Just like Matthew Stafford and Mark Sanchez, who headlined Sunday’s Lions-Jets game last weekend, Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco will always be linked because they were the only quarterbacks picked in the first round of the 2008 draft. Ryan was selected third overall out of Boston College while Flacco was chosen 18th overall from lesser-known Delaware. Don’t get Flacco’s credentials confused either; he initially enrolled at Pitt but transferred after losing out to three-year starter Tyler Palko.
Drafted to a team picking third overall, Matt Ryan had much less help surrounding him than Flacco. The Falcons had just seen Mike Vick get sentenced to prison for leading the dog fighting ring and were asking the rookie to lead the franchise. Ryan combined with Mike Smith and Michael Turner to form a trio of newcomers to the franchise that helped lead them to the playoffs. Atlanta went 11-5 in the regular season before losing to the Cardinals in the playoffs 30-24.
Ryan threw for 3,440 yards with 16 touchdowns and 11 interceptions his rookie year. The young quarterback got hurt last year but still went 9-5 in his starts, tossing 22 touchdowns and 14 picks while seeing his completion percentage and yardage totals drop off from the previous year. Ryan seemed to perform worse in his second year than his rookie season while Joe Flacco flourished.
Asked to be more of a caretaker in his rookie year, Joe Flacco only averaged 186 yards per game his first season. He threw for just 14 touchdowns but his main job was to not make mistakes and let the defense and rushing attack win games. Flacco managed the game well enough for Baltimore to beat Tennessee in the Wild Card Round of the playoffs, but he was intercepted three times in a Divisional Round loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Steelers.
Last year, Baltimore opened up its offense and put Flacco in the shotgun frequently, allowing him to choose from one of four receivers. He responded with 3,613 yards passing, 21 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, showing that he was close to become a franchise quarterback. The Ravens then beat the Patriots in the playoffs before losing to the Colts 20-3.
This year each quarterback has elevated his game to near Pro Bowl levels. Matt Ryan has come back healthy and thrown for 13 touchdowns against just five interceptions while the Falcons have gone 6-2. He has teamed with Roddy White to form one of the most unstoppable quarterback-receiver tandems in the league, and he’s taken advantage of Tony Gonzalez who was acquired in a trade last year. Flacco meanwhile has benefited from the addition of Anquan Boldin and seen his play improve. While Flacco’s passer rating is currently identical to last year’s mark, Flacco finally has a go-to playmaker who has reliable hands.
Joe has taken advantage of his weapons, frequently dumping off to Ray Rice and Willis McGahee out of the backfield. Ryan has become a true pocket passer, airing things out to his bevy of downfield options. Both quarterbacks have truly emerged and justified their first-round draft picks and followed a similar career path. Though I like each quarterback, I would probably take Matt Ryan if forced to choose between the two. He hasn’t had as good of a defense to back him and he’s led a more productive offense. It will be fun watching these guys go to work the next decade in the NFL.
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