The Top 3 Pick Club

The Top 3 Pick Club
September 26, 2013, 1:30 pm
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They’ve held the NFL Draft every year since 1936. The NBA Draft has been around since 1950. The NHL Draft has taken place annually since 1963. And Major League Baseball? They launched their amateur draft in 1965, and are still going strong.

By my math, that’s a total of 242 drafts in the history of our four most prominent professional sports leagues. That’s a lot of envelopes, podiums and bad suits. But if you look at the top three picks in all 242 of those drafts you won’t find many athletes who played their college ball in Massachusetts.

In fact, you’ll only find four.

The first is Holy Cross alum Bob Cousy, who was drafted third overall in the 1950 NBA Draft by the Tri-Cities Blackhawks. He was later sold to the Chicago Stags and then acquired by the Celtics in the dispersal draft. (Whatever that was.)

The second is Rick DiPietro, the goalie out of Boston University, who was selected by the Islanders with the No. 1 pick in the 2000 NHL Draft. The third is Marcus Camby, who starred at UMass before the Toronto Raptors made him the second pick in the 1996 NBA Draft.

And then there’s Matt Ryan.

The No. 3 pick in the 2008 NFL Draft.

The only top three NFL pick to ever come out of a school from Massachusetts.

In many places around our fine country, this would be considered a pretty big deal. In those cases, Sunday night’s Patriots/Falcons game would be accompanied by an additional narrative surrounding Ryan, where he went to college, and the hordes of fans faced with the unenviable task of rooting against a player for whom they once considered one of their own.

But of course, around here, Matt Ryan’s former life and stellar career at Boston College — as with most things related to college sports — barely registers. We can have a big long discussion as to why that is, but that won’t change the fact that it just is.

Boston might be a college town but it doesn’t care about college sports.

Anyway, Ryan’s had himself a mighty fine career since leaving Chestnut Hill. He was the AFC’s Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2008. By 2009, he had already been voted one of the Falcons captains. He kicked off this season, his sixth, with a career record of 56-22, which set a record for most regular season wins by a QB over his first five years in the league. Only Dan Marino and Peyton Manning threw more touchdowns over their first five seasons than Ryan’s 127. He’s lead the Falcons to the playoffs in four of the last five years, which is even more impressive considering the franchise only went to the postseason twice in the nine years before he came.

Last season, he finally got over the hump with his first career playoff win and led Atlanta to a 10-point first half lead in the NFC Championship against the Niners, before combusting down the stretch. Still, for his efforts, the Falcons rewarded Ryan in July with a five-year extension worth up to $104M.

This year hasn’t gone as smoothly for Matty Ice. He’s lost his left tackle (Sam Baker) to a foot injury, and according to ProFootballFocus, Baker’s replacement (Lamar Holmes) was the NFL’s worst blind side in Week 3. On top of that, starting running back Steven Jackson might be out until Week 7, Roddy White has struggled while playing through a dreaded high ankle sprain and the Falcons (considered by most a Super Bowl contender) have started the season 1-2.

But even with the hardships that the Falcons have faced, and as short-handed as they’ll be on Sunday night, there’s no question that the former BC standout presents by far the greatest test of the season for New England’s D.

Not that it would take much. In Week 1 they faced EJ Manuel in his first career start. In Week 2, it was Geno Smith, in his second career start, on the road on national TV, four days after his first career start. And then last Sunday, it was Josh Freeman, a once promising and proud young QB who’s since lost his job to a rookie. Going from those guys to Matt Ryan is like playing three games against Boston College football and then a fourth against someone like LSU.

Throw in Tony Gonzalez and Julio Jones — maybe the most dominant receiver in the league (non-Megatron category) — and this is the first real test of any kind that this defense has faced.

Just par for the course when you’re up against a member of Massachusetts’ exclusive “Top 3 Pick Club.”

I think it is, at least. Can’t be sure.

After all, I just made the club up this morning.

Follow me on Twitter: @rich_levine