Ryan: 'Winning is the most important stat'

OWINGS MILLS -- Matt Ryan was flushed out of the pocket, chased by a pack of Virginia Tech defenders intent on derailing his improvisational plans. Ryan's facial expression never changed as he calmly scrambled outside last fall and delivered a looping spiral for the game-winning touchdown pass.

That fourth-quarter drive had an inevitable feel, one where Ryan wasn't going to be denied.

It was the signature moment of his college football career. And Ryan's ascension could be punctuated this weekend as the Boston College senior is expected to be the top quarterback selected in the NFL draft.

Where Ryan's blend of size, intelligence, arm strength, accuracy, leadership and a work ethic that's been compared to Peyton Manning could intersect with a quarterback-needy franchise is the Baltimore Ravens' eighth overall selection of the first round.

Several analysts have forecasted that the Ravens will rapidly turn in a card on Ryan if he slips past the Atlanta Falcons' third overall pick, the Kansas City Chiefs' fifth overall pick and the New York Jets at sixth overall.

Now, the waiting game commences as the Ravens hope that landing Ryan could spell the solution to their long, frustrating quest for a franchise quarterback.

"Matt Ryan is everything you want between the ears," Ravens director of college scouting Eric DeCosta said. "Great leadership, field general, great poise, outstanding in the fourth quarter, which I think is very relevant for quarterbacks. He's off the charts."

The Ravens have a glaring need for a quarterback capable of transforming a dormant passing game. Ryan is regarded as the consensus blue-chip prospect who could halt the Ravens' days of lamenting an unenviable situation under center.

Following Steve McNair's sudden retirement, the Ravens are bereft of a proven signal caller with oft-criticized former first-round pick Kyle Boller and former Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith competing for the job.

Do the Ravens covet Ryan enough to trade up for him?

"I don't want to trade up," DeCosta said. "Obviously if Michael Jordan's there, you trade up to get him. You don't wait for him to come to you. Now, we have to see if there's a Michael Jordan in this draft."

The Ravens are understandably wary of trading for a quarterback after former coach Brian Billick coaxed the personnel department into trading a first-round draft pick and a second-round draft pick to acquire Boller in 2003 after an inconsistent career at Cal-Berkeley. Five years later, the Ravens are still paying for that ill-fated move.

Despite Boller's struggles with inconsistency, Baltimore general manager Ozzie Newsome said that won't make the Ravens unwilling to roll the dice again at football's highest-profile position.

"I think what it has done is it has allowed us to look back and see what's the best way to groom a starting quarterback in this league," Newsome said. "Kyle started from Day One. Was that the right thing to do? I don't know. Right now, I'd probably say no."

Although Ryan is highly-regarded, there is some trepidation from teams about picking a quarterback that high due to the scrutiny as well as the investment of millions of guaranteed dollars.

"People get scared," DeCosta said. "If you have any instability in your organization, you're probably not going to take a quarterback that's considered a risk. In the NFL, if you make a bunch of mistakes, it can really set you back.

"We had one draft class in 2004 which was not a good draft class and that hurt us. You can imagine if you take a quarterback high in the draft and he doesn't pan out not only do you need a quarterback, but you missed out on another position and you paid him a lot of money."

Ryan has built a solid reputation that he could be worth the gamble.

The ACC Player of the Year, consensus All-American and Johnny Unitas award winner set eight school passing records, including the single-season touchdown record with 31 last season to eclipse Doug Flutie.

The 6-foot-5, 228-pounder completed nearly 60 percent of his passes while passing for 4,507 yards. He had five career 400-yard games and registered 54 touchdown passes.

"I think I'm accurate with the football, mobile within the pocket and can slide around and make people miss and still keep my eyes downfield and be able to distribute the ball to our wide receivers," Ryan told reporters at the NFL scouting combine. "I think I do a number of things well. I just hope somebody gives me an opportunity to go in and compete and help try to make an organization a winner."

Ryan also draws high marks for leadership, routinely calling teammates early in the morning to organize workouts.

"He's good that way," DeCosta said. "I think he's very motivated, business-like, a gym rat."

The one apparent chink in Ryan's armor is turnovers. He threw 19 interceptions last season as he dealt with a poor group of receivers and often forced throws into coverage as he carried his team to the ACC title game.

"I watched all 19 interceptions," DeCosta said. "They weren't all his fault. If the receiver runs the wrong route and the ball is intercepted, that's not Matt Ryan's fault."

Added Ryan: "When you're aggressive with the football, sometimes mistakes are going to happen. No question about it, I've got to work on that. You have to improve on turning the ball over less if you want to be a successful quarterback in the NFL."

Nicknamed "Matty Ice," the Exton, Pa., native has a 25-7 record as a starter. He also scored a 32 on the Wonderlic personnel exam, tying Louisville's Brian Brohm for the highest quarterback score.

"Matt Ryan is a true franchise quarterback," said NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock, a former Boston College defensive back who's close to Ryan and his family. "He's the kind of kid who reminds me from an emotional toughness mindset of Peyton Manning.

"If Matt gets beaten up a little bit as a rookie, it's just going to make him better. Matt is clearly the best quarterback."

Although Mayock acknowledged that Ryan would make sense for the Falcons as the new face of their franchise following the embarrassing Michael Vick episode that sent the star quarterback to federal prison on dog fighting charges, he could see Ryan sliding to Baltimore and Atlanta picking LSU defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey.

"Knowing Matt pretty well, I'd love to see him go to Baltimore," Mayock said. "I think they're closer to being a good team and they've invested some high-level draft picks the last couple of years in their offensive line.

"Baltimore is a better football team that had a down year last year. And he's got a chance to grow with a team that's going to be pretty good in three or four years."

When discussing Ryan, scouts tend to reference his game-winning touchdown against Clemson as well as recounting how he engineered a comeback from a 10-point deficit in the final two minutes against the Hokies for a 14-10 rain-soaked victory.

"Ultimately, I think that wins are the most significant stat," Ryan said. "I think quarterbacks are measured by what they do in the fourth quarter and what they do with the game on the line."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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