Super Bowl 51 and the 08′ Draft Connection

As with every Super Bowl there is always a game inside the game, a matchup that goes a little bit deeper than it appears. In this year’s matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and the New England Patriots, there are numerous story lines including Falcons Head Coach Dan Quinn heading to his third Super Bowl in four years, Tom Brady playing in his seventh Super Bowl, and the top offense in the league against the top defense.

One aspect that is often overlooked is that of the individuals, specifically those from the 08’ NFL draft class. Most notably from that 08’ draft class is two of the top three picks, Matt Ryan who would go to the Falcons at number three overall and Chris Long, who was drafted by the then St. Louis Rams at number two. These two will square off once again on Sunday for the right to be crowned a champion, and ultimately number one. Only a season ago was it the first time in NFL history that the number one and two picks from the same draft went head to head in the Super Bowl, as Cam Newton and Von Miller battled it out.

These two are competitors there is mutual respect on both sides of this friendly rivalry. Going back to their days in college in the ACC, Long at the University of Virginia and Ryan at Boston College, they have had a long-standing relationship and admiration with one another.

“I’ve always admired Matt’s game, he played in the ACC when I was there, I’ve seen him kind of grow up as a quarterback and continue to mature, become more and more poised every year. I am definitely proud of him as a friend, but Sunday is going to be a battle” explained Chris Long on his relationship with Ryan. “Matt and I have kind of been along the same football path, at least being in the ACC, same draft, and all that. I’ve watch his game as it’s elevated and it elevated. He was always a good player, but the older he gets the better he gets. I’m really just happy for him. This is a great thing that he deserves, to be here, and we’ve got a hell of a challenge.”

Matt Ryan, now a nine-year veteran in the NFL is coming off a season that saw him perform at an MVP level and put him right in the thick of things in terms of that discussion. This past season saw Ryan throw for 4,944 yards as well as tossing 38 touchdown passes to only 7 interceptions. Ryan in his career is a four-time pro bowler and in 2016 was awarded his first all-pro selection as well as the PFWA NFL Most Valuable Player Award. From the get go in his career Ryan has the look of a future star in the league, completing his first pass of his career to Michael Jenkins for a 62-yard score. In his first career playoff game as a rookie, Ryan set an NFL record with 26 completions as a rookie. Falling just short of making it to the Super Bowl in 2012 this will be Ryan’s first shot at taking home the Lombardi trophy.

Taken one pick before Ryan in the 08’ draft, Chris Long has been able to make a long and productive career for himself as well. Keeping it in the family, Long’s father Howie Long is an NFL Hall of Famer and his younger brother Kyle currently plays offensive line for the Chicago Bears. In his career Long has tallied 58.5 sacks and was named to the NFL All-Rookie team in 08’ as well as the NFL Alumni lineman of the Year in 11’. Following a seven year career in St. Louis, Long was released by the Rams and would eventually sign on with the Patriots. In his lone season in New England, Long helped anchor a defense that was ranked the best in the league this season in points allowed per game and picked up four sacks to his own account.

Matt Ryan going up against Chris Long in the Super Bowl, a matchup that has been years in the making, and one that can not be overlooked.

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