Picking 3rd overall in the 2008 NFL Draft served the Atlanta Falcons well.

Even before the draft began, there was speculation over whether or not the Falcons would select the top rated QB in the draft: Matt Ryan from Boston College. The Baltimore Ravens were also in the hunt for the QB and there was ‘talk’ that the Falcons may trade with the Ravens for the pick. Luckily, that didn’t happen as Atlanta did go with Ryan for the 3rd overall selection in the 2008 NFL Draft.

Ryan, the 2007 ACC Player of the Year, had a college average of throwing 322.1 yards per game, which should excite Falcons Nation. An aspect about Ryan’s game that is commendable is his ability to read defenses. Prior to the draft, Ryan was briefed by the Atlanta coaching staff on specific plays in the Falcons play book. When debriefed, Ryan was able to flawlessly diagram the plays he studied. He has the ability to turn a broken play into a big play with his arm and accuracy; Something that the former face of the franchise, Michael Vick, could only do with his feet. After being drafted, the rookie’s first words were, “I’m just pumped to be a Falcon!” When a reporter asked him what was the first thing that came to mind when he heard the word ‘Atlanta’, Ryan responded with “winning games.”

That’s a good answer.

This move by the Falcons brass has, to many fans, slammed the door shut on the Michael Vick era. This team now belongs to the rookie who has potential, a strong arm, and accuracy. Accuracy being something that Vick severely lacked during his tenure with the Falcons. On paper, the only thing Vick clearly trumps Ryan on is his ability to scramble. Matt Ryan has maneuverability, but he is no Michael Vick. Regardless, Falcons owner Arthur Blank is eager to assign a new face to his franchise, seemingly eliminating any thought that Vick may once again wear the red, black, and white. With the house cleaning of Vick-Era veterans (Crumpler, Hall, Dunn, Duckett, Kerney, etc.) the Falcons seem to be turning over a new leaf, desperately trying to find a new identity both in the locker room and for their fan base. This seems to have been accomplished by the drafting of Matt Ryan.

Still, declaring Vick’s tenure with the Falcons as definitely a thing of the past may be a bit premature.

Ryan threw 19 interceptions last season at Boston College, and the defense only gets tougher in the NFL. As proved by Ryan’s new teammate, Joey Harrington, 3rd pick QB’s in the first round don’t always turn out the way one would hope. Falcons nation needs to keep in mind that Michael Vick, a former first round pick as well, can potentially return to the NFL for the 2010 season. If Ryan does falter, the Falcons would be right back where they started; in need of a franchise QB and indecisive about what to do with Vick. Essentially, Number Seven’s future is in the hands of Matt Ryan and how well he plays.

Only time will tell.

Aside from Ryan the Falcons didn’t make much noise in the draft. They traded up in the first round with the Washington Redskins in order to pick OT Sam Baker (USC) with the 21st overall selection. When the announcement was made that the Falcons had traded up for this pick, I was anticipating them to select a WR. The fact that they didn’t wasn’t a surprise, as Atlanta’s last two first round WR selections have been busts; 2004 Michael Jenkins (pick #29) and 2005 Roddy White (pick #27 ). Although in all fairness, White did have the best season of his career in 2007 and he seems to finally be coming around. Still, the selection of Baker at #21 was an odd move by Atlanta, one which I was skeptical about at first. Trading up to take Baker doesn’t look stupendous on paper, but the Falcons need help on the O line. With a new QB spearheading the organization, I can understand why immediate protection of the play caller became a necessity. Also, five OT’s were selected before Baker, so Atlanta wanted to pick from the better players available at the position. The fact that division rival, Carolina Panthers, selected OT Jeff Otah at #19 probably made the need to select an offensive lineman all the more immediate for Atlanta. Unfortunately for the Falcons, Baker has been struggling with injuries since the beginning of his senior season, but when he is healthy he is a dominant pass blocker.

In the second round, the Falcons had only one pick (#37) with which they used on LB Curtis Lofton (Oklahoma). With the aging of both Lawyer Milloy and Keith Brooking, help at Linebacker has become a necessity for the Dirty Birds. Lofton has the ability to make the big, hard hit on defense, and he has decent ball handling skills, which is a bonus. Even so, the Atlanta coaching staff needs to help him develop in order for him to be effective come September.

Atlanta had three picks in the third round (#68, #84, #98 ) with which they selected CB Chevis Jackson (LSU), WR Harry Douglas (Louisville), and S Thomas DeCoud (California). Jackson is a physical player, but no DeAngelo Hall. Lucklily for everyone associated with the Falcons, Jackson isn’t like DeAngelo Hall in other aspects as well, such as his mouth and attitude. Harry Douglas was a selection the Falcons had to make as they need help in the WR department. He’s small, and where he lacks in quickness he makes up for in agility. This skill will help him become a great route runner; Something that an accurate QB, like Ryan, can take full advantage of. Douglas can have an early impact on the team. The only WR that has a comfortable spot on the Falcons roster is Roddy White, and even he isn’t the #1 WR Atlanta wants him to be. Thomas DeCoud seems to be more of a special teams acquisition, as opposed to his signature position of Safety, in that he has blocked a number of kicks in his career and is good on kick coverage.

The Falcons were idle in the fourth round and had two picks in the fifth round. With picks #138 and #154 they selected two OLB: Robert James (Arizona State) and Kroy Biermann (Montana). I don’t know much about either, so I won’t comment on them, but picking two OLB’s back to back is an interesting move. As mentioned before, the Falcons do need depth at this position with current Linebackers Lawyer Milloy and Keith Brooking not getting any younger. With their lone pick in the 6th Round at #172, the birds took RB Thomas Brown (Gerogia). Brown is a small RB who has the potential to slip by linebackers- Similar to former RB Warrick Dunn’s style of play. This style coming in handy when a huge clump of bodies forms on the ball carrier, and then out squeaks the small sized RB! Brown’s official status on the team will no doubt be behind that of existing RB’s Jerious Norwood and new acquisition Michel Turner. To complete the draft, Atlanta selected with the 212th pick, CB Wilrey Fontenot (Arizona) and at #232, TE Keith Zinger (LSU). I don’t know much about these guys, but I hope Zinger develops into a useful player. With the departure of Alge Crumpler, the Falcons desperately need a tight end. Although, to hope for a seventh round pick to develop into a super star is a shot in the dark.

Overall I was pleased with the selections the Falcons made in this years draft. I only hope that Matt Ryan becomes the player Falcons Nation wants him to be; The new face of the franchise who brings home a Championship.

We shall see.

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