Anytime a young quarterback gets off to a nice start in his career, it's natural to start comparing him to the best in the game. At the suggestion of a reader on Twitter, I'm going to break down Matt Ryan's first three seasons, comparing them to Peyton Manning's.
It's often hard to compare Manning to quarterbacks that don't start right away, but in this case it's easy. Both Manning and Ryan started from day one.
Matt Ryan had one of the best rookie years in recent memory. Obviously, a team's record is not dependent just on the quarterback, and Ryan was massively helped by a run heavy offense. Ryan was massively effective and posted a brilliant YPA and DVOA. Young Peyton Manning took over a team with serious offensive line problems. What's most interesting is how much more often Manning threw than Ryan. Manning had to throw nearly nine times a game more than Ryan.
Manning took the leap in his second season, while Ryan battled injuries and regressed. Again, the most interesting thing about Manning is his ability to be efficient while still producing massive volume numbers. He hit 4,000 yards in his second season, but coupled it with a solid passer rating and good completion percentage.
This was Ryan's first high volume year, and it was amazing to see he and Manning completed and attempted EXACTLY the same number of passes in their third year. It's plain to see that Manning was a vastly superior quarterback, however. Ryan's Falcons had a great season, but Manning threw for 700 more yards over the same number attempts. Ryan had an excellent third year, but he didn't measure up to Manning.
First Three Years Total:
Ryan and Manning's numbers are very similar through three seasons, but that is mostly due to Ryan's spectacular rookie season. By year three, however, Ryan lagged well behind Manning.
Both players had the advantage of playing with elite wideouts and backs early in their careers. Ryan has White and Turner, while Manning had James and Harrison.
Based strictly on the numbers, if you had to pick one of the two players (foregoing all knowledge of the future), you'd take a young Peyton Manning over a young Matt Ryan. The difference isn't stark, however, and there's every reason to think that Ryan has a bright future in front of him. The Falcons have done a good job protecting him, and haven't forced him to shoulder the load the way the Colts did with Manning.
If he can take the leap to being a high volume/high efficiency thrower, Matt Ryan should stay among the NFL's elite for many years.