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Comparisons Btwn Jake Long and Falcons' Matt Ryan

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Dolphins hope they won't regret bucking a trend by selecting an offensive tackle over a quarterback in the 2008 NFL Draft

Thank God they didn't take Ryan.

By Mike Berardino

South Florida Sun-Sentinel

September 11, 2009

There is a mutual respect.

A friendship, even, after spending a couple of months training together in the Arizona desert as they came out of college.

"Real laid-back, real easy to talk to," Jake Long says of Matt Ryan.

In return, Ryan calls Long "a really good guy" with a "great personality."

Yet deep down, there also must be an understandable wariness between Long and Ryan, two young franchise players whose teams will meet for the first time this Sunday in Atlanta.

They will always be linked, you see. The comparisons will never stop.

Not after they filled two of the top three spots in the 2008 NFL Draft, and certainly not after the unusual order in which they were selected.

Long, the incredibly talented left tackle, went to the Dolphins first overall.

Ryan, the remarkably productive quarterback, went to the Atlanta Falcons third.

Doesn't usually work that way.

Eleven times since the 1970 merger, a quarterback and an offensive tackle have gone inside the first five picks of the NFL Draft. Just one other time — 1995, when the Jaguars took Tony Boselli second overall, one pick ahead of the late Steve McNair — has a team opted for beef over bullets.

The trend started in 1973, when Bert Jones (second overall, Colts) went ahead of Jerry Sisemore (third, Eagles), and continued right on through this spring, when the woeful Detroit Lions opted for Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford over Baylor tackle Jason Smith.

Even after Long made the Pro Bowl as an alternate and helped his team engineer the greatest single-season turnaround in league history, the debate continues. That's because Ryan piled up 3,440 passing yards and 16 touchdowns and drew league-wide raves as the latest great arm to come along.

Troy Aikman, the Hall of Fame quarterback now serving as lead analyst for Fox, raised the issue on-air during a Dolphins exhibition game.

"There [are] a lot of people that wondered why the Dolphins didn't take Matt Ryan," said Aikman, who went 1-2 with tackle Tony Mandarich 20 years ago. "If you know he's a franchise quarterback, then you take him there. Something about it, the Dolphins didn't think he was a franchise quarterback."

Well, you'll never get them to say that.

Dolphins coach Tony Sparano raves about Ryan, citing his leadership skills and outstanding production and comparing him with Peyton Manning and Chad Pennington in his ability to run an offense.

"Winner," Sparano says. "The guy is a winner."

Ryan, too, had nothing but warm words as well for Sparano and Dolphins General Manager Jeff Ireland, the two top team officials who interviewed the former Boston College standout before the 2008 draft.

"Everybody was very professional," Ryan says. "I just felt they were football guys, really dedicated to trying to get things headed in the right direction down there."

Did Ryan ever start to believe he was headed to the Dolphins?

"Maybe for a second you think that," he says, "but really I had no idea."

The Dolphins, faced with a major rebuilding project, wanted to fix their woeful offensive line first. In the second round they took Long's Michigan teammate, Chad Henne, with an eye toward making him their quarterback of the future.

Yet even after Pennington fell out of the sky and into the Dolphins' waiting arms 13 months ago, there are some who will question the wisdom of passing on Ryan, even for a 6-foot-7 specimen like Long. How is a left tackle supposed to compete with a quarterback's gaudy numbers anyway?

"It's no pressure that I already haven't felt," Long says of his lofty draft status. "I like having pressure on me. I like having a bull's-eye on me. I think I play better when I'm under that. I just embrace it and go with it."

That's typical Long. A perfectionist by nature and one who apologizes to his quarterbacks for even the slightest mistake, he is a pro's pro who isn't about to let the draft comparison get to him or sour his relationship with Ryan.

"Wherever we ended up, both of us were happy for each other," Long says. "He's doing great, and I'm happy for him."

Ryan echoes that sentiment.

"Jake is a really talented player," Ryan says. "I think he did a great job last season ... and he was a great fit for the Dolphins. I've been impressed with him."

And how should Long handle those comparisons, which he knows will continue to be made, even if he makes five Pro Bowls and an all-decade team the way Boselli did in the 1990s?

"He's got a great work ethic," Ryan says, "and I'm sure he'll continue to do great things down there."

He'd better. Or he'll never hear the end of it.

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how can you not believe that the Dolphins regret the move? It's gotta blow for the Dolphins because Long can only make so much impact on the field. A good QB is worth more than a great OL but a great QB is worth way more than a great OL.

I can't agree with you there. Tarvaris Jackson is an average QB IMO but he went to the playoffs behind a solid O-Line. You could take Dan Marino and put him behind a horrible O-Line and he's not going anywhere. I'd take a good QB behind a great line before a great QB behind a suspect line any day.

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I have a feeling that if the draft were redone the Dolphins would have taken Matt Ryan...they would never admit that, but I just can't see them or St. Louis passing on Ryan knowing what they know now. That said, Long is still going to be a really, really good pro. I don't think the Dolphins dropped the ball or anything like that, but I believe they would do things differently. Nonetheless, the Dolphins are a team on the rise in the AFC East.

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Matt Ryan is a fantastic young player... but we are hardly upset we ended up with a Pro Bowl LT, lol. B)

Jake has been huge for us, and was a huge reason for our turn around, although its often looked over b/c of some of the other big name additions like Parcells and Pennington. He is the complete package, and everything you could want in a LT. Massive and strong, and can maul defenders in the run game... while at the same time being long and quick enough to protect the QB at an elite level (only 2.5 sacks allowed last season). Hes an elite talent at one of the most important positions in football, and is a true franchise player. Drafting him also set a tone for our franchise and the direction we are going, with tough, hard working, focused football players.

Ryan's great. And using hindsight, it'd be hard not to take him at #1 if the draft was redone. But, the Fins are hardly disappointed that the ended up with Jake Long. One heck of a consolation prize, lol...


Who should be killing themselves are the Rams. Chris Long is a nice player... but hes not going to be a franchise player...

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