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Bob Ryan

Ryan pick should fly

Matt Ryan and his family were happy to learn yesterday that he was the one chosen by the Falcons to lead them out of the NFL wilderness. Matt Ryan and his family were happy to learn yesterday that he was the one chosen by the Falcons to lead them out of the NFL wilderness. (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / April 27, 2008

NEW YORK - Let's get serious here.

The Atlanta Falcons needed a lot from their first-round pick in the 2008 NFL draft. Enmeshed in a public relations nightmare, they needed an intelligent, polished, eminently marketable pick who can serve as the face of the New Falcons.

It also would help if he could play a little.

So here, direct from Central Casting, is the answer to their prayers. Matt Ryan may not be a so-called "franchise quarterback," but he is tall, good-looking, and in possession of intangible qualities that are, according to all the experts, "off the charts."

Some people even think he's a pretty good player.

Of course, no one has ever defined just what a "franchise quarterback" is. If it means a quarterback good enough to take a team to a Super Bowl, we know plenty of QBs who have done that and will never need to prepare an acceptance speech for an August Saturday in Canton, Ohio. Good football teams get to the Super Bowl. Sometimes they have great quarterbacks and sometimes they have adequate ones.

Whatever he is, or will be, Ryan is heading to Atlanta as the third pick, and the first non-Long selection, of the '08 draft. The Falcons could have had the best defensive lineman in the draft, Glenn Dorsey. They could have had the best running back in the draft, Darren McFadden. They could have had the best hybrid defensive end/linebacker in the draft, Vernon Gholston.

They could have had a lot of things. But they chose Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan, and no one is happier about that than Matt Ryan, who woke up yesterday morning pretty certain he'd be with Atlanta by nightfall.

"I don't think you can ever make any assumptions," he said, "but I wanted to be a Falcon. I'm so excited to be going down there."

Ryan didn't even go to Atlanta in the predraft process. Atlanta came to him. Team owner Arthur Blank, general manager Tom Dimitroff, and coach Mike Smith all came to Boston to meet with him. Ryan figured that had to mean something.

This was a big day for Ryan. It was also a big day for BC, because Ryan is the highest pick in school history, and, most of all, it was a big day for coach Jeff Jagodzinski, who now can enter any living room in America for the rest of his days and say, "I had something to do with developing a quarterback who was the third pick in the NFL draft."

Ryan was recruited by Tom O'Brien, and he got his start under Tom O'Brien, but he took a major step forward this past year under the tutelage of Coach Jags, whose offensive sets and NFL experience were just what the talented QB needed. Do you recall anyone, anywhere, suggesting that Ryan could be a first-round pick, let alone a Top 3 pick, when the season began?

"Coach Jags helped me a ton," Ryan said. "He did a really great job with me in terms of protections. I learned a great deal about that this year."

Ryan does not have the best pure arm of any quarterback in the draft. The Big Gun belongs to Delaware's Joe Flacco, who went at No. 18 to Baltimore. But the arm is good enough to make, as they say, all the throws, and when it comes to all-around quarterbacking, there is currently no comparison. Ryan was universally considered to be the most advanced, best-prepared QB available.

OK, so Matt Ryan will be good for Atlanta. A better question is, "Will Atlanta be good for Matt Ryan?"

The Falcons are a bad, bad team, probably worse than their 4-12 record. Everyone in North America knows what happened to their starting quarterback once removed, but the fact is the team wasn't really going anywhere with Michael Vick, anyway.

Since going 11-5 in 2004, they have gone 8-8, 7-9, and, of course, last year's 4-12. Coach Bobby Petrino shamelessly bailed out on them before the season was even completed last year. Familiar names such as Warrick Dunn and Alge Crumpler have been expunged from the payroll. They need help in a lot more areas than quarterback. In fact, it's a classically awful scenario, almost guaranteed to embarrass a young signal-caller, whether his name is Marino, Elway, Manning, Brady, or Ryan.

Ryan isn't naive. He knows the Falcons wouldn't be drafting third if things weren't dire. He's a sports fan, so he's up on the whole Vick deal. But he also happens to be a very positive person.

"I'm impressed with the way Mr. Blank handled the situation," he maintains.

He's not going down there with the idea of being a savior.

"I won't be distracted," he said. "I'll be down there focusing on trying to win and on trying to earn the respect of my teammates."

The kid gets it. You can be very sure he's been paying attention to what's been going on in Foxborough during his five years in Boston. He has had the perfect role model for a young quarterback, not just because of Tom Brady's obvious talent, but because of Brady's unerring instincts inside both the locker room and the huddle.

Maybe it all came naturally and maybe it didn't. But very few QBs entering the NFL in recent years have earned the kind of personal raves Ryan has. The Falcons are getting a young man with exceptional leadership qualities.

Atlanta had the most complex needs of any team in the draft. Matt Ryan may not have been the best player available. But he was surely the right pick.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

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