NFC South top 25: No. 9

July, 10, 2012
7/10/12
7:44
AM ET
We continue our series of my projected top 25 players in the NFC South for the 2012 season with No. 9:

Matt Ryan, quarterback, Atlanta

What he did in 2011: He had his best statistical season with 29 touchdown passes and 4,177 yards. He did all that while being sacked a career-high 26 times and that number could have been significantly higher if Ryan hadn’t sidestepped some hits and thrown the ball away. Ryan led the Falcons to their fourth consecutive winning season.

Why he’s No. 9 in 2012: The knock on Ryan is he has yet to win in the postseason. You can’t argue that because it’s fact. But I do think Ryan’s postseason drought will end, probably this year. He’s a talented quarterback that works hard, has all the intangibles and has a great supporting cast at the skill positions. The Falcons have made some moves that should help their offensive line and that should allow Ryan more time to find receivers open downfield. Plus, the addition of new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter could mark a huge turning point in Ryan’s career. Ryan fared well under previous coordinator Mike Mularkey, but I’m not so sure the coordinator always put the quarterback in the best situations possible. I also don’t think Mularkey consistently let Ryan do the things he does best. Koetter has a reputation for being more creative and flexible than Mularkey and that’s exactly what Ryan needs. He’s on the cusp of being an elite quarterback. He just needs to be allowed to take the gloves off -- and run the no-huddle offense the majority of the time.

Pat Yasinskas | email

ESPN Tampa Bay Buccaneers reporter

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