Prisco doesn't know at what selection Ryan was picked.
That's dandy, kid: Ryan's in mix as best rookie QB ever
NOV. 26, 2008
By Pete Prisco
CBSSports.com Senior Write
It was a Tuesday in September and Mike Smith, the first-year head coach of the Atlanta Falcons, was sitting in his office looking out onto the practice field below him.
Since it was the players' day off, Smith didn't expect to see much activity.
"You know what's going on out there now?" Smith asked. "My rookie quarterback is working on his drops. He's out there putting in the time."
That rookie is Matt Ryan. Putting in the time is what he does.
The rookie wants to be great.
He's off to a heck of a start in trying to get there.
The Falcons are one of the shocking stories of 2008. They are 7-4, and Ryan's a big reason. He has been the starter since opening day and he hasn't disappointed.
Some have already said he's the best rookie quarterback ever.
I think one Dan Marino might have something to say about that. Some might point to Ben Roethlisberger, who went 13-0 as a starter for the Steelers in 2004 and threw 17 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions. But Ryan is having an outstanding season and making a case for himself.
In 11 starts, he has thrown for 2,418 yards, 11 touchdown passes and six interceptions. He has completed 60 percent of his passes and his yards-per-attempt is an impressive 7.8, which shows he isn't just managing the game.
As a rookie, Marino threw for 2,210 yards in nine starts -- he opened the season on the bench -- threw 20 touchdown passes and six interceptions and had a completion percentage of 58.4. His yards-per-attempt average was 7.5.
So Ryan has him on completion percentage and yards-per-attempt. He'd need to catch fire to overtake him in touchdown passes, and yards-per-game is Marino's.
Marino lost his first playoff game before reaching the Super Bowl the following year.
Matt Ryan's stats show only part of his rookie success story.
This Falcons group was a team picked to win maybe two games. And now they're one game out of the lead in the NFC South.
"I think one of the best things we've done is that we haven't worried about the outside expectations," Ryan said. "We believed in ourselves. We bought into it. The hard work could pay off."
You're not surprised?
"I don't think you use the word surprised," Ryan said. "We had expectations for ourselves, even if others didn't."
When the Falcons drafted him with the second overall pick last April, they were hoping to get the franchise passer they badly needed after the Mike Vick fiasco. Ryan is everything Vick wasn't. Call him the anti-Vick.
He throws from the pocket. He scans the field. He works at his job tirelessly.
And, no, he doesn't own any pit bulls.
How do I know?
I always ask. I asked him at the scouting combine. I asked during a chat during training camp and I asked again during this interview.
"Still no pit bulls," Ryan said.
What Ryan has done in 11 games is make people forget the misery of the Vick situation. Those who held on to the notion that Vick might someday be back in a Falcons uniform can forget that. Owner Arthur Blank has said as much, and Vick isn't a better quarterback than Ryan.
Not when it comes to throwing the football -- and that's what the NFL is all about.
The challenge of taking over as quarterback was daunting for Ryan. He was thrown into a situation where people were labeling him the savior, while others were saying he's no Vick, many of those Vick backers holding onto their No. 7 jerseys.
It didn't take long for teammates, coaches and even the fans to realize that Ryan has that "it" you need from the quarterback position.
"He never seemed like a rookie," Falcons center Todd McClure said.
McClure did say it was a few games before Ryan really took over the huddle. That's understandable for any rookie quarterback. Now it's his huddle for sure.
"I think it takes time to earn the respect of your teammates," Ryan said. "The early playing time helps that happen, but in a lot of ways I'm still working toward that."
To see Ryan work and practice and talk to him made me think he's cut from Peyton Manning-Tom Brady fiber. That's high praise. He isn't there yet, of course, but he has that look playing the position.
"It's a great compliment," Ryan said. "But I have a long way to go to get to that level."
As a rookie in 1998, Manning threw 26 touchdown passes but 28 interceptions. His completion percentage was 56.7 and his yard-per-attempt was 6.5. And his team won only three games.
That's an advantage to Ryan.
Brady threw three passes as a rookie, completing one for 6 yards. That's a blowout for Ryan.
The hard part is sustaining it. Manning and Brady got better and better. It's hard to imagine that Ryan won't follow their lead.
Showing up at the practice facility on a day off to work on minor details is all the proof of that we need.
"Doing the extra work comes with playing the position," Ryan said.
The next five weeks will decide whether the Falcons are a playoff team or not. If they make it, and even make some noise once there, I just might have to re-evaluate my thinking that Marino is the greatest rookie quarterback ever.
The fact that Ryan is even in the debate has to make Falcons fans happier than a pit bull tearing into a steak.
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