Choose Your Destiny: Matt Ryan

Seventeen days remain until the Kansas City Chiefs are on the clock with their highest first-round pick in over a decade. Who will be the next rookie to wear red and gold? Nobody knows, and I'm not about to attempt any predictions – I'll leave the mock drafting to others.

But we can narrow it down. After months of deliberation, a picture of the top five players in this year's draft has become somewhat clearer. Arguably, those players are (in no particular order):

1. Quarterback Matt Ryan
2. Running back Darren McFadden
3. Offensive tackle Jake Long
4. Defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis
5. Defensive end Chris Long

If we make the assumption that the Chiefs won't trade down out of the top five choices, it's realistic to fit one of the above in a red jersey next season. Undoubtedly, all can help Kansas City – but who offers the most value?

Over the next 17 days we'll weigh the pros and cons of each top prospect. The final choice is best left to others.

Part I: QB Matt Ryan, Boston College

2007 stats – 4,507 yards, 31 touchdowns, 19 interceptions

Career stats – 9,313 yards, 56 touchdowns, 37 interceptions

Why draft a quarterback if you're the Chiefs? Isn't Brodie Croyle the starter going forward and the franchise passer for the foreseeable future?

For now, yes, but despite a few flashes of brilliance, no one really knows anything about Croyle, other than the fact he has a strong arm and is injury prone. He could be the next Fran Tarkenton or he could be the next Rob Johnson.

Croyle is no reason to pass on a franchise quarterback. If the Chiefs have determined that Matt Ryan is a franchise-caliber player in the process of scouting him, drafting him makes complete sense.

So what would Ryan bring to the Chiefs that Croyle doesn't? Just look at a photograph of the Boston College grad.

Standing almost 6-foot-5 and weighing nearly 230 pounds, Ryan has the classic NFL quarterback build every team covets. That's in stark contrast to Croyle, who has been criticized for his slight build and smallish frame.

And in that light, Ryan certainly appears to be more durable than Croyle has ever been. He missed only three starts over his final three seasons at Boston College, due to minor injuries. He also played through a broken bone in his foot as a junior, a testament to his durability and toughness.

Because of these qualities, Ryan started every game as a senior while playing in a pass-heavy offense (654 attempts in 14 games, or almost 47 passes per game). That enormous responsibility (being the driving force of the offense) will better prepare Ryan for NFL life more than any other factor.

After concluding his senior year, Ryan had racked up 34 starts while completing 59 percent of his passes. According to a system developed by Football Outsiders, those two statistics, more than anything else, are the best indicator for a college quarterback's potential in the NFL.

The bar is set at 35 starts and a 57 percent completion rate. Peyton Manning, Donovan McNabb, Daunte Culpepper, Chad Pennington, Drew Brees, Carson Palmer, Byron Leftwich, Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, Jason Campbell, Matt Leinart and Jay Cutler all passed that bar over the last ten years. That's a fairly high success rate (not counting Leftwich, with the book not written on Campbell and Leinart).

Good news for Ryan, indeed. Now for the bad news.

No one will soon mistake Ryan for the top quarterback drafted a year ago, Oakland's JaMarcus Russell. Ryan's arm strength has been compared to Pennington or Matt Schaub – good enough to get the job done, but not good enough to consistently challenge the deep secondary.

And the high number of interceptions Ryan threw at Boston College also throw up a red flag. Thirty-seven career picks against 56 touchdowns isn't exactly a sparkling ratio, especially compared to other top quarterbacks drafted over the last few years.

What did Ryan really do in college before his senior season? There's always danger in selecting a player who experienced only one truly elite season of NCAA play.

Do the Chiefs really want to spend such a high pick on a quarterback who may not be the most physically gifted in the world? And is the situation in which KC's offense finds itself – rebuilding – really the ideal situation for any young passer, especially one who won't be running around like Michael Vick?

Those issues will be weighed by Kansas City's front officers in the days leading up to April 26. We know one thing for sure – the Chiefs clearly have an interest in Ryan after sending a veritable welcoming party to his Pro Day at Boston College last month.

The final word:

Sports Illustrated's Peter King speculated a few weeks ago that should the Chiefs draft Ryan, head coach Herm Edwards would buy himself more time to rebuild the team.

That's one way to see it. Another view is that drafting any quarterback in the top five is risky business that can dump an NFL coach in the unemployment line in only a season or two.

Next time: Darren McFadden.

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