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Miami Herald - Ryan headed for the Hall of Fame


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Is Matt Ryan the NFL's next great QB? Count on it.

During several conversations over the years with many different Dolphins greats, including Hall of Fame coach Don Shula, I've always found it intriguing to hear about the initial impressions of Dan Marino.

The stories are often different, but the message is always the same: The first time you watched Marino in person, beginning when he first arrived in South Florida in 1983, you just knew. The accuracy. The ability. The efficiency. The greatness.

That’s part of the reason I’m excited to follow Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan’s career. Earlier today, I asked Atlanta coach Mike Smith about Ryan’s ability to do things with a football that have mystified many people that have witnessed him in person.

He responded in a fashion that reminded me of the way others have talked about Marino’s rookie year.

"We saw it in our (offseason training activities), when Matt was here in our rookie season,” Smith said. “There’d be a throw this day and a couple the next day, and you’d turn and look at (quarterbacks coach) Bill Musgrave or (offensive coordinator) Mike Mularkey and say ‘Did he really just fit that in?’

"I don’t know how you teach a guy to do that. I think it’s something that’s a God-given, innate ability. Matt has a real good understanding, but I think he can improve on that.”

Keep in mind: I’m not trying to compare Ryan to Marino. I still believe Marino’s rookie season, especially given that he didn’t play five of those games, remains the greatest of any first-year quarterback. (My colleague, David J. Neal, notes that Greg Cook also had a pretty amazing rookie season before he shredded his shoulder.)

Instead, I am saying this: Barring a Cook-like injury, Ryan is headed for the Hall of Fame. Too early, you say? Maybe. But show me a quarterback with his ability, with his leadership and his professionalism that had his amount of success in the first season of his NFL career that hasn’t proven to be a Hall of Famer.

Jim Plunkett? Even in 1971, despite a decent rookie year, his 16 interceptions separate him from falling into the category that Ryan put himself into last season.

My point is, when you listen to people talk about the best, there was never much question: When it comes to the great ones, they always just knew.

Smith’s point about Ryan’s accuracy meshes with everything I’ve heard from anyone else who has actually seen Ryan IN PERSON – not just on television. During a conversation with Yahoo’s Mike Silver, I recall Silver telling me how he didn’t realize just how great Ryan was until he watched him live.

It isn’t until you see him in a three-dimensional setting, when you can truly appreciate his accuracy, that you’ll realize the budding greatness that the second-year star showed last season.

Musgrave echoed the sentiment in a recent interview with Tom Curran, a highly respected NFL writer for NBCsports.com.

"Football-wise, he can process things in a split second,” Musgrave told Curran. “He has tremendous depth perception, can ascertain angles and deliver the football to very difficult places.”

Of course, we already know about his statistical abilities from a season ago, which included a completion percentage of 61.1 percent and 3,440 passing yards. We also know about his heightened maturity level and elite size.

But as Smith points out and anyone who knew Marino will also tell you: A truly great quarterback doesn’t just put up big numbers and have big size.

"All the great quarterbacks in this league are able to throw the ball very accurately, which means understanding angles and putting it into small places,” Smith said. “And it’s also about being a good decision maker.”

During a conference call with Ryan this morning, the quarterback said that he feels much more comfortable with his ability to prepare than he did a season ago. After one of the best rookie seasons we’ve seen from a quarterback perhaps since Marino, the Falcons’ star might now be on the verge of taking an even bigger leap in his second season.

When I asked Ryan if the transition to the NFL felt as smooth as it looked, he pointed out that “it’s always different when it’s yourself going through it.”

“I felt there were some ups and downs,” Ryan said. “I felt like the transition was fairly smooth, but it was a difficult process and I learned some things along the way.”

Before we start truly comparing him to Marino, though, he can’t simply have a rookie season like the Dolphins’ great. He’ll also need to string together 16 more seasons the way Marino did, too.

Marino remains the greatest pure passer the NFL has ever seen. And if Ryan is anything even close to that, it will surely be a fun career to follow. For the sake of the Dolphins’ fan base, you can only hope he has a few hiccups (perhaps this Sunday?) along the way.

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I hope defensive coordinators show him half as much respect as this guy has for him. If so, Turner will have running lanes the size of a four lane highway. I do suspect Ryan will have a better season this year with the addition of Tony Gonzalez. I'm thinking 4,000 yards and 2 to 1 TD/INT ratio.

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good article - nice post - thanks!

the one thing this Miami beatwriter failed to delve into ("the elephant in the room") is the fact that the very team he covers - the Miami Dolphins - had a chance to draft this potential next Marino - and bypassed it. Hard to believe he would not have at least devoted a paragraph to this missed opportunity.

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I wouldnt compare Ryan to Marino. Marino was actually one of the dumbest NFL players to ever play QB. His Wonderlic score was like 12 or something. Marino had a great arm though, and a passing offense built entirely around him. But Ryan is an entirely different QB.

Agree for the most part. Dumb or not, Marino had incredible instincts for where to put the ball, he would throw the ball over the wrong shoulder of a receiver if it was the open play. I've seen the same kind of thing out of Ryan, like the TD he threw to Gonzo against the Rams.

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Agree for the most part. Dumb or not, Marino had incredible instincts for where to put the ball, he would throw the ball over the wrong shoulder of a receiver if it was the open play. I've seen the same kind of thing out of Ryan, like the TD he threw to Gonzo against the Rams.

Marino was very football smart. I correct myself saying he was "dumb" like that. But he was also in an offense that passed 80% of the time his entire career. The Dolphins never had a running game or a defense to speak of while he played. That allowed him to put up a lot of great stats and set NFL records, but it also never gave him a SB ring.

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While I like the fact he likes our QB, talking about Hall of Fame for Ryan after just one decent year is silly in the extreme. I really hope it happens like he thinks it will, but there are so many things that could happen, that make discussing it stupid.

Go Falcons, and no slip this week for Ryan.

he said it's one of those things you just know...i'm sure it has something to do with actually watching him in person where regular fans wouldn't be able to see.

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I wouldnt compare Ryan to Marino. Marino was actually one of the dumbest NFL players to ever play QB. His Wonderlic score was like 12 or something. Marino had a great arm though, and a passing offense built entirely around him. But Ryan is an entirely different QB.

I don't think the author was comparing Matt Ryan to Dan Marino stylistically as much as he was comparing Matt Ryan's "potential for greatness" versus Dan Marino's "achieved greatness"........Matt Ryan compares similiarly in skill, smarts and temperment moreso to players like Peyton Manning than Dan Marino - however, this author writes for the Miami Herald and therefore Miami's "point of reference" for great QBs is Dan Marino......makes sense when you think about the comparison that way.

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I don't think the author was comparing Matt Ryan to Dan Marino stylistically as much as he was comparing Matt Ryan's "potential for greatness" versus Dan Marino's "achieved greatness"........Matt Ryan compares similiarly in skill, smarts and temperment moreso to players like Peyton Manning than Dan Marino - however, this author writes for the Miami Herald and therefore Miami's "point of reference" for great QBs is Dan Marino......makes sense when you think about the comparison that way.

I think you are right.

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OK boys you might wanna back down from the HOF talk.

Last year Ryan was tied with three for 7th in wins, 11th in passer rating, 13th in passing yards,16th in passing TDs and 17th in completion%.

As much as I like him HOF talk is premature don't you think? I'm really jus askin.

the part that makes those numbers special is the fact it was his 1st year. as this author said, usually you can spot greatness early, it's not one of those things you just sit on the fence about...sorta how you knew "Busterton" was a bust before you gave him 3 years eh ;)

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OK boys you might wanna back down from the HOF talk.

Last year Ryan was tied with three for 7th in wins, 11th in passer rating, 13th in passing yards,16th in passing TDs and 17th in completion%.

As much as I like him HOF talk is premature don't you think? I'm really jus askin.

Now remember how the guy was a rookie and you see why football guys get excited. The guy had a better rookie year than Peyton Manning.

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OK boys you might wanna back down from the HOF talk.

Last year Ryan was tied with three for 7th in wins, 11th in passer rating, 13th in passing yards,16th in passing TDs and 17th in completion%.

As much as I like him HOF talk is premature don't you think? I'm really jus askin.

I am in love with the guy's game but I agree with you. It's bizarre that a Miami reporter wrote this. I think he is trying to pull some kind of Jedi mind trick on Matt this Sunday.

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