For the second time in five seasons, New York quarterback Eli Manning has led the Giants to the Super Bowl title -- not too shabby for a former first-round draft pick who was criticized often in his first four NFL seasons.
Does that last part sound familiar?
In his first four seasons in Baltimore, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, the 18th overall pick in the 2008 NFL draft, was the subject of a similar storyline. Like Manning, the 1st overall pick in the 2004 NFL draft, he was scrutinized by national pigskin pundits and some of his hometown fans. He was mocked for his shoulder shrugs and his laid-back demeanor. And there were questions about whether he was fit to be a franchise quarterback.
The biggest difference of course is that Manning’s fourth season ended with a win over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII and Flacco’s fourth ended with a loss (one in which he played well) to the Patriots in the AFC championship game (but here’s an example of one Ravens player who thinks Flacco played well enough to win against Tom Brady and the Patriots, and there are likely many more who feel the same way).
Their stat lines also show that Flacco was more stable and productive in his first four years than Manning:
Flacco: 215.9 passing yards per game, 60.8 completion percentage, 80-46 touchdown-interception ratio, 86.0 passer rating. The Ravens went to the playoffs four straight seasons and won five postseason games.
Manning: 199.7 passing yards per game, 54.7 completion percentage, 77-64 touchdown-interception ratio, 73.4 passer rating. The Giants went to the playoffs three times and won four postseason games (all in 2007).
This is not to say that Flacco’s career arc is presently on par with the more clutch of the two Mannings, who has since become one of the top five or six quarterbacks in the NFL. Joe may never be as good as Eli is now. But you have to figure brighter days are ahead for Flacco, especially if the Ravens can give the 27-year-old a diverse arsenal of passing weapons like the one Manning has or a sturdy offensive line like New York's. Or both.