Atlanta Falcons: 15 best first-round picks of all-time

Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images) /
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Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images) /

Matt Ryan is not the best player on the Falcons, nor has he really been that other than during his NFL MVP season in 2016. That’s no slight on “Matty Ice”, as he has played in the same offense with the greatest tight end of all-time in Tony Gonzalez and arguably the best wide receiver of his era in Julio Jones. Yet, Ryan is definitely the best first-round pick the Falcons have ever made. And it almost didn’t happen.

Ryan starred in college at Boston College and was seen as the best quarterback prospect in the 2008 NFL Draft, edging out Joe Flacco of Delaware. With the way that he carried the Eagles offense as Boston College’s starter, there was reason to believe he’d go No. 1 overall. However, he ended up falling to No. 3 to the Falcons.

A pair of Longs (Jake and Chris) went No. 1 and No. 2 to the Miami Dolphins and the then-St. Louis Rams, respectively. Jake Long was a perennial Pro Bowl left tackle for Miami before injuries cut his career short. Chris Long has never been a Pro Bowler, but is a two-time Super Bowl champion as a rotational pass rusher with the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles.

Atlanta desperately needed a franchise quarterback in 2008 after Michael Vick was sent to federal prison for his role in a dogfighting ring in his native Virginia. However, the Falcons needed to win the three-way tiebreaker with the Oakland Raiders and the Kansas City Chiefs to be in position to draft Ryan at No. 3. Atlanta had a good bit of luck on its side, as Ryan would go on to be the franchise quarterback this team has always deserved.

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Ryan was an immediate starter for the Falcons as a rookie in 2008, helping the team reach the NFC playoffs for the first time since 2004.

Atlanta made it to the playoffs in four of Ryan’s first five NFL seasons, yet he went 1-4 in the postseason as the star signal-caller of the Mike Smith era in Atlanta.

Ryan was a multi-time Pro Bowler in the Atlanta offense coordinated by Mike Mularkey and later Dirk Koetter.

However, it was under Kyle Shanahan in 2016 where Ryan had a career year. He won NFL MVP, as the Falcons made it all the way to the Super Bowl before blowing a 28-3 lead to the Patriots in Houston.

That was the closest the Dirty Birds have ever come hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.

Through his first 11 years in the league, Ryan has missed only two starts. He has thrown for over 4,000 yards the last eight seasons, usually completing well over 64 percent of his passes. Naturally, he owns just about every major passing record in franchise history. With a handful of prime years left, Ryan could clinch a spot in Canton with a few more Pro Bowls, or better yet, a Super Bowl victory.

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Putting Ryan ahead an all-time talent like Jones was hard, as was placing him two in front of a local legend the like of Tommy Nobis. That being said, Ryan has been a model franchise quarterback in Atlanta, having led the team to its last six postseason appearances.

When Ryan was drafted in 2008, the Falcons had made the playoffs eight times in franchise history. Without him, Atlanta’s football history looks very grim. Drafting a borderline Hall of Fame quarterback at No. 3 and getting at least 11 highly productive years out of him is about as good as it gets.