But not everyone loves the “upgrade.”
In a survey for The Athletic that ranked the 16 AFC teams from best to worst going into the 2022 season, an NFL executive expressed his concern about the Indianapolis offensive line, especially left tackle. The executive was also heavily critical of Ryan.
“Everyone says Matt Ryan is going to bounce back like it’s no problem, and I think Matt Ryan has a little deer-in-the-headlight complex at this stage,” the NFL executive told senior writer Mike Sando of The Athletic. “Matt Ryan is good when he has a really good receiving tight end, and I don’t think they do. Who is the receiver they have that is going to get open right away?”
On the AFC Power Rankings from The Athletic, the Colts were ranked at No. 5. Sando reported that the executive critical of Ryan and the Indianapolis offensive line voted the Colts as the ninth-best team in the AFC.
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Ryan New Quarterback for Colts
There’s quite a bit to unpack in just three sentences from that unnamed NFL executive. Let’s skip the “deer-in-the-headlights complex” and go right to the idea that Ryan is “good when he has a really good receiving tight end.”
The executive is correct — Ryan is good when he has a really good receiving tight end. The 37-year-old quarterback is also good when he doesn’t have a good receiving tight end.
Ryan won NFL MVP in 2016 with Austin Hooper as his best receiving option at tight end. Hooper was a Pro Bowler in 2018 and 2019 with the Atlanta Falcons, but in 2016, he was a rookie who posted 19 catches for 271 yards and 3 touchdowns.
The Falcons had six pass catchers, including five wide receivers, who had more yards than Hooper in 2016 when Ryan won MVP.
This isn’t to say Ryan is an MVP candidate this season. He’s a dark horse, at best, for the league’s most coveted individual trophy.
But Ryan doesn’t need a pass-catching tight end to be what the Colts want this season.
Ironically, the best pass catcher for the Falcons last year was a tight end — rookie Kyle Pitts. But that didn’t really help Ryan and the Falcons all that much. Without top wideout Calvin Ridley for all but five games and with the Atlanta defense finishing 26th in yards allowed and 29th in points allowed, the Falcons went 7-10, posting a losing record for the fourth straight year.
Without Ryan, it’s a safe bet that it wouldn’t have even been seven wins.
Colts Receivers Give Ryan a Big Target
Getting back to the NFL executive’s question, though — who is the receiver they have that is going to get open right away? Michael Pittman Jr. comes to mind. As do running backs Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines.
Pittman appears ready to emerge as a big star this fall. He posted his first 1,000-yard campaign with the inconsistent Carson Wentz behind center last year. It would be surprising not to see Pittman submit career highs again in 2022.
All offseason, the Colts have also been playing up how involved Hines will be in the offense. NFL media personality Darius Butler had a massive prediction for Hines while watching Indianapolis practice on August 17.
“He might catch 100 balls this year,” claimed Butler.
A different voter in Sando’s AFC Power Rankings survey was much more complimentary of Ryan and the Colts offense. That voter implied that if Ryan just plays within himself, the Colts can have a very good offense.
“Matt Ryan does not have to be a superstar for them to be a productive team,” the voter told Sando. “He throws such a catchable ball, an easy ball, so that a lot of those run-after-catch opportunities that were missing last year will be there.
“They have big receivers with length. You just have to put it in the radius.”
Colts Ranked No. 5 on AFC Power Rankings
NFL Power Rankings are usually intriguing, but the latest AFC-only rankings from The Athletic were particularly interesting for two reasons. First, it was based on the opinions from five anonymous NFL executives. Secondly, The Athletic not only included the average and median position for each team but also the five individual votes cast for every team.
The five executives participating in The Athletic AFC Power Rankings voted the Colts as high as the No. 4 team and as low as the No. 12 team in the conference. The only other two AFC teams with eight places between their best and worst position in voting were the Baltimore Ravens and Las Vegas Raiders.
The Tennessee Titans were the next-best ranked team in the AFC South at No. 9 overall. Only one voter ranked the Titans ahead of the Colts.