Featured Falcon Friday: Right Tackle Ryan Schraeder

The Featured Falcon Friday’s bye week was cut short, thanks to some big news out of Flowery Branch on Monday. The Falcons signed RT Ryan Schraeder to a five-year contract extension, so what better way to honor him than with a special bye week edition of the Featured Falcon Friday.

Ryan Schraeder’s career can be summed up in three simple words: making the leap.

He first made the leap as a 5-foot-7 high schooler with no prior football experience into a 6-foot-7 junior college All-American at Butler (Kansas) Community College. The decision to walk on at Butler followed a year spent strictly as a student at Kansas State University.

After leading Butler to the NJCAA championship game in his lone season, Schraeder moved on to his next conquest — Division II powerhouse Valdosta State. While there, Ryan would become a two-time All-American and helped guide the Blazers to a national championship in 2012.

In fact, Schraeder took home All-American honors in all three seasons he played college football. It’s safe to say Ryan Schraeder accomplished all that he possibly could have in the college game, given the path his career started on.

But up next lied his greatest challenge yet. The jump from D2 to the NFL became even more challenging when Ryan learned he would have to overcome the “walk on” label once again, this time as an undrafted free agent.

On April 29, 2013, Schraeder signed a three-year college free agent contract with the Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons, out of all the NFL teams, had the best vantage point to evaluate the Valdosta State product given the school’s proximity to Atlanta. Likewise, Schraeder had the ability to monitor the current competition along the Falcons offensive line and decided that the Falcons presented the best opportunity to make an NFL roster.

The Falcons offensive line underwent a bit of a transition period during the 2013 offseason. The team had just come off its best season since the 1998 Super Bowl year and finished with an appearance in the NFC Championship game.

Part of their success that year could be attributed to the stability of the offensive line. The combination of Sam Baker, Justin Blalock, Todd McClure, Peter Konz, and Tyson Clabo started the last 12 games of the 2012 season.

But that stability did not carry over to the 2013 season.

14-year veteran Todd McClure announced his retirement following the 2012 NFC Championship game, leaving the center duties vacant for the wildly ineffective Peter Konz to take over. Right tackle Tyson Clabo, a recipient of a five-year contract extension during the 2011 offseason, was unceremoniously cut on April 4, 2013. And the chronically injured Sam Baker only made it through four games of the 2013 season before going on injured reserve with a torn patella tendon.

Oct 30, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons tackle Ryan Schraeder (73) spikes the ball after a Devonta Freeman touchdown against the Green Bay Packers in the third quarter at the Georgia Dome. The Falcons defeated the Packers 33-32. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Beyond Baker, the only other tackles ahead of Schraeder on the roster were journeyman Jeremy Trueblood and 2012 third round pick Lamar Holmes. Ryan Schraeder eventually cracked the starting lineup toward the end of the Falcons’ dismal 2013 season, but left a lot to be desired from the coaching staff for his performance. He is probably best known that year for starting at right tackle in the season finale against the Panthers, a game in which the unit surrendered nine(!) sacks of Matt Ryan.

Matt Ryan endured a career high 44 sacks in all in 2013, so the front office responded by drafting the left tackle of the future in Jake Matthews with the 2014 sixth overall pick. The future, however, came sooner than expected for Matthews as Sam Baker suffered a career ending injury in the 2014 preseason, pressing Jake into the left tackle post in week one.

Lamar Holmes got the first opportunity to man the right tackle spot in 2014, but like his draft classmate Peter Konz, proved to be an inept offensive lineman. Next in line was another former high draft pick — not of the Falcons but of the Bears — as the team brought in Gabe Carimi in the offseason.

Carimi played under Mike Tice, the Falcons offensive line coach in 2014, in Chicago from 2011-2012 when Tice held the same position there. But a career renaissance in Atlanta was not in store for the former first round pick as he solidified his status as a bust.

So finally, Ryan Schraeder was inserted into the starting lineup in the week eight London game and never looked back. This also marked the turning point for the Falcons that season as they pushed for a playoff berth.

The team returned to the offensive line continuity that worked so well for them in 2012 as the combination of Matthews, Blalock, James Stone, Jon Asamoah, and Schraeder started the remaining nine games. Atlanta went 4-5 in that stretch after a 2-5 start and with a win against Carolina in the finale the Falcons would have been playoff bound.

Instead, the 2014 season culminated in a similar fashion to the 2013 climax. The Panthers sacked Matt Ryan six times in route to a 34-3 NFC South championship blowout win.

A coaching change ensued and the zone blocking scheme was brought in by new signal caller Kyle Shanahan. These moves could not have worked out any better for Ryan Schraeder.

Ryan Schraeder earned All-Pro honors from Pro Football Focus in his first year in Shanahan’s scheme. Schraeder allowed only two sacks and two quarterback hits the entire 16 game season.

This season Schraeder has held his own against the best pass rushers in the game in Von Miller, Khalil Mack, and Brandon Graham. As a result, the Falcons agreed to a five-year contract extension with their prized right tackle on Monday, thus completing Schraeder’s leap from D2 UDFA to premiere NFL tackle.

Only one more leap remains — Super Bowl champion. With the nucleus of Matthews, Andy Levitre, Alex Mack, and now Schraeder locked up through 2018, the Falcons have positioned themselves to return to the 2012 glory that had them within ten yards of a Super Bowl berth.

And before you say Ryan Schraeder will become another Tyson Clabo, remember this is only his seventh year playing football. He does not have the same wear on his body as the average 28 year old football player. Schraeder’s best football lies in front of him and so does that final leap.

Be sure to vote on Monday on Twitter (@BloggingDirty) to determine who will be the next #FeaturedFalconFriday.

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