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Pivotal moments in Falcons history: the 2008 NFL Draft

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Fact: Matt Ryan grows his own pumpkins

Football - NFL Draft 2008 Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon SMI/Icon Sport Media via Getty Images

Welcome to “Pivotal moments in Falcons history,” a series examining the most important moments in Atlanta Falcons history. This team has experienced its fair share of ups, downs, and embarrassing moments. Let’s re-live the mediocrity.

Franchise quarterback Matthew Thomas Ryan turned 35 in May. He’s no longer the baby-faced newbie the Falcons drafted in 2008. He’s ... seen things. Exciting things. Disappointing things. Shenanigans of all sorts.

Ryan is entering his 13th year as the Falcons starting quarterback. It’s hard to believe so much time has gone by, but I can assure you, this is not a simulation. So join me as we take a trip down memory lane, destination: the 2008 NFL Draft.

2007 was an interesting year for the Falcons. The combination of Joey Harrington, Byron Leftwich, and Chris Redman under center was never a recipe for success, but with Mike Vick busy fighting his federal case, the Falcons didn’t really have a choice. Then Bobby Petrino bailed on the team 13 games into the season. In short, it was an abject disaster and the Falcons went 4-12.

In the lead up to the draft, there was a healthy debate about who the Falcons should take. They held the 3rd overall pick and had a choice to make: Glenn Dorsey or Matt Ryan. If they went with the former, they could fill an immediate need at defensive tackle. If they went with the latter, they’d have to hope concerns about questionable arm strength were misguided and Ryan really could develop into a franchise quarterback. Dorsey was the “safe” pick; even up and coming professional sports blogger Dave Choate endorsed his selection. But Thomas Dimitroff, a mere 3.5 months removed from his New England Patriots gig, wanted to make his mark. (Back then, he had only had eight pairs of bike shorts and his pomade collection was modest.) The future of a delicate franchise was left in his hands and he made a decision. It turns out he made the right decision.

Dorsey went on to have a solid but underwhelming career that wrapped in 2015. And we all know how Ryan’s career has played out: an MVP award, an NFC Championship, 4 trips to the Pro Bowl—I could go on, but you get the point.

NFL fan bases are a finicky bunch. And let’s be honest, the Falcons fan base is no exception. Because we invest substantial time, money, and energy in this team, we want results. We feel like we deserve results. So when those results don’t come, right or wrong, we react. It’s only a matter of time before Ryan becomes a target. With guys like Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes suddenly dominating the NFL landscape, the presence of fans that aren’t enamored with Ryan’s more traditional skill set isn’t shocking. Even if that mentality is flawed on its face, it will become prevalent as time goes on. Consecutive 7-9 seasons don’t help the cause. And gone are the days where Ryan set the NFL’s quarterback market. (If you recall, Ryan and the Falcons came to terms on a 5-year extension in 2018 that made him the best paid quarterback in NFL history.) Now Ryan’s average annual compensation ranks 9th among active quarterbacks. I don’t want to think about it, but all NFL greats have to retire at some point. Ryan can’t be the Falcons quarterback forever.

To be sure, winning was something the Falcons did before the 2008 NFL Draft. They’d been to a Super Bowl with Chris Chandler under center. They’d been to an NFC Championship Game with Mike Vick under center. But sustained success had always eluded them. Looking at Ryan’s body of work, he brought that to Atlanta. He taught Falcons fans what it’s like to win and then keep winning. The last two seasons haven’t been easy to stomach, but they didn’t take anything away from Ryan’s overall legacy.

None of what Ryan has accomplished in Atlanta is possible if the Falcons don’t pick him over Dorsey. That single decision shaped the future of this franchise—there’s no denying that fact.

Your thoughts about this pivotal moment in Falcons history?