When the Atlanta Falcons drafted quarterback Matt Ryan from Boston College with the third overall pick in this year’s draft, it ushered in a new era in Falcons football history. The era of quarterback Michael Vick is now officially over, and the Ryan era has begun. As such, Ryan now has the pressure of living up to the title of franchise quarterback.
The Falcons finished the 2007 season with a 4-12 record and enter 2008 with a revamped coaching staff led by former Jacksonville Jaguars defensive coordinator and new head coach, Mike Smith. This is the first big splash in the coaching regime for Smith, and it should not take long for Smith to play his hand-picked quarterback. The Falcons enter 2008 with four quarterbacks on their roster. Those quarterbacks are Joey Harrington, Chris Redman, D.J. Shockley and Ryan.
Harrington appeared in the most games last year with 12 (10 starts), and he finished with 2,215 passing yards with seven touchdowns, but eight interceptions. The most effective quarterback was Redman, who threw 10 touchdowns in only seven games and is the probable Week 1 starter. The odd man out looks to be Shockley. He was selected in the seventh round by the Falcons in 2006 out of the University of Georgia, and has yet to play a snap in his career. It is likely that Ryan will jump over these quarterbacks sooner rather than later. Although expect the Falcons to ease Ryan into the starting role instead of turning the offense over to him right out of the gate.
Atlanta is expected to rely heavily on the running game in an effort to ease the pressure off their quarterbacks, especially Ryan. Former San Diego Chargers running back Michael Turner signed with the Falcons this offseason and is set to become the featured back. Turner has totaled 1,257 rushing yards in his four-year career with an average of 5.5 yards per carry.
During his stint with the Chargers, he was used primarily as a backup to running back LaDainian Tomlinson. In Atlanta, halfback Jerious Norwood should be used as the backup to Turner. Norwood, originally drafted in the third round by the Falcons in 2006 out of Mississippi State, had a successful 2007 season after finishing with 613 yards on only 103 carries.
Rookie quarterbacks usually don't have any fantasy value. A good game for first-year signal callers is seemingly not turning the ball over more than two times. To expect any real value from a rookie quarterback is unrealistic. The same can be said for Ryan. Harrington and Redman look to battle it out for the starting position with the other potentially becoming the backup. This would leave Ryan to hold the clipboard to start the season. The Falcons are not expected to be a good team this year, and Ryan may start to take snaps and eventually take over the reins for good by midseason if they find themselves falling out of contention. It has become the norm for teams to let their prize possessions watch from the sidelines at first before being put into a game situation. Look for this to happen with Ryan.
One thing to keep an eye on is Ryan’s tendency to throw interceptions. Ryan threw 19 interceptions during his senior season at Boston College. Many experts credited it to Ryan trying to do too much to help the team win and not having enough playmakers on the outside. The Falcons lost their security blanket when they cut tight end Alge Crumpler (Tennessee Titans) this offseason. Even though wide receiver Roddy White put up great numbers last year (83 receptions, 1,202 yards), the Falcons do not have a great No. 2 option and without Crumpler, White can be expected to see double teams.
When Ryan gets the opportunity to play, it would not be surprising to see him try to do too much to show he is deserving of the third overall pick in the draft and force some passes. The speed of the game is always hard to adjust to, and it is likely that it will take Ryan time to make that adjustment. Without having a security blanket, and unless a legitimate No. 2 option can emerge in the passing game, Ryan will probably be prone to throwing interceptions as he was during his senior campaign. Ryan could eventually become a solid fantasy quarterback, but he should not be relied on in any capacity this fantasy football season in single-year leagues.
About Phillip Backert
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