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Better QB: Matt Ryan or Joe Flacco?

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.

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The Falcons Are Going to Have a Scary-Good Offense This Season

When the Saints acquired Jeremy Shockey last offseason I didn’t like the move. Many people felt it was a great addition to their team and that it would give Drew Brees another weapon. Instead, I saw a guy who was coming off a broken leg and nowhere near worth the second and fifth-round picks they gave up for him. Furthermore, I felt that Brees already had tons of receiving weapons and that the TE really wasn’t part of their offense. I was right on pretty much every account. Oh yeah, and the Saints would kill to have that second-rounder back on Saturday, believe me. Anyway, I bring this up because the Chiefs and Falcons had a very similar swap — a second-round pick for a Pro Bowl tight end. The difference is Tony Gonzalez is the fine wine of tight ends, improving with age. He’s not coming off a major injury, and he’s a billion times more reliable than Shockey (in every positive respect possible). Simply put, he’s the perfect addition to the Falcons’ offense.

The Falcons already had something special brewing last season — a rookie quarterback, Matt Ryan, playing with excellent poise and forming a good combo with emerging wide receiver, Roddy White. The line did a great job of run-blocking and made Michael Turner an MVP candidate. Now add a reliable and veteran tight end like Tony Gonzalez to the mix, a guy who works hard and just wants to win? It’s over. While Atlanta could use some serious defensive help (a LB or two, a DT would be nice), there’s no doubt in my mind that their offense will be scary-good next year. If I’m playing fantasy football I’m loading up on my Falcons.

Going back to Gonzo, if Buffalo had made the deal for him at the deadline last year (Tony killed the trade, ostensibly because he didn’t feel Buffalo was a real contender), they would have just been wasting a draft pick on a guy that wouldn’t have put them over the top. With Atlanta, this might very well make their offense good enough to win the NFC. Perfect trade by the Falcons. As for KC, that second might as well be a third given how well the Falcons will finish next season. I wonder how pissed Matt Cassel is right about now. So much for that 8-8 turnaround-season I was predicting.

ESPN’s Who’s the NEXT Athlete in ’09?

Each year ESPN The Mag runs a “NEXT” edition in which they try to select four major athletes who will be the next superstars. They usually select young athletes who are early in their careers thus leaving the future to chance. Some of the athletes they got right include Kobe, LeBron, and Randy Moss. The bad calls? How bout the likes of Kordell Stewart, Keith Van Horn, and Kaz Matsui. No doubt that prognostication and fortune telling is a matter of difficult conjecture leaving much up to chance. That being said, I had no hesitation in giving my opinion of who’s NEXT for ESPN the Mag. The four candidates this year are Matt Ryan, Joey Logano, David Price, and Ricky Rubio. Aside from Rubio, I’ve had lots to say on each particular athlete. Some things were positive, other commentaries, not so much. Anyway, I got to defend one of the athletes for ESPN the Mag and make the case that he was NEXT. You can probably guess who it is and hopefully my argument was strong enough to have him bring home the honor. Check it out at ESPN the Mag.

Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons: Biggest Surprises in the NFL

Through six weeks of the NFL season, the Atlanta Falcons are far and away the biggest surprise of the NFL. They’re tied for first at 4-2 and they’re doing it with a rookie quarterback as their starter. I’d guess that 90% of all prognosticators didn’t think the Falcons would win more than four games all season, no joke. Count me in that group — I thought they’d be a 2-14 team. The Falcons opened up the gates surprising people with a 34-21 win in week one over the Lions. Five weeks later, they’re proving it’s not a joke. Aside from the mess that the Falcons were before the season began, the fact that they were starting a rookie quarterback made me think they were headed towards 2-14 doom. The NFL’s hard enough as is unless your last name is Brady or Manning; how would a rookie come in and be able to win? Already a good chunk into the season, Matt Ryan is defying all odds and leading his team to a successful start.

While I still figure the Falcons to finish no better than 8-8, they’re already a success. Ryan has made very few mistakes which is exceptionally difficult to do when you’re a young QB. Take Joe Flacco as a comparison for instance. The Ravens’ rookie QB has thrown 1 TD and 7 INTs and lost one fumble. Eight turnovers in five games for Flacco against just one score. Ryan on the other hand has thrown five touchdowns against three interceptions. He hasn’t lost a fumble yet either. Ryan’s already developed a rapport with top target Roddy White and turned him into one of the NFL’s leading receivers. There are times (like the game at Tampa Bay) when Ryan certainly has looked like a rookie quarterback, but overall, he’s playing well beyond his years.

In the end, when you take a quarterback with a high pick in the first round, you’re really rolling the dice and just hoping he can pick up the game and work hard enough to become a solid NFL quarterback. Seems like the Falcons have already struck gold and will have a franchise QB for years to come.

Umm, Michael Vick, who?