FLOWERY BRANCH - The Atlanta Falcons have a new quarterback and - they hope - a new face of the franchise.
So long, Michael Vick. Hello, Matt Ryan.
The Falcons chose the Boston College star with the third overall pick in Saturday's NFL draft. Ryan could compete for the starting job as a rookie. He'll also give the franchise a much-needed new identity.
General manager Thomas Dimitroff, the former director of college scouting in New England, compared Ryan's leadership qualities with those of Patriots star Tom Brady.
'I think with Matt, it's a combination of the intelligence he has, the leadership ability he has and I can't stress enough he has the ability to take not only the offense but the entire team,' Dimitroff said.
'That's huge. I've been around a situation with New England where we had a quarterback that had the whole team. That was one aspect I think was very attractive as well as his skill set on the field.'
The Falcons obtained another first-round pick from Washington to draft Southern California offensive tackle Sam Baker with the 21st overall selection.
Baker (6-5, 312) is the son of Arena Football League commissioner David Baker.
Some draft experts said Baker lacks the size and arm length to play left tackle in the NFL, but Dimitroff said Baker is a 'legitimate' left tackle.
'We needed to be aggressive to move up and get Sam Baker,' Dimitroff said, adding he didn't think Baker would be available in the second round.
Baker started 49 games at left tackle at USC. He had knee surgery following his junior season and missed three games and parts of two games with injuries in 2007.
The Falcons gave the Redskins two second-round picks - Nos. 34 and 48 - and a fourth-round pick, No. 103. They obtained the first-round pick used on Baker, the No. 84 selection in the third round and the No. 154 pick in the fifth.
The trade left the Falcons with one second-round pick, which they used to select Oklahoma linebacker Curtis Lofton. Lofton led Oklahoma with 157 tackles. He had nine tackles, three for losses, a sack and an interception in Oklahoma's win over Missouri in the Big 12 championship game.
Vick, the first pick in the 2001 draft, is serving a 23-month prison sentence after pleading guilty to federal charges in a dogfighting operation. Any thoughts of Vick returning to the Falcons after his prison sentence likely ended when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced Ryan as Atlanta's pick.
Vick, one of the fastest players in the league, was best known for his running. He became the first NFL quarterback to rush for 1,000 yards in a season.
Dimitroff called Ryan, a native of Exton, Penn., 'a prototypical quarterback.'
'He can throw in the pocket,' Dimitroff said. 'He has the vision. He has a very nice ability to move laterally in the pocket. He's accurate underneath. He can also make the deep ball.
'He's also an intelligent football player and the last thing I want to stress is his toughness. He has the ability to take a shot in the face and get knocked down and get up and grit it out and go forward. I think that's exciting for us as a team and exciting for coach Smith as well.'
Said Ryan: 'I just can't wait to get down to Atlanta.
'I'm going to come in and work as hard as I can and try to earn the respect of my teammates and go out and try to get out on the field.'
Dimitroff considered using the third overall pick on LSU defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey.
'We had options for sure and obviously Glenn Dorsey was a legitimate consideration,' Dimitroff said.
Dimitroff and coach Mike Smith, concerned that Baltimore might move up in the first round to take Ryan, discussed a trade with St. Louis to move up to the second overall pick.
The Falcons' need at quarterback was obvious as Joey Harrington, Byron Leftwich and Chris Redman started in the 4-12 2007 season.
Ryan (6-5, 228) ranked third in the nation with his school-record 4,507 yards passing in 2007, but he threw 19 interceptions and was No. 115 in the nation with his 127.0 passer rating.
Dimitroff said the interceptions were 'not an issue for us.' The GM said Ryan's numbers were hurt by some dropped passes by Boston College's receivers.
'I couldn't be happier for Matt,' said Boston College coach Jeff Jagodzinski, a former Falcons assistant coach. 'Not only did Atlanta get a great quarterback, they got a man of great character to lead their organization.'
Smith was impressed by the Falcons' interview with Ryan in Boston. Offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey and quarterbacks coach Bill Musgrave grilled Ryan, but the quarterback had all the answers.
'It's real easy to evaluate a guy with how he throws a football,' Smith said. 'When you sit down in a meeting situation, and they really tried to stump him, they gave him some real difficult stuff in terms of trying to find out what he knows and what he doesn't know. He was outstanding on the board. He was very cerebral.'
Said Ryan: 'I felt really comfortable in that meeting. I feel like I learned a lot from those guys and look forward to working with them.'