The Dolphins fell behind the curve in the 2008 draft when they selected left tackle Jake Long with the top pick rather than Matt Ryan, shown passing here against St. Louis. Ryan went third overall, just after the Rams took defensive end Chris Long, who in this photo is pressuring Ryan. (Daniel Shirey/USA Today Sports)
Photo: Daniel Shirey
Photo: Daniel Shirey

Greg Stoda: Miami Dolphins hope they’ve finally caught up to quarterback trend

They’re still trying to catch up.

They think they’ve identified the right man to rectify the situation in Ryan Tannehill —the Dolphins’ first-round pick in 2012 – but the wasted years are difficult to ignore. That’s especially so with Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons — who drafted him third after the Dolphins took offensive tackle Jake Long and St. Louis selected defensive end Chris Long — visiting the Dolphins on Sunday.

Now, it’s true that Long was one of the best players at his position for three years with Miami before injuries diminished him. He was allowed to leave for St. Louis after last season.

Long, drafted during the Bill Parcells regime, represented an old-school approach to the game – an emphasis on a big-bodied lineman – rather than a decision to get in on its sleek modernization now so much in vogue and led by a group of talented young quarterbacks.

“It’s like a broken record,” Miami defensive end Cam Wake said. “If you play a real good team in the NFL, you’re probably going to be playing against a real good quarterback. It was Luck and Indianapolis last week. It’ll be Brees and New Orleans after this and then Flacco and Baltimore after that.

“Ryan and Atlanta are in that group.”

Ryan has started 79 games, and played in 80. The Falcons are 57-23 when he plays. He has a 131:61 touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio. He set single-season franchise records last year for passing yards (4,719), completions (422) and touchdown passes (32).

All that began in the wake of Atlanta’s tumultuous 2007 season lowlighted by quarterback Michael Vick’s jail sentence on dogfighting charges and Bobby Petrino quitting as head coach.

“Matt, since Day One, has been an elite quarterback in this league,” Atlanta coach Mike Smith said. “His first throw as a rookie was a 60-plus-yard touchdown. He has an understanding of the game that doesn’t surprise me a bit. When we were doing our due diligence on Matt way back, you could see that at Boston College … his ability to play in pressure situations.”

The Dolphins, meanwhile, have used four primary starters at quarterback – Chad Pennington, Chad Henne, Matt Moore and Tannehill – since Ryan took over in Atlanta.

“Matt’s a great player,” Tannehill said. “He’s led his team to a lot of wins. That’s the biggest thing. As a quarterback, that’s what you’re judged on.”

Ryan, in fact, has led the Falcons to five winning records in five years accompanied by four playoff berths, including a four-point loss to San Francisco in the past NFC Championship Game. He recently signed a contract extension worth $103 million.

Atlanta, in other words, seems set at quarterback for the foreseeable future.

Miami hopes it is, finally. The Dolphins have come a long way since they decided that Henne, a second-round pick in 2008, would be their long-term solution.

But the Dolphins could have been ahead of the quarterback trend had they taken Ryan rather than Long when they had the chance to do so.

Baltimore chose Flacco in that 2008 first round. Other notable first-round QB picks since that time include Matt Stafford (Detroit) in 2009, Sam Bradford (St. Louis) in 2010 and Cam Newton (Carolina) in 2011 before Luck and Robert Griffin III (Washington) went ahead of Tannehill last year.

And that’s without even mentioning second-round pick Colin Kaepernick (San Francisco, 2011) and third-rounder Russell Wilson (Seattle, 2012).

The Dolphins could have been – should have been – on the cutting edge of that wave with Ryan.

Instead, they’re hoping they’re on the way to catching up at last. They’re hoping a mistake of the past is erased.

Think of it as a journey best described by one of those “Wheel of Fortune” combined-name puzzles: Matt Ryan Tannehill.

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