Joe Ryan

During the 2008 draft, Ozzie Newsome & Co. were tasked with a simple request: get a QB.  Through scouting reports, their favorites came down to two players: Flacco & Ryan.  The Ravens were picking high in the draft, which is very unusual for a franchise that has been very successful in a short amount of existence.

Matt Ryan was projected to be the top QB of the draft and Flacco was a close 2nd.  Since the first QB picked is usually near the top 5, the Ravens could have considered trading up to grab him, if they really wanted to.  There was no telling exactly where either players would land, as both have high intangibles but not every team can take a chance.

One of the big reasons why NFL team staff members get fired is due to their drafted choice of quarterback.  If they miss on a high pick, then their days could be numbered quickly.  Teams like the Browns, the Jets, the Bills, & the Buccaneers have recent histories of bad picks at the quarterback position which have caused mass firings.  The Bills appear to have given up on E.J. Manuel already after being the only QB drafted in the 1st round last year.

Before Peyton Manning was signed, the Broncos were going through a similar streak.  They were having an impossible time finding a successor to Elway through the draft.  (Plus remember: Elway only came to them because he didn’t want to play here for the Colts)  So after having wasted high picks on Jay Cutler (whom they traded and also let go his favorite receiver Brandon Marshall) and on Tim Tebow (Ravens brass gave them that pick, and likely are still giggling), they paid a high $20 mil/year salary to Manning to have him let another team down in the playoffs.

So with the stigma attached to drafting quarterbacks and the high risk & high reward present, it’s a career changing gamble to go after a franchise quarterback in the early 1st round.  It’s likely that running through Ozzie’s head were some of the worst trades ever made during the draft.  Still, if he wanted Ryan he would have to go up & get him.  They certainly had high draft picks in each round & other teams may have thought they could be rebuilding, so a trade could have been possible.

Instead, as we know, they let Atlanta take Ryan to replace the (then) incarcerated Mike Vick and the Ravens made some trades into the lower half of the draft and snagged Flacco & extra picks.  It’s worth noting that this draft was a huge turning point for not only the Ravens & Falcons, but also for the Jacksonville Jaguars.  The Jags had come off a postseason trip & beat the Steelers during the playoffs, so things were looking up with their team.  So, their 11-5 record gave them the 26th pick and they traded for the Ravens’ 8th pick to draft DE Derrick Harvey, as well as giving additional picks to Baltimore.  Since then, the Ravens & Falcons have been to the playoffs at least 4 times each.  The Jaguars haven’t been back since and are considered one of the worst teams in the league.

Therefore, if Flacco wins at least one more Super Bowl, the 2008 trades should be placed among the best/worst trades discussions for sports pundits.

Then again, what if the Ravens did pull off a trade and drafted Ryan with, say, the no. 2 pick overall?  There’s no guarantee that what broke right for Flacco would have happened also for Ryan.  That being the other two quarterbacks on the roster, Kyle Boller & Troy Smith, being unable to start the season.  Yeah, Flacco was supposed to sit the first year and was third on the depth chart.  He was somewhat lucky to pull off a 11-5 record in his rookie year (which Ryan got as well in 08).

You do have to consider the rosters of both teams back then.  Ryan has had the benefit, almost since day one, of an exemplary receiving corps & playing inside a dome.  If he was in Baltimore, who knows how he would have endured in the cold weather cities, outdoor stadiums, stronger defenses, and a lacking receiving unit.  Right now, think of who we must have had catching balls in 2008.  If you said Mason & Heap, you’re right.  That’s only 2 players, with many more that would be 4th string starters at best.  Our number 2 wide receiver was the infamous Mark Clayton, who was a big miss in the first round of the 2005 draft.  It didn’t help that Clayton had an extremely similar physical build compared to Mason, but was constantly overshadowed by his 30+ year old counterpart.  It also didn’t help that good ol’ Heap was a target for injuries since he’s been so valuable for our past quarterbacks. (Also, Hall of Famer Jonathan Ogden retired in June of 2008, so there was a new gaping hole to be replaced at left tackle following the draft)

Could you imagine Matt Ryan getting chased out of pocket by James Harrison and having a well thrown ball be dropped by a wide open Clayton?  That’s something that few quarterbacks could shake off and retain confidence to succeed in the NFL.  Instead, Matty Ice had great support being well protected in ATL and Joe Cool has kept his cool throwing deep TD passes as some defender throws his body into his chest.

When the two players meet up this Sunday (1pm on FOX), their respective teams will try to improve on their different situations.  Despite a blowout performance against the Buccaneers, I’m betting the Ravens are still smarting about that Colts loss and will want to embarrass a top QB.  They got to show that they’re tough, and they’ve beat mainly under-performing teams while losing to teams on the upswing.  There aren’t too many chances this season for the Ravens to go beat tough teams as they have (on paper) one of the easiest schedules in the league.  After beating the Bucs 48-17, they get to face the team that had beaten the Bucs 56-14.

The Falcons are a wounded team, going through a rash of injuries for a second year in a row.  Last year, injuries to their top receivers & offensive linemen contributed to their 4-12 record.  Now, at 2-4, they’re getting hurt again.  The upside for them is that they play in a very bad NFC South.  So far, the best team in their division is the Carolina Panthers who, as the Ravens have already found out, are quite flawed.  The division is up for grabs for pretty much every team that doesn’t play in Tampa.  At some point the Falcons will have to string together some wins and they’re picking the worst time to go through a losing streak.  Since this team is in a southern state and plays in a domed stadium, they are shielded from the harsh elements that many football teams encounter during the fall/winter months.  September & October would therefore be the most ideal months to get wins, and yet they’re 2-4 & 0-3 away from home.  This team is on the wrong track for the second year in a row.  That Julio Jones trade is really causing problems to their depth.

While the Ravens & Falcons face off this Sunday, make sure to appreciate another group of birds.  The Orioles, sadly, have lost the ALCS to the KC Royals.  That doesn’t mean that their season wasn’t awesome!  This was more of a step in the right direction.  We should hope & believe that our O’s will return to the playoffs next year and be better prepared to go further.  They’ve been able to establish a winning swagger that for years has only been present in the Ravens, where only fans at home acknowledge that our respective teams will be heading to the postseason.

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Be sure to enjoy the game this Sunday and go Ravens!  Also, thank you Orioles!

-CW

Photo credits: baltimoreravens.com & facebook.com/baltimoreorioles

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