In the weeks leading up to the 2008 NFL Draft (April 26-27), BR.com will offer a look into the top prospects by position. This week, quarterbacks are under center, starting with a spotlight of Boston College's Matt Ryan.
As with most highly-rated prospects in the upcoming NFL Draft, general manager Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens' personnel department have been on the trail of Boston College's Matt Ryan for quite some time.
Not as long, however, as head coach John Harbaugh.
As a standout quarterback at William Penn (Philadelphia) Charter School, Ryan was a three-time All-League selection, throwing for over 1,300 yards and 15 touchdowns with only two interceptions as a senior.
Ryan became somewhat of a talking point among area coaches and football fans on every level - even up to the pros.
Harbaugh, a Philadelphia Eagles coach from 1998-2007, couldn't help but hear Ryan's name on the local high school highlights shows and began to follow the young phenom.
"He played at one of the Downingtown schools, so Friday night, they went through all the high school guys and he was a big star," Harbaugh told reporters at the NFL owners' meetings. "You didn't know he was going to be a first-round pick, but he was a big recruit."
After a stellar four-year career at BC, Ryan has positioned himself as not only a first-round pick, but the top-rated quarterback in the draft.
The 6-foot-5, 228-pound signal caller headed a powerful Golden Eagles offense that rolled over opponents. Ryan averaged 322.1 yards per game (10th in the nation) during a senior campaign that saw him finish seventh in the Heisman Trophy voting. On Ryan's accurate arm, BC finished sixth nationally with 321.9 passing yards per game, while the 22-year-old went 388-of-654 (59.3 percent) for 4,507 yards and 31 touchdowns.
Ryan was certainly prolific, posting 12 career 300-yard and five 400-yard outings. He even threw 1,347 total passes, completing 807 of them, and tossed an impressive 54 touchdowns.
But in some scouts' minds, Ryan's athletic exploits are even less important than his polished mental game, consisting of NFL-caliber toughness, leadership and intelligence.
Whether it was a game-winning touchdown pass against Clemson last year that clinched the ACC Atlantic Division title, or a breathtaking comeback from 10 points down to Virginia Tech in 2:11 that kept BC among the ACC's elite, Ryan always seemed to come through when it mattered.
"It was a good win for our team," Ryan modestly explained about the Virginia Tech game, which was played in the driving rain. "We didn't play as well as we would have liked for most of the game, but ultimately we did enough to get the win.
"I think quarterbacks are measured by what they do in the fourth quarter and what they do with the game on the line."
Ryan's loudest critics count the 19 interceptions he threw in 2007 as a red flag that could knock him down in the draft.
While Ryan realizes interceptions are a quarterback's biggest enemy, he doesn't put too much faith in the number.
"When you're aggressive with the football, sometimes mistakes are going to happen," he said. "I thought we were very aggressive as a team this year, and we ended up turning the football over. At the same time, we scored a lot of points, and we were competitive and won a lot of games.
"Ultimately, I think that wins are the most significant stat. But 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."
Harbaugh said that Newsome has yet to divulge his strategy on the Ravens' No. 8 draft pick. Still, the coach thinks Ryan will make whatever team that takes him happy.
"He's an accurate passer, he's big, he can scramble," said Harbuagh. "He's smart. He gives his receivers a chance. A lot of people are worried about his interceptions, but a lot of that is giving his receivers a chance to make plays, too.
"He's going to be a really good quarterback in this league."