NEW YORK -- Invariably, it happens. No one plans it that way. Lord knows no one wants it to happen.
It just does.
One of the half-dozen college prospects invited here every year for the NFL Draft ends up being the guy that no one wants to be.
He ends up being the guy that gets to watch as each of the other five departs the backstage area of Radio City Music Hall within the first hour or so of the draft, headed for a handshake with the commissioner while donning the cap and holding up the jersey of his new team for the cameras. He ends up being the guy that sits and waits ... and waits ... and waits for his name to be called.
As if that weren't bad enough, a live national television audience takes in his every sigh, every wince, every squirm. His agony and discomfort are on display for millions to see once -- and countless other times on replays.
We've had an up-close view of this awkwardness three times in the last three drafts. In 2005, Aaron Rodgers, talked about as a possibility for the top overall pick, didn't hear his name called until the 24th overall selection. Matt Leinart was projected as the possible No. 3 selection in 2006 but slipped to No. 10. And last year, Brady Quinn didn't hear his name called until the 22nd overall pick. Quinn's public humiliation was so excruciating that Commissioner Roger Goodell finally invited him to his backstage space, just to give him some privacy ... and a little dignity.
The fact all three are quarterbacks is not lost on Matt Ryan, the former Boston College signal-caller who knows perfectly well that he could end up being this year's version of the guy no one wants to be.
Either Chris Long, the defensive end from Virginia, or Glenn Dorsey, the defensive tackle from LSU, figures to go No. 2 to the St. Louis Rams or No. 3 to the Atlanta Falcons. Darren McFadden, the running back from Arkansas, figures to go No. 4 to the Oakland Raiders or No. 6 to the New York Jets. Vernon Gholston, the defensive end from Ohio State, figures to go somewhere in the top six.
And he could take a fall. A big fall. He could tumble all the way down to the bottom portion of the first round, just as Rodgers and Quinn did.
Here's why: There doesn't seem to be a consensus on exactly how good a quarterback Ryan is. Questions linger about his arm strength and overall physical ability. The fact he is widely considered the best quarterback of this year's crop isn't saying a whole lot because the group isn't widely considered to be particularly strong. Most teams believe that the best place to find a quarterback this year is in the second round or lower, because that represents a better value.
Still, it seems likely that someone is going to select Ryan in the first round. The question is, when?
"You can't worry about it too much," Ryan said. "Wherever the pick is, I'm going to be excited. Five years ago, I never thought I would be in this position. So if it's five or if it's 10 or if it's 15 or if it's 25, it's going to be special because it's an opportunity to go play in the NFL.
"Hopefully, I won't be hanging around there for six or eight hours. But if it happens, you've just got to go with it."
Ryan's attitude is refreshingly honest and realistic. He knows that he can't control what happens in the draft. He has put his best foot, and arm, forward for NFL teams to see during his collegiate career and pre-draft workouts. The rest is up to the clubs.
Ryan has zero feel for where he will land. He certainly tried to pick up whatever vibes he could from the team representatives he has met. Did the smile, firm handshake and lengthy conversation with Falcons owner Arthur Blank mean anything? Should he read anything into the encouraging words he heard from the Jets' brass? Was everyone else as happy with a particular workout as he was?
In the end, Ryan didn't know any more than the rest of us.
"The draft's a funny thing," he said. "Not many people give you any information as to what's going on and what they're going to do. I think a lot of things depend on what shakes out early in the draft -- who goes to which teams and how certain things are going to play out.
"It's tough. You want to find out where you're going to be for, really, the next six years of your life. That's basically what the first-round contracts boil down to, so it's difficult. At the same time, it's exciting. I mean, there's just that sense of, 'Man, I really don't know what's going to happen and I really can't wait to find out.' "
Ah, but that is exactly what you might have to do, Ryan. Wait ... and wait ... and wait.