NFL Draft: Matt Ryan, I Hardly Knew Ye
When I first took a quick look at Matt Ryan's stats, two things stood out: his passing yards (4,507) and the alarming amount of interceptions he threw (more than 20 if you count the Michigan State game).
I thought, "Wow, 20 picks in 13 games against college corners?! This guy is really overrated. Those aren't the numbers of a franchise QB."
These numbers, coupled with the fact that I seemed to possess the innate ability to watch Ryan play only when he lost, led me to believe that he was a physically average QB whose decision-making was mediocre. His clutch play, which I hadn't seen in the three games I watched, was his only asset.
I also thought that it was wholly Ryan's fault that BC lost these games. Therein lies my stupidest assumption.
After taking a quick look at Ryan's supporting cast at BC, I found only three guys who stuck out as NFL prospects: possible first-round OT Gosder Cherilus, third- or fourth-round pick CB Dejuan Tribble, and second-day pick SS Jamie Silva. HB Andre Callender was on the fringe of being an NFL prospect.
Since Tribble and Silva play on defense, that leaves Cherilus as the only player on Ryan's offense good enough to play in the NFL. Other then Cherilus, BC's offense would have likely been very pedestrian if not for Ryan's great play. BC had been projected to be the bottom dwellers of the ACC that year.
Also, Ryan attempted a whopping 654 passes in 2007 in a mere 13 games. That's 76 more then Patriots QB Tom Brady threw in three extra games. As any competent observer could obviously see, Tom Brady carried his offense in New England, which would seem to mean that Ryan not only carried his offense at BC, he was the offense.
Unlike Brady, Ryan wasn't throwing to Randy Moss. His main option was 5-foot-10 Brandon Robinson, who caught 56 balls for 734 yards and five TDs. Ryan's ability to do more with less is quite reminiscent of how Brady managed to win three Super Bowls throwing to guys like Reche Caldwell, David Patten, Deion Branch, and Jabar Gaffney.
Although a 9-3 season and a bowl win over 7-5 Michigan State isn't exactly the dynasty Brady put together, Matt Ryan has never had a true No. 1 option at receiver, much less a weapon to consistently throw the ball to.
It remains to be seen what Ryan could do if he were given some players to work with in the NFL, which is why a team like the Chiefs, who have Dwayne Bowe, Tony Gonzales, a top five pick, and a lousy QB would seem to be an ideal home for Ryan.
Most importantly during my re-evaluation of Ryan, I stumbled across a friend's tape of the first game Ryan played in Blacksburg against Virginia Tech—a true testament to Ryan's poise, clutch ability, and leadership. I watched in a state of pleasant shock as Ryan, who had looked mediocre all day, led his team back from a 10 point fourth quarter deficit to a 14-10 win, under constant pressure from Chris Ellis and Barry Booker.
After leading a four-minute, 91-yard drive to cut the lead to 10-7, Ryan got the ball back on Virginia Tech's 34 after an onside kick with 2:11 left to play in the final quarter. The rest was simply icing on the cake. The winning pass was an 11-yard strike to Callender in the back of the end zone.
Ryan went 9-15 combined during both drives and looked unshakable in leading his No. 2 BC Eagles to victory in the face of almost certain defeat.
That game and other instances of Ryan's quality play taught me to look beyond the stats in evaluating talent. Stats are affected by a variety of factors, including supporting cast, the quality of opponents, luck, and of course skill, but Ryan comes through when the pressure is on and that kind of gritty, gutty leadership can't be changed by what's around you or who you're playing. It all comes down to the player himself.
Ryan possesses the rare, innate ability to simply put his team on his back that only a select few are lucky enough to have. When he's on the field, no matter what the stakes are, there's always a chance that something magical could happen. While it remains to be seen how Ryan will translate to the NFL, he has certainly done enough in college to make himself a guy to build a franchise around.
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