Let's be clear, Matt Ryan has always been a talented NFL quarterback, and he's no strangers to huge statistical seasons. The Atlanta Falcons quarterback recorded five 4000-yard seasons and made three Pro Bowls prior to 2016. But this year, Ryan's numbers were otherworldly.
So while this article isn't to say that Kyle Shanahan created Ryan, it is a fair argument that the San Francisco 49ers new head coach helped the signal-caller reach his MVP potential.
The quarterback threw for 4,944 yards and a staggering 38 touchdowns, both career-highs. Ryan's 9.3 yards per attempt and 117.1 quarterback rating both led the NFL. The Falcons offense (playoffs included) finished as the third-ranked scoring unit of all-time with 648 total points (the 2013 Denver Broncos own the NFL record with 664 points).
So just how much credit does Shanahan deserve in Ryan's 2016 campaign? Quite a bit, says ESPN NFL insider Field Yates.
"He helped reinvigorate the career of Matt Ryan and led him to an MVP this season," Yates said. "He certainly catapulted his play to a new level.
"When you have an offensive system that is so multiple – 13 players caught a touchdown for the Falcons during the regular season, the most in league history – that right there speaks to a system that puts players in a position to succeed."
Interceptions (red-zone turnovers specifically) was one area in particular where Ryan improved the most during his second season working with Shanahan. From 2012-15, Ryan threw at least 14 picks in each year. Many of those miscues came inside the opponent's 20-yard line.
In 2016, Ryan threw just seven interceptions, a new career-low.
"Those were essentially a thing of the past in 2016," Yates said. "So the areas that you say, 'Where did Kyle Shanahan help Matt Ryan specifically?' One of them was decision-making, because that was one area he was much better in this season compared to the season before."
Ryan himself was very complimentary of Shanahan throughout Atlanta's recent postseason run all the way to Super Bowl LI.
"I think Kyle has pushed me to become a better player," Ryan told the MMQB back in January. "He's pushed me to expand my game, to do some things different than I'd been doing for a few years. He's pushed me to throw more on the run, and I think that's helped us as an offense. He's helped our entire offense become better players."
Shanahan's role in Atlanta's historic 2016 season earned him the NFL's Assistant Coach of the Year award. It was only a metter of time before the talented offensive mind landed his first job as a head coach.
Yates went as far as to say it was a "coup" for the 49ers to land Shanahan with so many other teams interested.
"Kyle Shanahan was not one of the most coveted coaching candidates by accident," Yates said. "Teams understood exactly what he's done and why he's such a good fit for teams looking to rejuvenate their offensive system."