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Tony Gonzalez: Falcons' Matt Ryan is not an 'elite' QB

Matt Ryan finished 11th in Gregg Rosenthal's 2013 Quarterback Index after placing a career-best seventh the year before.

Injuries decimated his receiving corps. The Atlanta Falcons' offensive line ranked in the NFL's bottom third, according to both Football Outsiders and Pro Football Focus.

Excuses aside, Ryan couldn't pull his team out of a season-long tailspin as other members of the NFL's quarterback royalty have done. Recently retired tight end Tony Gonzalez acknowledged as much in an interview with ESPN The Magazine.

"Matt's an excellent quarterback," Gonzalez said, via ESPN.com, "But he's not elite. He's this close. He'll get there, but he has some learning to do."

Elite quarterbacks are the best players on their team's roster. That's not the case with the Falcons.

When Julio Jones went down with a season-ending foot injury, we made the point here and on the Around The League Podcast that Ryan's limitations would surface without his difference-making receiver around to keep defenses honest against Gonzalez, Roddy White and the running game.

That's exactly how it went down. Before the Falcons lost Jones, all four losses came down to the last possession. After losing Jones, the next four losses were blowouts and the season became a full-fledged disaster.

Gonzalez had previously told the Falcons official website that Ryan is "better than any other quarterback I've ever played with." In other words, Ryan is better than Trent Green.

Gonzalez's assessment is fair: Ryan is an excellent quarterback. He's one of the rare breed deserving of the "franchise quarterback" label.

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Factoring in his depleted arsenal, Ryan's game film showed the same quarterback in 2013 as in 2012 even if the numbers weren't as impressive.

However, if he wants to join the ranks of the NFL's elite with Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, he's going to have to improve on his 1-4 career playoff record. He'll also have to carry the offense without the benefit of a future Hall of Fame tight end in 2014.

In the latest "Around The League Podcast," the guys ponder the future in both Seattle and Denver and break down the teams who intrigue them most this offseason.

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