- Pat Yasinskas, ESPN Staff Writer
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Western Pennsylvania is often referred to as being a cradle of quarterbacks.
It fits. Think Johnny Unitas, Joe Montana, Dan Marino, Jim Kelly and dozens of others. But there’s one NFC South team that’s had some very good luck mining a tiny pocket of Southeastern Pennsylvania and I’m suggesting the Atlanta Falcons should reach there once again.
Not that he’ll listen and, if he does, then he might not be as smart as I think he is, but Atlanta general manager Thomas Dimitroff should go ahead and take a shot on Delaware quarterback Pat Devlin.
It makes sense on so many levels. The Falcons already are a very good team. They’re heading into this draft with only a few big needs (a pass rusher and some speed at running back and receiver) and they’ve got their full slate of draft picks, plus two extra choices in the seventh round.
Most experts are saying Devlin’s probably a fourth- or fifth-round guy. If the Falcons get into one of those rounds and Devlin is there, go ahead and take him. The Falcons aren’t looking for a franchise quarterback or even a starter. They’ve got Matt Ryan and he’s going to be around for a decade or so.
But do you really feel like the Falcons have the greatest backup situation in the league? They’ve got Chris Redman, who can get you through a game or two with a good team around him. But, suppose Ryan goes down for a month or six weeks? That’s huge trouble. The other option is John Parker Wilson and there’s a reason why he came to the Falcons as an undrafted free agent and why he’s been stuck at the No. 3 spot on the depth chart.
That’s why the Falcons should go back to their private quarterback mine. Devlin is from Downingtown, Pa. If you know anything about Pennsylvania geography (and I grew up in that state), you know that Downingtown is one of those Philadelphia suburbs that you can drive through and be in the next town and the town after that without even knowing it.
Those are towns like Downingtown, Exton and West Chester. You could throw in Coatesville, Malvern and Paoli, but let’s just stick with the first three for the sake of simplicity.
According to Mapquest, Downingtown is 4.73 miles from Exton. You know who grew up in Exton? Ryan. I’m not saying Devlin is going to be the next Ryan and he sure wouldn’t be sitting in the fourth or fifth round if anybody really believed that. But I think Devlin has a chance to be a poor-man’s version of Ryan.
Actually, once upon a time, Devlin was a better prospect. Ryan went to private school at William Penn Charter and wasn’t all that heavily recruited before blossoming at Boston College. At nearby Downingtown East High, which Ryan could have attended, Devlin came out of high school rated as the No. 1 quarterback in the nation by many. He committed to Miami, but Joe Paterno, who doesn’t do a ton of recruiting in the Philadelphia area because he thinks it is basketball country, went in and told Devlin he needed to come to Penn State.
Devlin listened, because not many Pennsylvania kids have the guts to ignore Paterno. But things kind of got sidetracked in Devlin’s sophomore preseason when he and junior Darryl Clark finished in a dead heat for the starting job. In Paterno’s world, the veteran always gets the nod and Clark did. Devlin got some playing time that year and did well, including leading a game-winning drive against Ohio State after Clark got hurt, but he knew he wouldn’t start until his senior season and he transferred to Delaware, where the school motto is "Look what we did for Joe Flacco''.
Now, let’s pull out the map and Atlanta history one more time. If you’re in Downingtown and head south 8.03 miles, you land in West Chester. There’s a high school there called West Chester East. A few years before Ryan and Devlin surfaced, West Chester East had a quarterback named Matt Schaub. Paterno didn’t want him either, so Schaub went to Virginia and had a pretty nice career.
Back in 2004, the Falcons were in situation similar to now. They had a franchise quarterback, Michael Vick, but wanted a solid backup. They took Schaub in the third round and thought he’d be a nice insurance policy.
But a funny thing happened along the way. Schaub became perhaps the best preseason-game quarterback of our generation. The Falcons went to Tokyo in the summer of 2005 and Schaub ended up being selected the Most Valuable Player of the American Bowl.
Schaub suddenly became more than a backup. He became valuable currency. Not knowing Vick’s career was about to hit major turmoil, the Falcons traded Schaub to Houston and got second-round picks in 2007 and 2008. Schaub’s now the starter with the Texans.
I don’t know that Devlin will ever end up being an NFL starter. He has size and background in common with Ryan and Schaub, but the knock on him is he doesn’t have the world’s strongest arm.
But Devlin’s been compared to Ryan and Schaub all his life and those are good quarterbacks to be mentioned along with. Drafting those two guys worked out very well for the Falcons. Maybe they need to look into their history and pull one more gem with a trip on U.S. Highway 322.