He was in their shoes a year ago, waiting, wondering and hoping. Where would he play? What city would be his next hometown, what fans would he try to make his own?
Matt Ryan knows what all 2009 NFL Draft picks are going through right now because he lived it a year ago, but he especially understands what quarterbacks Matthew Stafford and Mark Sanchez are feeling with less than three weeks to go until this year's draft.
|Matt Ryan thrived in his trial by fire as a rookie starter for the Falcons. (Getty Images)|
The Atlanta Falcons took Ryan with the third overall pick last April and all he did was become a 16-game starter and lead the Falcons to the playoffs as a rookie. That has many putting that same kind of expectations on Stafford and Sanchez. If Ryan and Baltimore rookie Joe Flacco can lead their teams to playoff berths, why not the next two?
"I think it's tough to have those expectations for those guys," Ryan said. "When you come in, you just don't know what it's going to be like. You don't know what the team expects. My advice to those guys is to stay focused and not worry about all the stuff being said. If they stay focused on what they are doing, all the other stuff will take care of itself."
It certainly did for Ryan. The Falcons came close to taking LSU defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey last spring, but he had some red flags on their physical and the team opted for Ryan on draft day.
Believe this: It was an agonizing decision for the front office and coaching staff.
"We felt that you have to have a quarterback," said Falcons coach Mike Smith. "The teams that are usually successful are the teams that have a quarterback in place. It's not to say that it is always the case. But I think always as a coach you've got to develop a mature game plan based on your personnel. When you have a quarterback this ready, it sure opens up a whole lot more avenues because he's a guy who touched the ball on every snap."
Ryan took every snap for the Falcons last season. In doing so, not only did Ryan win Offensive Rookie of the Year honors, but he also displayed the poise and maturity of a player many years older.
Teammates raved about his calm in the huddle. They also said he was authoritative when the situations called for it.
He was 23 going on 33, even if he did have to put up with the traditional rookie stuff like bringing lunch and dinner to his teammates.
"I'm going to save a lot of money this year," he said, laughing.
The most important thing Ryan did was bring good feeling back to an organization that needed it. Michael Vick? Oh, that guy. Putting Vick's No. 7 long in the rearview mirror did wonders for the Falcons, which Ryan made possible.
Ryan is the anti-Vick. He loves working to get better. When Vick was in Atlanta, he rarely spent time at the team's facility when he didn't have to be there.
The Falcons can't keep Ryan away. Smith said last week the quarterback was required to attend a breakfast downtown, which meant he couldn't work out with the other players during the team's offseason program.
So what did Smith see when he returned to his office from that same breakfast? He saw Ryan working out with the strength coach on his own.
"I took a little time off," Ryan said. "But I was eager to get back to work."
Smith calls him a "gym rat."
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"I love playing the game," Ryan said.
It shows. You can tell by the way he handles himself on Sundays that he looks at the little things. He loves watching tape. This offseason he plans on working on several things he saw on tape that he needs to improve on.
"There's a number of things I've talked to the coaches about improving on over last season," Ryan said. "One of them is making better decisions, understand tendencies more."
Ryan threw for 3,440 yards, 16 touchdowns and 11 interceptions last season. He completed 61 percent of his passes. Those are special numbers for a first-year player who started in Week 1.
Most rookies struggle early their first season -- if they play at all. The Falcons did the right thing throwing Ryan into the fray from the start. He cured their ills, which is why they now head into this season as real contender to win the NFC South.
"I think we'll be better as an offense," Ryan said.
You bet they will. They have a franchise passer.
The teams that land Stafford and Sanchez will feel the same way a year from now.
For now, though, Ryan knows what those two are going through as they wait for draft day.
"I don't envy them," he said. "It's an unbelievable experience, but at the same time it's very stressful. There are so many factors where you might end up. It can be tough. I'm glad I'm not going through that again."
The Falcons feel the same way. Quarterback is a position they won't have to worry about on draft day for the next 10 years.