- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 20, 2008

Their starting quarterback a week into retirement, the Baltimore Ravens are assumed to have one giant hope entering Saturday’s NFL Draft: the possibility of quarterback Matt Ryan being available after seven picks.

The problem: Three teams in front of the Ravens — Miami (No. 1), Atlanta (No. 3) and Kansas City (No. 5) — are also considering Ryan, the Boston College passer who threw for 4,258 yards last year.

Baltimore’s conundrum, trade up to guarantee a shot at Ryan or trade down to acquire more picks and take Delaware’s Joe Flacco later in the first round, is one of the more intriguing plots.

Steve McNair’s departure leaves Kyle Boller and Troy Smith as Baltimore’s top two quarterbacks. Boller has failed once already as the Ravens’ starter, and Smith is a project.

“It’s an area we want to strengthen, no question,” new Ravens coach John Harbaugh said before McNair retired.

Since top 10 picks are rarely traded, the Ravens will be in wait-and-see mode.

New Miami boss Bill Parcells must decide whether to help his offensive line (Michigan’s Jake Long) or defensive front (Vernon Gholston of Ohio State) instead of taking Ryan, therefore handing the job to second-year player John Beck.

Atlanta’s starter is Chris Redman, but the Falcons’ roster has so many holes, and they may opt for surest shot on the board.

Kansas City’s present and future appeared to be Brodie Croyle, but he couldn’t beat out Damon Huard in training camp and then went 0-6 as a starter.

Enter Ryan.

“Matt Ryan is a true franchise quarterback,” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said.

Ryan’s first three years at Boston College weren’t terrific — 25 touchdowns and 18 interceptions. But the arrival of Jeff Jagodzinski changed Ryan’s career. Previously Green Bay’s offensive coordinator, Jagodzinski installed a pro-style system for the pro-style quarterback.

Ryan, showing ability to make line calls and pre-snap changes, had 31 touchdowns and 19 interceptions.

Ryan’s knack for rallying the Eagles late in games — particularly throwing two touchdowns in the final minutes of the Virginia Tech win — impresses Kansas City coach Herm Edwards.

“I think he understands the game, has a good arm to make the throws, has good awareness in the pocket,” Edwards said. “He’s won some games at the end, and the thing I’ve watched and like about the guy is he’s played some games where he started off kind of bad, but he found a way to come back and still win the game.”

Ryan is the unquestioned top-ranked quarterback but the debate on who’s No. 2 is heated. Delaware’s Joe Flacco has wowed scouts during pre-draft workouts. But there’s the Division I-AA stigma.

“He reminds me a little bit of a Jason Campbell, even though he came out of a I-AA school because he’s got a big arm,” Mayock said. “Nobody knew about him until this year. I went to a practice in October and he blew me away with his arm strength.”

The next tier of quarterbacks — none of whom figures to go in the first round but could be selected by quarterback-needy teams in the second round — includes Louisville’s Brian Brohm, Michigan’s Chad Henne and Tennessee’s Erik Ainge.

TOP FIVE QUARTERBACKS

MATT RYAN, BOSTON COLLEGE

6-4½, 225

Could go as high as no. 1 to Miami if Bill Parcells opts for offense over defense, but he won’t get past Baltimore at no. 8. Threw for 31 touchdowns and 4,507 yards passing last year.

Brian Brohm, Louisville

6-3, 227

Last year at this time appeared ticketed to Atlanta and former college coach Bobby Petrino. Now? He’ll be a steal for a team like Kansas City if it trades down. Threw 46 TDs and 17 INTs last two years.

JOE FLACCO, DELAWARE

6-6, 232

His rocket arm has rocketed him up the draft board with dazzling pre-draft workouts. Not a top-10 pick, but if Ryan is gone, the Ravens could trade down into the late first round and select Flacco.

ERIK AINGE, TENNESSEE

6-6, 225

The classic game manager according to scouts - he makes good decisions under duress, has a strong arm and is tough (played with a broken finger last year). Those qualities could make him a no. 2 right away.

Chad Henne, Michigan

6-3, 235

A four-year starter in the Big Ten, there’s no questioning his experience. But his uneven play from year to year and inaccuracy when pressured pushes him into the third or fourth round.

REDSKINS OUTLOOK

The Redskins wasted a seventh-round pick last year on UTEP’s Jordan Palmer, who was so bad in the preseason the team didn’t even put him on the practice squad. Jason Campbell (No. 1) and Todd Collins (No. 2) are set. Former Terps quarterback Sam Hollenbach will get a chance to win the third-string job, but expect the Redskins to add another young quarterback to serve as a training camp arm.

Ryan O’Halloran

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