Numbers say Matt Ryan already elite

Over the past few years, and especially this preseason, there’s been a lot of debate about if Atlanta’s Matt Ryan is an “elite’’ quarterback.

I’m not sure what the exact qualifications are for elite status. But I’ve always been a big believer that the most important thing a quarterback can do is win games.

If that’s true, Ryan qualifies as elite. In four seasons, he’s won a lot of games. Ryan’s career record as a starter is 43-19. That’s a .694 winning percentage, which puts him third among active NFL quarterbacks that have made 10 regular-season starts.

Only Tom Brady (.780) and Ben Roethlisberger (.708) have better winning percentages, and I think pretty much everyone agrees they’re elite. Ryan’s winning percentage is ahead of guys like Peyton Manning (.678), Aaron Rodgers (.661) and Drew Brees (.601) and I don’t think there’s any question they’re elite quarterbacks.

Yeah, I know the difference with Ryan is that he never has won a postseason game. But people used to knock Manning for not being able to win the big one early in his career and he now is on his way to the Hall of Fame.

I think Ryan already is an elite quarterback. But there’s only one way to permanently end the argument. That’s for Ryan to go out and start winning some postseason games.

By the way, Ryan’s winning percentage is far superior to predecessor Michael Vick’s (.588). It’s also better than another guy who had some success in the NFC South -- former Carolina quarterback Jake Delhomme (.583).

Aside from Ryan and Brees, let’s take a look at the career winning percentages of the other current NFC South quarterbacks.

Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman is 17-23 (.425). Carolina’s Cam Newton is 6-10 (.375).

There are even a few NFC South backups who qualified for the list by making at least 10 career starts, but their winning percentages aren’t very impressive. Carolina’s Derek Anderson is at .419, Tampa Bay’s Dan Orlovsky is at .167 and Carolina’s Jimmy Clausen is at .100. But, hey, at least Clausen doesn’t rank dead last in winning percentage among active quarterbacks with at least 10 career starts. Tyler Thigpen (.083) holds that distinction.