NFL Quarterback Showdown-Matt Ryan vs. John Elway

NFL Quarterback Showdown-Matt Ryan vs. John Elway

In our first showdown, we look at two players, who have through no fault of their own acquired significantly different reputations. When you hear the name John Elway, the NFL media has trained you to immediately associate this name with greatness. Elway was a fine player, but the legend of number 7 has quietly spiraled out of control. Ryan, on the other hand, has suffered at the other end of the media bias spectrum, quietly putting together a Hall of Fame career. When I posed the question weeks ago, who was a more effective QB, Elway or Ryan? The reactions of the casual fan were comical. You would think I had just asked told them a hilarious joke. However, when you dig into the actual numbers and statistics the narrative changes and an entirely different portrait is painted. 

In this showdown, we will compare two players of the same position and award points based on each player’s advantage vs the other. Let’s take the bias out of sports and let the numbers do the talking. 

Without further ado let us begin.


In 60 more starts, Elway had 31 career 4th quarter comebacks. Matt Ryan already has accomplished this feat 27 times.  

This means that unless Matt Ryans level of play falls off, or he seizes to continue his career he will easily finish ahead of Elway here. For someone known as Matty Ice, I just do not foresee this occurring. 

Ryan 1 – Elway 0 

Matt Ryan’s career Quarter Back Rating is 94.9. Elway finished his illustrious career sitting at 79.9. Matt Ryan boasts a career QBR rating that is 15 points higher than Elway’s career QBR 

Ryan 2 – Elway 0 

Matt Ryan has 46,720 career passing yards. Elway has 51,475. That means there is less than 5000 yards separating them. Again, Elway has played 60 more games

NFL Career Passing yardage Leaders

Again, we are using Ryan’s projections to assume he will easily surpass Elway’s career passing yardage and it could come as soon as this upcoming season. 

Ryan 3- Elway 0

Elway finished his career with 300 TD passes and 226 Int. Ryan currently sits at 295 TDs and 133 interceptions.  

These numbers speak for themselves as Ryan is just 5 TDs away from eclipsing Elway’s career total, while tossing 93 less interceptions in the process 

Ryan 4 – Elway 0 

Elway finished his career with two Superbowl championships, Ryan has yet to win a ring.  

Because Superbowl’s are vital to a QB success I am going to go ahead and give Elway a point for each of his Superbowl championships here 

Ryan 4 – Elway 2  

Elway was blown out in his first three super bowl appearances, finishing twice with QBRs under 40. In his first super bowl, Ryan completed 17 of 23 passes for 284 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions 

Neither QB was able to win a Superbowl in their first 11 years, however, Elway’s early foray into the big state was an utter disaster. Ryan performed admirably but was simply outmatched by the patriots and Tom Brady.  

Check out the graphics of how Both players performed in the early stages of their career on the big stage 



Atlanta Falcons Att Cmp Yds YPA TD Int Rate 
Matt Ryan23 17 284 12.3 144.1 

Ryan 5 – Elway 2 

John Elway never made first team all pro during his playing career. Matt Ryan was first team all pro in 2016, capturing both MVP and AP offensive player of the year.  

Elway did win the MVP award 1987, thus evening the score to one a piece. However, the lack of first team all-pros is a glaring omission from Elway’s resume.   

Below are the players who were named First Team all pro during Elway’s 16-year career: 

Ryan 6 – Elway 2  

Speaking of MVPs John Elway was able to capture Superbowl  XXXIII MVP. Matt Ryan has yet to accomplish this feat.  

Ryan 6 – Elway 3  

Here’s Where Ryan begins to separate himself. Matt Ryan has thrown for 4,000 plus yards in 8 consecutive seasons. Elway topped 4,000 yards passing once in his career.  

Ryan 7 – Elway 3  

Matt Ryan has thrown for 20 plus TDs ten times in his career. Elway accomplished this only 6 times. 

Ryan 8 – Elway 3  

Ryan’s resume also boasts three 30 plus passing TD seasons, with a career high 38 in 2016. Elway’s career high was 27.  

Ryan 9 – Elway 3 

Elway finished in the top 5 passing in 5 different seasons. Matt Ryan has already finished top 5 for 6 seasons. 

Ryan 10 – Elway 3  

Matt Ryan’s career completion percentage sits at 69.4. Elway’s career completion percentage is 56.9 

Ryan 11 – Elway 3 

Matt Ryan won offensive rookie of the year. Eric Dickerson was able to capture this award during Elway’s rookie season 

Ryan 12 – Elway 3 

Elway was named Offensive Player of the year two times (1987, 1993) while Matt Ryan was named Offensive Player of the year once (2016).

Image result for elway play of year

Ryan 12 – Elway 4  

Elway’s career completion percentage is 56.9. Ryan currently sits at 69.4 

Ryan 13 – Elway 4 

Elway’s yardage per attempt is 7.1. Ryan currently is at 7.5 YPA for his career.  

Ryan 14- Elway 4  

Ryan has fumbled 63 times in his career. Elway put the ball on the ground 137 times, over double Ryan’s total. 

Ryan 15- Elway 4  

Rushing Yards is something that Elway became known for. A gifted athlete that was elusive and often able to avoid pressure and escape the pocket. As a result, Elway rushed for 3,407 yards and 33 TDs in his career. Ryan Resume currently consists of 1,148 yards rushing and only 8 times has he crossed the goal line. Elway easily surpasses him in both of these pivotal categories. 

Ryan 15 – Elway 6  

Deeper Dive: 

Let us even the playing field a bit. If we look at their statistics through their first 11 seasons, (Ryan is currently about to start year 12) the numbers clearly show a definitive winner in this debate. By looking at the included graphics through this point in their careers, both players have not yet won the super bowl. However, Ryan’s statistics are superior in almost every facet. 


Ryan will easily trump both passing yardage and TD totals when he is finished playing, and his current projections have him set to finish top 5 in both categories. Elway was a fine QB in his own right but the media hype and bias which has pushed him into the top 5 all time QB conversation is unwarranted. Elway is often remembered for those two Superbowl trophies he hoisted at the conclusion of his career, and that bias is what creates this false narrative of the player. When all is said and done, Matt Ryan may go down as one of the most underrated players to ever grace the gridiron.  

Winner: Matt Ryan 

Nick Nazzario (The Statistically Superior Mr. Roto)

Follow @StatsRoto