The 2008 NFL draft contained many touted prospects, on both sides of the ball. While talent was abundant on both defense and offense, it was the offense that stole the show.
Typically the first three rounds are where you get your upcoming starters. However, first-round picks are projected to start within the first half of the season, if not immediately. This draft class, like many before it has been a gold mine, with countless diamonds in the rough.
Many will choose the rookie of the year based on the gaudiness of his stats, but the most important measurement of the candidate is the direct impact he had on his teams performance.
Lets start with my personal pick.
1. Matt Ryan QB, Atlanta
Thus far into his rookie of the year campaign Matt Ryan has been faced with issues that would challenge a veteran player, and seem all but impossible for a rookie.
The first-round selection of Matt Ryan was a statement, not only of Arthur Blank and the Falcon's administration's faith in the ability of Matt Ryan, but it also signified the end of the Mike Vick era in Atlanta. The team wanted a new face, and a fresh start.
Anybody who has remotely followed pro football knows of the troubles that the Falcon's organization has faced. In the course of one year, they went through two coaches, and had their starting quarterback incarcerated. Many fans believed that upon his release from prison, Vick would return, but the Falcon's organization had other plans.
Enter Matt Ryan, a hotshot quarterback from Boston College, who would inherit a troubled team and fanbase. While compiling 2,900+ yards, and throwing for 14 TDs with a 62.0 percent completion rating, Ryan began to rebuild not only a team, but a city and its fanbase.
Thus far into the season, the Falcons are standing at 8-5, a jump from last season's 4-12, 2006's 7-9, and be the first Falcon's team since 2004 to finish above .500.
Granted, the Falcons did add running back Micheal Turner, but his production would be marginalized without the passing attack of Matt Ryan. Matt Ryan is not only the right quarterback for the Falcons, but the best choice for the face of the franchise for years to come.
2. Joe Flacco, QB, Baltimore
With their first-round pick in the 2008 NFL draft, the Ravens selected University of Delaware quarterback Joe Flacco, a shocking pick in the first round, despite his uncanny ability to thrown the long ball.
The Ravens ousted Head Coach Brian Billick, and with the end of the Billick era came the end of the Kyle Boller experiment. The Ravens made a gamble, and invested the future of their organization in Flacco.
Joe Flacco, like many rookie quarterbacks, got off to a rough start and was baptized by fire. Flacco's performance in his first eight games was somewhat less than expected, as Flacco threw only three TDs, opposed to seven INTs.
It seems that Flacco finally got over the proverbial hump and turned the corner. Thus far into the second half of the season, Flacco has thrown 10 TDs and just three INTs, totalling 13 tds, 10 ints, and nearly 2,500 yards passing.
3. Matt Forte, RB, Chicago
Last season, the Bears' running back, Cedric Benson, ran for just four scores and 674 yards, earning him 25th ranking in yards per carry, 32nd in total rushing yards, and 27th in TDs.
It became obvious for the Bears that they needed to find a spark plug for their spluttering running game. In the second round of the 2008 draft, the Bears selected Forte, the former running back at Tulane University.
Forte, at 6'2" 215lbs, runs a 4.44 40-yard dash but prefers running over opponents to running around them. After the release of Cedric Benson, Forte became the starter in Chicago and has not disappointed, running for 1080 yards so far this season and accumulating six rushing touchdowns.
He also is second amongst rookies with 53 receptions, for nearly 400 yards and four touchdowns.
4. Steve Slaton, RB, Houston
Steve Slaton enjoyed a fantastic career at WVU, setting and breaking many records. Despite his promising performances in college, Slaton was drafted in the third round, probably due to his size, at 5'9" 201 lbs, he appeared to be too small to take punishing hits from opposing defenses.
Being picked in the third round seemed only to inspire Steve Slaton. Slaton got his chance to start after after his promising relief performance in the opening game of the season.
After Matt Schaub went down with an injury and backup QB Sage Rosenfels took over the position, Slaton carried much of the weight on his shoulders, and carried the weight well, rushing for over 400 yards and three scores while Schaub was out.
Slatons season best performance came against Jacksonville when he rushed for 130 yards and twos cores. Slaton has totalled 1,024 yards and eight TDs
5. Chris Johnson, RB, Tennessee
Johnson saw his stock rise sharply after running a 4.24 40-yard dash time, the fastest ever recorded since the use of an electronic clock began. The Tennessee Titans drafted him in the first round, looking to add to their already explosive backfield.
Johnson, would no be lined up in the same backfield as Vince Young, and LenDale White. After experiencing and injury, and personal problems, Vince Young was benched in favor of veteran QB Kerry Collins. Collins like many veteran QBs was selected as the starter for his game managing abilities, not his big-play performances.
With a manager at QB, the job of playmaker fell into the hands of the Titans ' running backs, White, and Johnson. Chris Johnson and LenDale White resurrected the "Thunder and Lightning" nickname White had earned while playing alongside Reggie Bush at USC.
Lightning, was indeed an appropriate name to Chris Johnson, as he used blazing speed to run around the outside or his lightning fast reflexes to juke, cut and spin from would be tacklers when he ran up the middle.
Johnson recorded his first score against Minnesota in Week Four in a game where he torched the defense for 61 yards and two touchdowns. Johnson has rushed for 1094 yards and eight touchdowns so far this season.