enjoyed better rookie campaigns in fantasy terms. And then there's the 62-yard touchdown strike to Michael Jenkins in Week 1—probably the greatest first pass by an NFL rookie.
But what about Year Two of the Ryan Express? Will he encounter the proverbial sophomore slump while dealing with the Falcons' heightened expectations? Will he have trouble taking a quantum leap on the progression curve? Or is there absolutely no chance for fantasy failure, given the combined skills of Michael Turner, Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez, Jerious Norwood and Jenkins?
Of the NFL's top 10 fantasy quarterbacks with two years' worth of starts—Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Jay Cutler, Donovan McNabb, Carson Palmer, Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, Tony Romo and Kurt Warner—only Roethlisberger ('05 with Steelers) and Brees ('03, Chargers) failed to throw 20 or more touchdowns in their second years as starters. Barring injury, Ryan should ascend from 16 to 20.
Regarding total offense, only Manning and Romo broke the 4,000 mark in their second year. Ryan (3,544 total yards in '08) has a strong chance of making the modest leap into that elite club. Here's why.
In the name of self-preservation, Turner cannot tote the rock as many times as he did last season. He went from 71 carries with San Diego two years ago to 376 with Atlanta in '08. Norwood, the No. 2 back, should get approximately 100 carries and catch between 45 to 50 balls, thereby adding to Ryan's passing totals.
With 88 catches, 1,382 yards and seven touchdowns last year, White asserted himself as a top 10 fantasy receiver. This season he has the capacity for 95 receptions and 1,400 yards, but he may not get 10 touchdowns, due to the arrival of Gonzalez from Kansas City.
Gonzalez has been consistent throughout his Hall of Fame-caliber career. Since 2003 he's had three 95-catch seasons, three 1,050-yard-plus campaigns and two years of at least seven touchdowns. With Atlanta he has the potential for 85 catches, 1,000 yards and 10 scores given that he'll rarely see double coverage with White and Turner on the field.
"Tony's arrival will make an instant impact not only on the offensive side of the ball but on the overall team in general," Ryan says. "I feel privileged to be throwing the ball to a future Hall of Famer, and I'm anxious to get on the field to start working with him."
Ryan possesses a far greater desire to win football games than to rack up monster statistics. But great stats and victories often go hand in hand, so it's a win-win for everyone.