I am not going to tell you that Superbowl bound Matt Ryan’s fantastic season is purely down to some great offensive game planning from Kyle Shanahan, you can make you mind up about that for yourselves. But what is evident is that Matt Ryan has was drafted in the spring of 2008 and now in 2016 we have finally seen him reach his potential.
The Atlanta Falcons had a torrid 2007, with star quarterback Michael Vick sent to jail for involvement in dog fighting, the team took the opportunity to turn over most of its staff and brought in a new coach, GM and in Matt Ryan, a new face for the franchise. It was somewhat of a down year at the top of the 2008 draft, but there was still plenty of talent to be had for the team that did their homework.
The top 4 picks of the 2008 draft were not set in stone, but what was certain was which four players were most likely to be taken. The Miami Dolphins had just ended the season 1-15 and with Cleo Lemon ending up as starting quarterback, apparently this wasn’t reason enough to pick Matt Ryan as they went with offensive tackle Jake Long. Any long time follower of mine will know I rate the trenches as highly as any position on the roster, but come on….. Cleo Lemon!!
Next up The St Louis Rams went with Jake’s namesake Chris Long the defensive end. Long turned out to be a big part of the Rams fearsome defensive line which has only become stronger as they spent future first round picks on Robert Quinn, Aaron Donald and Michael Brockers – it is clear where the priority was in St Louis.
Then came Atlanta Falcons picking Matt Ryan. After a season of trying to make up for the loss of Michael Vick by playing quarterbacks Joey Harrington and Byron Leftwich, the Falcons put their future in the hands of the young quarterback from Boston College. During the draft the team also put some pieces in place to help the new QB, picking up Tackle Sam Baker, Wide Receiver Harry Douglas, as well as late picks on running back Thomas Brown, and tight end Keith Zinger.
It was a stellar draft for the Falcons as they also added excellent defensive players in Curtis Lofton, Thomas DeCoud and Kroy Biermann.
With new quarterback often comes new coach and Ryan was paired with defensive minded head coach Mike Smith. The team finished the season 11-5 and secured the number 5 seed in the playoffs. They lost to the Cardinals in the wild card game but this was altogether a success for the rebuilt side. Mike Smith and Matt Ryan winning coach of the year and offensive rookie of the year respectively.
Completing the first 4 picks of the 2008 draft was running back Darren McFadden drafted by the Oakland Raiders. McFadden always showed some potential in Oakland but was often injured and for some time was hamstrung by an offense still wheeling out overweight JaMarcus Russell at QB. It would be some years before Oakland became competitive again and McFadden moved on and has again shown glimpses of potential in Dallas behind THAT offensive line.
Picks 5 to 11 show just how long ago the Matt Ryan’s draft class was, with a real mixture of names who for one reason and another aren’t in the league anymore, names such as Vernon Gholston of the Jets and Derrick Harvey drafted by Jacksonville demonstrating how bad teams really stay bad. Sedrick Ellis, pick number 7 to the Saints and Jerod Mayo, number 10 to the Patriots had some success before succumbing to their injuries.
The next 6 picks yielded 5 Pro Bowlers including Ryan Clady, Jonathan Stewart, Branden Albert and Domonique Rodgers-Cromartie, and also the next quarterback to be taken Joe Flacco. Flacco has had the more successful career so far of the first round quarterbacks, winning the Superbowl in his 4th year and for some time being the highest paid player in the league.
Demonstrating again that the strength of the 2008 draft was towards the back end of round 1, pick number 20 Aqib Talib also has a Superbowl ring with the Denver Broncos, and is still one of the premier corner backs in the league.
Picks 22, 23, and 24 saw a trio of running backs come off the board in Felix Jones, Rashad Mendenhall and most successful of the three Chris Johnson. Chris Johnson would become one of the few backs to top 2000 yards in a season before hitting a wall and never quite reaching those heights again.
The final first round pick in 2008 was unusually at number 31 which would see safety Kenny Phillips join the champion New York Giants. New England had furthered their suspect reputation by becoming involved in “Spygate” which meant they were forced to forfeit their first round pick.
Other stars in the 2008 draft include pick number 36 Jordy Nelson, pick 44 Matt Forte, pick 50 Calais Campbell, and pick 73 Jamaal Charles. At Superbowl 51 Matt Ryan will be opposing New England Wide Receiver Danny Amendola who was a 2008 Undrafted Free Agent.
Matt Ryan may well simply be a late developer, but it is evident from the apparent age of some of his draft-mates, and the amount who no longer have a place in the league, his form this year has been a long time coming. I hope it is not purely a result of tactical play, because with Kyle Shanahan about to be made Head Coach of the San Francisco 49ers it would be very short lived form for Ryan. It has been a really entertaining season in Atlanta and would be greatly missed by us all.