Looking back at the precise moment that the third overall pick was made in the 2008 NFL Draft, I can genuinely say there was a slight feeling of disappointment for me. You have to keep in mind that the draft came on the heels of a nightmarish 2017 season for the Falcons that saw the likes of Joey Harrington, Byron Leftwich, and Joe Horn shine on Sundays.
So this was viewed as a draft that could jumpstart things for the Atlanta Falcons. Only, I wanted it to jump start with a cog on defense by the name of Glenn Dorsey. A defensive specimen that was the reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Year at that time as well as two-time first team All-American and two-time first team All-SEC. His shared similarities to Hall of Famer Warren Sapp were evident in college, and I wanted to see him don the red and black, as did several other Falcoholic writers.
Instead, the Falcons contingent led by first year general manager Thomas Dimitroff, decided to introduce a new chapter at the most important position on the football field. At third overall, Matthew Thomas Ryan was selected. Twelve seasons later, 12 players from that class are currently listed as “active” players. Yet, Ryan found a way to stand out amongst them all, and is still going.
An auspicious beginning
The spirit of the Michael Vick era was still lingering around the Georgia Dome on September 7, 2008. But on that day, you could also absorb a whiff of the new car smell with the team. The offseason produced a new head coach and staff, new general manager, new starting running back, and a brand new quarterback.
It took one throw for Ryan to introduce himself to a city and a fanbase. As starting receiver Michael Jenkins hauled in a simple slant route and turned it into a 62-yard touchdown pitch-and-catch, you began to mentally process that this was the type of start that not only a rookie quarterback needed but what the city needed as well. A season of mystery blossomed into a surprising trip to the playoffs. The tranquil nature of Ryan played a considerable part as he won AP Offensive Rookie of the Year honors while throwing for 3,440 yards and 16 touchdowns.
But his very first throw in his very first game was significant in its own right. It laid the groundwork. Many rookie quarterbacks in this day and age of football are not that lucky.
Some are entangled in a web of misfortune and controversy before the end of their rookie season (Ryan Leaf, JaMarcus Russell), while some are met with unfavorable circumstances that ultimately derails their career (Robert Griffin III, Johnny Manziel). At the time, Ryan was one of only 12 quarterbacks in league history to throw for more than 3,000 yards in their rookie seasons. As you can imagine, Ryan was off and running in Atlanta.
Consistency is key
From the 2011 season until now, Ryan has quietly built a reputation within the league of being a consistent quarterback, capable of winning games when called upon. That 2011 campaign began a string of nine consecutive seasons where Ryan eclipsed 4,000 passing yards. In that same span, Ryan also completed 61% or more of his passes in every season. In case you were wondering, that span of nine straight seasons stands alone as second most all-time. In the middle of all that production is a league MVP in 2016 as the Falcons made a surprising Super Bowl run.
Speaking of numbers, how about we dive into Ryan’s overall numbers at this stage of his career. Make sure the folks in the back of the class are paying attention because this is vital information:
- 51,186 passing yards (10th all-time, ranks above Warren Moon, Joe Montana, Johnny Unitas)
- 321 passing touchdowns (11th all-time, ranks above Dan Fouts, John Elway)
- 94.6 career passer rating (11th all-time, ranks above Kurt Warner, Dan Marino)
- 270.8 career passing ypg (5th all-time, ranks above Aaron Rodgers, Philip Rivers)
- 65.4% career completion (6th all-time, ranks above Steve Young, Joe Montana)
Not too bad at all for a quarterback that is still attempting to escape the expectations of “replacing” Vick and eluding the constant desires of others who prefer an African-American mobile quarterback to represent the city of Atlanta. The ongoing finger pointing in his direction for the fall of the team’s Super Bowl hopes in 2017 has become outdated as well, especially when you account for his overall stat line and how he literally did not do anything to cost the team a victory.
A rotation of four different offensive coordinators, including three different faces as play callers since the 2016 season, is worth pointing out as well. As all of that is factored in, the blame game is weighed more heavily than the statistical evidence itself. Unfairly I might add.
But just as Dan Marino and Jim Kelly found in their respective careers, as well as Dan Fouts and even Fran Tarkenton, the lack of Super Bowl success is placed on the shoulders of one player. Despite having that one player surrounded by NFL talent for an extended period of time. Ryan’s consistency over the course of his career would be more than enough to make his Hall of Fame argument if he was equipped with a Super Bowl ring. As of yet, he is not. The result is a lack of recognition for a quarterback that has shown he can produce with the best of the best in his NFL career.
Window is still open
The focus is on the upcoming 2020 season (or whatever we get of it) for Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons. It is another season entered with playoff expectations, at the very minimum. To keep things as candid as possible, it is a season that will determine a lot going forward for Ryan and the entire Falcons team and organization, including whether all of these coaches and players return.
For Ryan himself, there is still a great sense of responsibility, which is a given because he plays the position that he plays. Ryan, 34, is still playing with “youth” on his side for the quarterback position. Seeing passers such as Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, and Drew Brees (eyeroll) still trot out on the football field at their ages with Super Bowl hopes bodes well for Ryan and his future in Atlanta.
This is a particular stage of Ryan’s career where he is still productive. Whether anyone wants to realize it or not, the team’s success at various points since 2008 can be credited to Ryan a great deal. If this team is to encounter anymore success going forward, it will need Ryan to continue to be his consistent self. There is young talent around Ryan now and the team added a few extra bodies on the roster in free agency that they may not normally would have in the past.
While I am not tapping my inner Joe Namath and tossing around significant guarantees, I will say the Falcons have enough talent to at the very least be in the conversation. Despite only missing three games out of a possible 192 regular season games played, Ryan has not shown any signs of slowing down or hitting that proverbial wall of father time. No matter if it’s coming from me or any popular rapper in Atlanta that desires to see Ryan elsewhere. The fact of the matter is, the Atlanta Falcons need Ryan. Quite frankly, he’s earned every bit of that appreciation.