In his final year at Boston College, Matt Ryan had thrown 19 interceptions and was sacked 21 times. Many believed had he entered the draft in '06 or '07, he would be at best a second-round pick. Ryan, on the other hand, decided it was best to finish college, then proceed into the professional ranks. He was rated as the top quarterback in the draft, followed closely by Joe Flacco and Brian Brohm.
Many had their doubts about the 22-year-old graduate who did not resemble the typical NFL player. He did not display an aggressive attitude, nor was he known for lashing out at his coaches when things went wrong. Ryan was not arrogant, or self-centered. He held his teammates in high regard, despite the receivers' mediocre play.
However, on April 26, 2008 Ryan's future in the NFL would be determined. The team which selected him would be taking a massive, but highly necessary risk. That team ended up being the Atlanta Falcons. A team, which had lost its franchise quarterback due to dogfighting charges. A team that had hired a college coach, only to desert the entire franchise for a "pig sooey" carol. A team considered to be one of the youngest in the NFL.
Its offensive line was abominable. The receivers were considered inadequate, despite the efficiency of Roddy White in the previous year. The Falcons had question marks at virtually every position available.
Ryan did not fret. He remained poised and signed with the Falcons before the beginning of training camp. He was a competitor and did so at the highest level possible. This resulted in Ryan being named the starting quarterback for the upcoming 2008-2009 season.
Critics heavily disagreed with the decision of starting Ryan, believing he should sit his first year and learn the antics of being a professional player. How did Matt Ryan handle the pressure of being a top pick in the draft? He handled it similar to how he deals with close games: with the utmost poise.
Ryan's first pass in the NFL was a slant route to Michael Jenkins, which resulted in a touchdown. At that moment, the Falcons knew they had something special. Coach Mike Smith commented that Matt Ryan had the "it" factor. Well, whatever "it" is, Matt Ryan is currently setting himself up to win the Offensive Rookie Of The Year Award.
Many also believe he could make a possible run at the MVP award. He has turned into a rookie not many have seen before. Cornerback Chris Gamble of the Carolina Panthers commented, "That guy plays like a veteran...he's not a rookie as far as I'm concerned."
Yes, Matt Ryan has definitely made his mark in the NFL. With 14 touchdowns, and nine interceptions, Matt Ryan has reshaped how future rookie quarterbacks will be viewed. He has thrown for 300 yards in two games this year, and continues to show improvement in each game. Even if the Falcons do not make it to the playoffs this year, they definitely have something to be excited about. With arguably the best draft class, the Falcons have surely turned these young players into taskmasters.
Many did not expect to see this type of play from a quarterback who had thrown 19 interceptions, nor did they expect to see a team play with such camaraderie. The Falcons are no longer the jokes of the NFL. They are not pretenders, or just getting lucky. They are winning. They are winners. Currently, at a 9-5 record they can potentially hold a wild card spot.
With continued determination, the sky is the limit for the Falcons. There are many people who can be thanked for this success. Perhaps Arthur Blank, the owner of the franchise, Thomas Dimitroff the new General Manager, or Mike Smith their passionate head coach.
One thing is for sure, the Falcons may not be nearly as successful as they currently are without Matt Ryan.
Not bad for a rookie who could be mistaken for a computer programmer at press conferences.