As recently as a few years ago, the ruler might have been Tom Flacco’s biggest opponent.
At 6 feet 1 and 205 pounds, the Towson redshirt senior quarterback would have been deemed not tall enough to draw the attention of the NFL, which drooled over 6-5 prospects who could scan the field over a towering offensive line.
But the success of the New Orleans Saints’ Drew Brees (6 feet) and the Seattle Seahawks’ Russell Wilson (5-11) and the use of the past two No. 1 overall draft picks on Baker Mayfield (6-1) by the Cleveland Browns and Kyler Murray (5-10) by the Arizona Cardinals have altered the perceptions and expectations for college quarterbacks such as Flacco.
“I think this is definitely the best time to be coming out as someone who is 6-foot,” Flacco, the younger brother of former Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, said after Wednesday’s practice at Johnny Unitas Stadium in Towson. “Look at Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray. Those guys got picked first overall the last two years, and there’s Drew Brees and Russell Wilson. It’s a really good time for small guys, and I think it’s exciting because the quarterback position is kind of opening up. So, we’ll see how it goes.”
Former Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Brandon Noble, who served as an analyst for Colonial Athletic Association games for CBS Sports Digital for the past two seasons, said Flacco is part of a new wave of quarterbacks trying to crash the NFL party.
“They’re not looking for the old-school, prototypical 6-foot-5, 230-pound tree that’s going to stand in the same spot and throw the football down the field,” said Noble, who will help call NFL games this season for Sports USA. “The game is evolving, and Tom is in a perfect spot and does exactly what NFL teams are looking for.”
Flacco has shown his CAA Offensive Player of the Year turn in 2018 wasn’t a fluke and that he was the right preseason pick for the same award in 2019. He leads the conference’s quarterbacks in passing efficiency, ranks third in passing yards (278.0 per game) and total offense (302.5 yards per game), and is tied for third in passing touchdowns (four). At the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision level, he ranks 12th in passing efficiency, 14th in total offense and 15th in passing yards.
Flacco has helped the No. 8 Tigers jump to their first 2-0 start since 2013. They will open their CAA schedule against No. 7 Maine (1-1) on Saturday at 7 p.m. in Orono, Maine.
Black Bears first-year coach Nick Charlton was not around when Flacco accounted for 292 total yards and threw three touchdown passes in Maine’s 35-28 win at Towson last season. But he is well aware of Flacco’s impact.
“He’s just a great football player,” Charlton said Monday during a conference call. “He runs around, he makes plays, he does it in a lot of different ways. I think his ability to throw the ball is a little underestimated — if there is such a thing for a Player of the Year. He can throw it well, and he’s able to make a lot of plays with his feet. So we’ve got to be good staying in coverage and being in our rush lanes. But he’s a tremendous player, and he definitely adds a different element.”
In his first two games last fall, Flacco had slightly better passing numbers, throwing for 590 yards and five touchdowns compared with 556 yards and four scores this season. But Tigers coach Rob Ambrose said Flacco has made strides mentally in his second year as the starter after previous Football Bowl Subdivision stops at Rutgers and Western Michigan.
“He knows more about we’re doing and he knows more about what [opposing defenses] are doing,” Ambrose said, adding that Flacco’s foray with the school’s baseball team last spring has aided his throwing motion. “He’s also smarter. He’s smarter with the football. Now granted, we’ve only played 110 plays, but we’ve scored 70 points in 110 plays. That’s kind of ridiculous, and that leads to the answer that he’s efficient. He’s been efficient with the ball with the limited number of opportunities we’ve had.”
In another example of his productivity, Flacco has run for 49 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries this season compared with 28 rushes for 38 yards through two games last fall. He said there has not been a concerted effort by him nor the coaches to prove to the NFL that he can be a pocket passer.
“I think it’s just something where Coach Ambrose wants to keep me healthy throughout the season and take hits off of me,” he said. “That’s what we’ve done, but I’m going to do whatever they ask me to do. If they ask me to throw the ball and not really have designed quarterback runs, then that’s good.”
Flacco’s emergence has piqued interest at the NFL level. Twenty-five teams have sent scouts to Towson’s practices to observe several players, including Flacco. Staffers from the New York Giants and Tennessee Titans attended Wednesday’s session.
Ambrose said Flacco is poised to join Pittsburgh Steelers safety Jordan Dangerfield and Tennessee Titans cornerback Tye Smith as former Tigers currently playing in the NFL.
“I would be extremely surprised if he is not in a camp next year,” Ambrose said. “I think he’s proven that he’s a competitor, that he’s a winner. The family name certainly doesn’t hurt because they compete and they win. But the numbers don’t lie. He’s one of the best players in FCS football.”
The 2020 NFL draft is more than seven months away, but Flacco has emerged as a player to watch, according to Scott Wright, president of Draft Countdown.
“Tom Flacco is very much on the radar of NFL scouts and was one of just three non-Power 5 signal callers to make [the] 2020 Senior Bowl Watch List,” Wright wrote via text. “Flacco currently projects as a late-round pick or high-priority free agent in the 2020 NFL Draft, but is a near-lock to be in an NFL camp next fall thanks to his production at Towson and pro bloodlines.”
Noble, the former Cowboys lineman, said what Flacco lacks in the height and arm strength his older brother was blessed with is countered by his mobility and athleticism.
“He can throw the ball really well, but at the same time, he can extend the play with his feet, and he can get out of the pocket to run or pass, and he seems to make pretty good decisions with those two things,” Noble said. “And he’s a competitor. I think that’s the biggest thing. When you look at the guys who are termed ‘undersized,’ I think he’s got a chip on his shoulder. He just loves to go out there and play football, and you can see that. Those are the things that NFL GMs and scouts and coaches are looking for now.”
Ever the diplomat, Flacco said he is intent on honing his game and helping the team in its bid to capture its first CAA title since 2012. A three-game stretch against Maine, No. 22 Villanova and FBS No. 9 Florida could prove pivotal for Flacco, but he downplayed any pressure.
“You’re not thinking about next week when you have a game like this coming up,” he said. “You’re just focused on what you can do each day to get better and get prepared. I guess I have peeked at [the schedule], but it’s not going to affect how I play this week. I just know that I have to stay healthy and keep working on my craft with my teammates.”