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Monday, December 27, 2010
What if the Dolphins drafted Matt Ryan?

By Tim Graham

The Miami Dolphins didn't miss when they selected franchise left tackle Jake Long with the No. 1 pick in the 2008 draft.

Matt Ryan and Jake Long
The Dolphins can only wonder where their offense would be if they had drafted Matt Ryan, left, in 2008 instead of Jake Long.
But did they take the wrong guy?

Dolfans will always look back on the draft class and wonder what might've been had they taken quarterback Matt Ryan first overall.

Long is an elite player at one of the game's most vital positions. He has gone to the Pro Bowl each of his two NFL seasons and could start his career with three in a row when all-star rosters are revealed Tuesday night.

The Dolphins believed if they took Long with the first pick they could grab a quality quarterback in the second or third round. They snapped up Chad Henne 57th overall and gave him time to grow when Chad Pennington fell in their laps that summer.

The move seemed like it would work. Long was a big reason the Dolphins went from 1-15 the year before he was drafted to the AFC East title his rookie year.

But three seasons later, the Dolphins still are looking for their offensive leader.

The decision to pass on Ryan could be viewed as the critical domino in a sequence of events that could render general manager Jeff Ireland and head coach Tony Sparano short-timers with Miami.

Fifteen quarterbacks have started for Miami since Dan Marino retired after the 1999 season.

Ryan, meanwhile, is approaching Marino's NFL record of 33 victories in his first three seasons. Ryan can tie Marino if the Atlanta Falcons beat the New Orleans Saints on Monday night and can break it with another win in next week's season finale against the lowly Carolina Panthers.

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco can reach 32 with a victory in his finale, but he can't catch Marino.

Ryan immediately became Atlanta's starter as a rookie and led them to the playoffs. The Falcons had a winning record last year but didn't make the tournament. They're headed back probably with the NFC's best record. Ryan has thrown 25 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

The Dolphins have been erratic with Henne, missing out on the playoffs in his two seasons as the starter. They went 7-9 last year. A big-play receiver was identified as a glaring need. They swung a monumental trade for Brandon Marshall yet are 7-8 with one game left.

Henne threw two third-down interceptions in the final 3:41 of Sunday's game against the Detroit Lions, who converted those turnovers into 10 points and won 34-27. The Dolphins finished their home schedule at 1-7, matching the worst home record in club history.