Falcons take Ryan with third overall pick

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The Atlanta Falcons have a new quarterback and a new big name to sell to their fans.

So long, Michael Vick. Hello, Matt Ryan.

The Falcons chose Ryan, the Boston College star, with the third overall pick in Saturday's NFL draft. Ryan could compete for the starting job as a rookie. He'll also give the franchise a much-needed new face.

General manager Thomas Dimitroff, the former director of college scouting in New England, compared Ryan's leadership qualities with those of Tom Brady, the Patriots' star quarterback.

"I think with Matt, it's a combination of the intelligence he has, the leadership ability he has and I can't stress enough he has the ability to take not only the offense but the entire team," Dimitroff said.

"That's huge. I've been around a situation with New England where we had a quarterback that had the whole team. That was one aspect I think was very attractive as well as his skill set on the field."

The Falcons obtained another first-round pick from Washington to draft USC offensive tackle Sam Baker with the 21st overall selection.

Baker (6-5, 312) is the son of Arena League commissioner David Baker.

Baker played left tackle at USC. He had knee surgery following his junior season and missed three games and parts of two games with injuries in 2007.

The Falcons gave the Redskins two second-round picks -- Nos. 34 and 48 -- and a fourth-round pick, No. 103. They obtained the first-round pick used on Baker, the No. 84 selection in the third round and the No. 154 pick in the fifth.

The Falcons used their other second-round pick, No. 37 overall, to select Oklahoma linebacker Curtis Lofton.

Vick, small but one of the fastest players in the league, was best known for his running skills as he became the first NFL quarterback to rush for 1,000 yards in a season.

Dimitroff called Ryan, a native of Exton, Pa., a "a prototypical quarterback."

"He can throw in the pocket," Dimitroff said. "He has the vision. He has a very nice ability to move laterally in the pocket. He's accurate underneath. He can also make the deep ball.

"He's also an intelligent football player and the last thing I want to stress is his toughness. He has the ability to take a shot in the face and get knocked down and get up and grit it out and go forward. I think that's exciting for us as a team and exciting for coach Smith as well."

Said Ryan: "I just can't wait to get down to Atlanta.

"I'm going to come in and work as hard as I can and try to earn the respect of my teammates and go out and try to get out on the field."

Dimitroff considered using the third overall pick on Louisiana State defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey.

"We had options for sure and obviously Glenn Dorsey was a legitimate consideration," Dimitroff said.

Dimitroff and Smith, concerned that Baltimore might move up in the first round to take Ryan, discussed a trade with St. Louis to move up to the second overall pick.

The Falcons' need at quarterback was obvious as Joey Harrington, Byron Leftwich and Chris Redman started in the 4-12 2007 season.

Vick, the first pick in the 2001 draft, is serving a 23-month prison sentence after pleading guilty to federal charges in a dogfighting operation. Any thoughts of Vick returning to the Falcons after his prison sentence likely ended when NFL commissioner Roger Goodall announced Ryan as Atlanta's pick.

Ryan (6-5, 228) ranked third in the nation with his school-record 4,507 yards passing in 2007, but he threw 19 interceptions and had a 127.0 passer rating.

Dimitroff said the interceptions were "not an issue for us." The GM said Ryan's numbers were hurt by some dropped passes by Boston College's receivers.

Ryan passed for more than 400 yards in four games as a senior, including his career-high 435 yards against Georgia Tech.

"I couldn't be happier for Matt," said Boston College coach Jeff Jagodzinski, a former Falcons assistant coach. "Not only did Atlanta get a great quarterback, they got a man of great character to lead their organization."

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2008 NFL Draft

Smith was impressed by the Falcons' interview with Ryan in Boston. Offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey and quarterbacks coach Bill Musgrave grilled Ryan, but the quarterback had all the answers.

"It's real easy to evaluate a guy with how he throws a football," Smith said. "When you sit down in a meeting situation, and they really tried to stump him, they gave him some real difficult stuff in terms of trying to find out what he knows and what he doesn't know. He was outstanding on the board. He was very cerebral."

Said Ryan: "I felt really comfortable in that meeting. I feel like I learned a lot from those guys and look forward to working with them."

Ryan, the 2007 Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year and recipient of the Johnny Unitas and Manning Awards, passed for 9,313 yards, third on Boston College's career list. He was 25-7 in 32 career starts.

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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