Why Matt Ryan is the 2016 NFL MVP – By the Numbers

By Frank Coppola

In one of the most tightly contested MVP races in recent history, the 2016 NFL MVP Award belongs to Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, and the numbers prove it.  

If I could cast my vote for the Top 5 candidates, the list would go as follows:

  1. Matt Ryan (Quarterback, Atlanta Falcons)

Matt Ryan finished the 2016 season with an 11-5 record (68.8%) and ranked in the Top 3 of every major passing category: completion percentage, passing yards, passing touchdowns, yards per attempt, passing yards per game, and passer rating.  He led the #1 scoring offense (33.8 points per game) and accounted for 76.1% of the Falcons’ total offensive yards.  He led his team to an NFC South title and a #2 seed in the playoffs while recording career-best numbers and being selected as a First-Team All-Pro for the first time.

  1.   Tom Brady (Quarterback, New England Patriots)

Tom Brady missed the first quarter of the season on a 4-game suspension, which he served as punishment for the infamous 2015 “Deflategate” AFC Championship Game.  Entering the season in Week 5 against the Cleveland Browns, Brady came out strong and finished the season with the best touchdown to interception ratio in NFL history, throwing 28 touchdowns to only 2 interceptions.  Although his season passing totals were diminished due to his early absence, he proved his value, posting Top 5 numbers in completion percentage, average yards per attempt, average yards per game, and passer rating.  He also finished with the best win percentage as a starter at 11-1 (91.7%), earning a #1 seed and home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

  1.   Aaron Rodgers (Quarterback, Green Bay Packers)

After a sluggish 4-6 start, Aaron Rodgers turned the Green Bay Packers’ season around after famously stating that his team would “Run the Table” and win every remaining game on their schedule.  He kept his promise, finishing the regular season with six straight victories and posting a league-best 15 touchdown passes to 0 interceptions during that time span.  He ended the year with the most touchdown passes among quarterbacks (40) and led the Packers to a division title and the #4 seed in the playoffs, despite the team’s slow start to the year.  He also contributed over 300 yards rushing with 4 rushing touchdowns, showing his continued versatility and ability to make plays running the ball.

  1.   Ezekiel Elliot (Running Back, Dallas Cowboys)

Ezekiel Elliot had one of the most memorable and impressive rookie seasons in recent history.  Elliot led the NFL in rushing yards (1,631) and led the Cowboys to an NFC East title and the #1 seed in the playoffs.  He was second in the league among non-quarterbacks in average total yards per game (132.9), third in total touchdowns (16), and first in average yards per carry (5.1).  Elliot is often criticized for benefiting from an offensive line that featured three All-Pro players. However his consistency and dominant productivity proves that he is worthy of MVP contention.

  1.   David Johnson (Running Back, Arizona Cardinals)

In his second career season in the NFL, David Johnson had a prolific year as the full-time starter in Arizona.  He led the league in total yards from scrimmage and total touchdowns among non-quarterbacks with 2,118 and 20 respectively, while accounting for 36.1% of his team’s total offensive yards.  The main argument against Johnson’s MVP case is his team’s poor record (7-8-1) and the Cardinals’ inability to make a playoff appearance.  Had Arizona finished the season with a stronger overall record, he could have potentially contended more for the 2016 MVP Award.


Top 3: Comparison By the Numbers

Matt Ryan is the only quarterback to finish with a Top 3 ranking in the following six major passing categories: completion percentage, passing yards, passing touchdowns, average yards per attempt, average passing yards per game, and passer rating.  His overall ranking in each of these categories as compared to Brady and Rodgers are shown below:

Category Matt Ryan Tom Brady Aaron Rodgers
Completion % 3 5 9
Passing Yards 2 20 4
Passing TD 2 7 1
Avg. Yards/Attempt 1 2 14
Avg. Yards/Game 2 4 7
Passer Rating 1 2 4

Matt Ryan’s ability to produce quality numbers across all passing categories led to his #1 ranking in passer rating (117.1).  Perhaps the stat that showed off his dominant, MVP-caliber season the most was his average yards per attempt.  He finished with a league-best 9.3 yards per passing attempt, where as Brady and Rodgers finished with only 8.2 and 7.3 respectively.  This means that every time Ryan dropped back to attempt a pass, he averaged 1.1 more yards than Brady and 2.0 more yards than Rodgers.  Although subtle, these differences accumulate over the course of each game, and Ryan proved to be the most efficient passer when throwing the football.  

He also finished Top 2 in both passing yards and passing touchdowns while maintaining the third highest completion percentage in the league, displaying his efficient production even further.  His dominance over the other quarterbacks in key passing statistics throughout the season can be seen here:

Category Matt Ryan Tom Brady Aaron Rodgers
Completion % 69.9% 67.4% 65.7%
Passing Yards 4,944 3,554 4,428
Avg. Yards/Attempt 9.3 8.2 7.3
Avg. Yards/Game 309.0 296.2 276.8
Passer Rating 117.1 112.2 104.2

Matt Ryan was also a model of consistency throughout the season.  Aaron Rodgers’ MVP case was made after his famous “Run the Table” media statement when many people within the league began to believe that he had earned the award.  However, Ryan and Brady both put up comparable numbers to Rodgers during this time span, as shown below:

Category (Games 11-16) Matt Ryan Tom Brady Aaron Rodgers
Passing Yards 1,697 1,639 1,667
Passing TD 14 12 15
Interceptions 2 1 0
Win Percentage 83.3% 100.0% 100.0%

Based on the numbers, Matt Ryan and Tom Brady both posted near-identical stats to Rodgers during his “Run the Table” end to the season.  Beyond just their passing stats, Brady’s team also finished on the same 6-0 run as the Packers, and Ryan’s team finished 5-1, only one game behind.  Although Rodgers finished the season with incredible production, he started the season (first 10 games) significantly slower than the other MVP candidates, and their numbers can be seen below:

Category (Games 1-10) Matt Ryan Tom Brady Aaron Rodgers
Passing Yards 3,247 1,915 2,761
Passing TD 24 16 25
Interceptions 5 1 7
Win Percentage 60.0% 83.3% 40.0%

Based on these stats from the first 10 games of the season, Ryan proved to have a better touchdown to interception ratio than Rodgers during this time span and threw for almost 500 more passing yards.  In addition to the pure passing numbers, Ryan’s team had a win percentage of 60% (6-4), while Rodgers’ team had a win percentage of only 40% (4-6).

Matt Ryan was a model of consistency throughout the entire season and produced at an MVP-caliber rate during every game.  Overall, Ryan was the most consistently dominant player in the league throughout this NFL season and deserves to be the 2016 NFL MVP.

Posted in NFL

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