By Matt Vensel
11:30 AM EDT, June 17, 2011
Has any NFL player who hasn’t been arrested, freed from jail or spoken about others going to jail during the lockout gotten more publicity than Joe Flacco? Everyone seems to be giving their take on the Ravens quarterback as if he has been wearing a sign on his back that says “evaluate me” this entire offseason.
We have had Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks, globetrotting linebackers, national analysts, blue-collared wideouts and one of the Steelers’ sack specialists chime in on Flacco, who has been in Baltimore and New Jersey meeting with his receivers and minding his own business. I don’t know what is a more telling sign of how ridiculous this has become: that Dhani Jones bashed Flacco or that Hines Ward came out and defended him.
Flacco is not without flaws, but he won 36 games, including four in the playoffs, in his first three seasons. His win-loss record on a very good football team doesn’t necessarily mean he is a better quarterback than Matt Ryan or Aaron Rodgers or Philip Rivers. But he has been pretty damn good and still has plenty of room to improve -- and the attitude to do it -- which is why I’m surprised he is getting all this national attention.
But a fair share of it has been positive, including a take from an ESPN analyst that will surely raise a few eyebrows. KC Joyner, a noted stathead at ESPN, wrote on Thursday that Flacco is as good as Rivers, the Pro Bowl Chargers quarterback who is widely considered one of the top five or six quarterbacks in the NFL.
“Flacco is struggling through a similar type of misperception of his skills [than what Roger Staubach went through early in his career],” wrote Joyner. "It is thought by many that he is a superb game manager who has yet to make the jump to being an elite passer. However, a closer look at the metrics shows that Flacco has already made that jump. In fact, they show that Flacco displayed a Philip Rivers-type ability to get his team's vertical passing game in gear regardless of the talent level of his receivers.”
Joyner argued that though the Ravens didn’t have a vertical threat last season -- let’s see how many Donte’ Stallworth references are made in the comments section -- and that Anquan Boldin, Derrick Mason and T.J. Houshmandzadeh had limitations as downfield receivers, Flacco “actually excelled with this trio, evidenced by 1,472 yards on the 133 vertical targets aimed at these three.”
According to Joyner, Flacco ranked eighth in the NFL in vertical targets (182), second in stretch vertical targets (81) and first in stretch vertical yards (1,130) -- numbers that could increase if speedy rookie Torrey Smith is able to contribute in 2011.
“This clearly shows Flacco took a huge step forward last season, but he has yet to get full credit for it, in large part because people still focus too much on his superb game-management skills,” Joyner wrote. “His reputation in that area precedes him, but it shouldn't prevent Flacco from getting credit as an elite quarterback for showcasing a Rivers-like ability to jerry-rig an elite downfield passing game.”
What do you think? Is Flacco really as good as Rivers? Which would you rather have as your quarterback?
Bonus question: Who is going to evaluate Flacco next?
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