Pick of Ryan gives Falcons a franchise face-lift

NEW YORK -- As NFL messes go, this one was about as big as it gets.

Your quarterback, the face of your franchise, is in jail. The circumstances that led him there were so despicable, so unthinkable, that the fallout affected everyone and everything in your organization.

Mostly, it compromised the trust of your fans. It shook, if not destroyed, their faith in your judgment.

For that reason, the Atlanta Falcons had little choice but to find a new face for their franchise. That was why they used the third overall pick of the NFL draft to select Matt Ryan.

</center>![](http://www.nfl.com/draft/tracker#tab:dt-by-team|team-atl) 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. **More ...**

Based on the eyeball test, Ryan is ideal for the role the Falcons want him to fill. His boyish good looks, engaging personality, and impeccable character are exactly what the Falcons need to help them win back some of the trust that disappeared when Michael Vick ended up being suspended and sent to prison on dogfighting charges.

The football test is another issue.

It's entirely possible the Falcons selected the former Boston College star a bit too high. Scouting opinions of Ryan's skills vary. He was universally regarded as the best quarterback in the draft, but that isn't necessarily saying a whole lot because the position wasn't regarded as being particularly strong in this year's college crop. Ryan, himself, will tell you that his greatest asset is his leadership. He lists that higher than any specific physical aspect of his game.

Ryan has a good, solid arm and throws the ball well. He isn't all that mobile, although he does move quickly enough in the pocket to avoid pressure. What Ryan does exceptionally well is read defenses. His training in Boston College's pro-style offense was evident when he flawlessly diagrammed plays for the Falcons' coaching staff before the draft.

But what stands out the most about Ryan, what clearly grabbed and held the attention of Falcons owner Arthur Blank (who felt the greatest betrayal of the Vick debacle) is that he is polished -- more polished than most kids coming out of college. He will say the right things. He will do the right things.

Consider the response Ryan gave during a news conference at Radio City Music Hall to a question about comparisons with Vick that already have begun: "I can't worry about it. I just have to go down and make sure that I'm doing everything I can to be successful. I've got to focus on what's important, and that's playing the quarterback position well. I'm going to try not to be distracted, and really just focus on trying to win, trying to be on the field, and trying to earn the respect of my teammates."

Admirable stuff, to be certain. But should that have been enough to convince the team's brain trust to take him at No. 3?

Defense clearly was a priority throughout the early part of the draft, and it was widely believed that the Falcons would join the trend. Glenn Dorsey, the big tackle from LSU, figured to be their choice after the St. Louis Rams selected Virginia defensive end Chris Long at No. 2. Dorsey wound up going to Kansas City at No. 5. After that, six consecutive defensive players flew off the board.

The argument could be made that the Falcons should have gone with Dorsey, that he represented a better value and would have a more immediate impact. The same could be said for some, if not all, of the seven other defenders taken in the top 11.

Ryan is bright. He will likely pick up the Falcons' offense quickly. However, like almost every rookie quarterback, he will need time to make a successful transition to the NFL.

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**2008 NFL Draft**

There's a reasonable chance he won't be under center at the start of the season, mainly because it would be dangerous to expose him to the added punishment a first-year quarterback often takes because he doesn't read blitzes and/or coverages as well as he should. A rookie quarterback tends to leave himself open for the free rusher or will hesitate too long while trying to decipher what the defense is showing.

"I don't think there's a right or a wrong way to do it," Ryan said. "I think guys have been successful coming in and playing. I think guys have been successful coming in and sitting and learning from a bench. As a player, you want to be out on the field, so I'm going to do everything I can to prepare myself and be in the position to play (as a rookie)."

The Falcons didn't care about the possibility of Ryan doing more sitting and learning than playing this season. Finding a new face for their franchise was far too important for them to worry about any of the potential risks associated with their pick.

By taking Matt Ryan, the Falcons did what they believed they had to do from the moment their logo began to symbolize something other than a reason for which their followers could feel a sense of pride and hope.

They buried the Michael Vick era.

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