Joe Flacco ISN'T an ELITE quarterback- but I would bet money that he will be soon!

Flacco's coming for the other elite QB's - USA TODAY Sports

An in-depth look into Joe Flacco's career through year 5 comparing him to the elite quarterbacks, and showing why everyone will consider him elite in the near future.

I started writing this article when everyone was debating how much Joe Flacco was worth, but once he got paid in his 6 year 120 million dollar contract, I left it unwritten.

However, with Tony Romo signing his extension, a friend of mine commented "I would still take Romo over Flacco any day." I rattled off some statistics, and argued with him a little. But then I told him, I would show him why he should chose Flacco over almost any other quarterback in the league.

The big question which seems impossible to settle until Flacco plays a few more seasons is: Is Joe Flacco an elite quarterback? It depends on your definition of elite; but based on my definition he is not. At least not yet.

e·lite

/iˈlēt/

  1. A group of people considered to be the best in a particular society or category, esp. because of their power, talent, or wealth.

How does this apply to football, and quarterbacks in particular? My definition is based on what defines our current crop of elite quarterbacks:

  1. Multiple season's of Pro-bowl caliber stats, 3000+ yards, 30+ tds
  2. Sustained regular season AND post-season success, usually including at least 1 ring

Flacco has sustained regular season and postseason success, but he hasn't hit the statistical criteria. Other QB's like Tony Romo, Philip Rivers, and Matt Ryan may have the statistics, but don't have the postseason resume's. The only active quarterbacks who would be defined as elite according to this definition are: Tom Brady. Peyton Manning. Drew Brees. and Aaron Rodgers.

Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger would just miss based on this definition. They have both only topped 30 td's once, and while breaking 4000 yards multiple times is nice, it is skewed by the amount of attempts. Each has 2 rings which also contributes to the illusion that they are elite, but the problem is they both don't take their teams to the playoffs almost every year, nor win games there on a regular basis. So I categorize those 2 in a category called sub-elite.

So back to Joe Flacco. Aaron Rodgers is a hard comparison because he didn't play for 3 years, and although he is obliterating my statistical benchmarks and you can never count him out, he only had success in the playoffs once, when he won a ring. The real question is how does the first 5 years of Flacco's career compare to the first 5 years starting of our other 3 elite QB's (and sub-elite), all who became starting QB's in their first or second years?

The big knocks on Joe were inconsistency, lack of big numbers. and having a good defense for most of his career. Debunking the criticism:

Point 1: Inconsistency

I decided to delve into the numbers to see if any of the elite or sub-elite QB's, also had inconsistency problems early on:

Brady year 5: 6 games of 100+ QBR, 4 games of 80-100 QBR, 4 games of 60-80 QBR, and 2 games of 40-60 QBR

Brees year 5: 5 games of 100+ QBR, 7 games of 80-100 QBR, 3 games of 60-80 QBR, and 1 games of 40-60 QBR

Peyton year 5: 3 games of 100+ QBR, 7 games of 80-100 QBR, 5 games of 60-80 QBR, and 1 games of 40-60 QBR

Eli year 5 (only started 1/2 of year 1): 3 games of 100+ QBR, 6 games of 80-100 QBR, 5 games of 60-80 QBR, and 2 games of 40-60 QBR.

Roethlisberger year 5: 4 games of 100+ QBR, 6 games of 80-100 QBR, 1 games of 60-80 QBR, and 4 games of 40-60 QBR.

Flacco year 5: 6 games of 100+ QBR, 3 games of 80-100 QBR, 5 games of 60-80 QBR, and 2 games of 40-60 QBR.

As you can see, all of these elite and sub-elite QB's had similar issues with consistency. Inconsistency isn't really a knock on Flacco; he is just your typical 5th year QB. In fact it shows that he is further along than Eli and Big Ben in terms of consistency and had shown more upside than them in year 5. It also shows that he is currently on par with Brady, Brees, and Peyton (although Peyton had less 100+ games) in their 5th year. Inconsistency is part of the growing process of all quarterbacks, even elite ones.

Point 2: Lack of big numbers statistically

Brady didn't explode offensively until year 7, when a WR named Randy Moss joined him in New England. Brees didn't break 30 tds until year 7 as a starter (3rd year in New Orleans), which was when he also had his first 5000 yard season. Peyton started a little quicker and had 33 tds in year 3, but didn't break 30 again until year 7 when he exploded with 49 tds. Roethlisberger and Eli have only broken 30 tds once each in their careers, Eli in his 6th year starting.

See here for the stats from the first 5 years starting for some of the elite QB's:

Age Pos G GS QBrec Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TD Int Y/G Rate Sk 4QC GWD
23 QB 16 16 8-8-0 320 526 60.8 3284 17 16 205.3 76.9 24 2 4
24 QB 11 11 2-9-0 205 356 57.6 2108 11 15 191.6 67.5 21 0 1
25 QB 15 15 11-4-0 262 400 65.5 3159 27 7 210.6 104.8 18 1 2
26 QB 16 16 9-7-0 323 500 64.6 3576 24 15 223.5 89.2 27 2 2
27 QB 16 16 10-6-0 356 554 64.3 4418 26 11 276.1 96.2 18 1 2
Year Age Pos G GS QBrec Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TD Int Y/G Rate Sk 4QC GWD
2008 23 QB 16 16 11-5-0 257 428 60.0 2971 14 12 185.7 80.3 32 1 2
2009 24 QB 16 16 9-7-0 315 499 63.1 3613 21 12 225.8 88.9 36 1 2
2010 25 QB 16 16 12-4-0 306 489 62.6 3622 25 10 226.4 93.6 40 2 4
2011 26 QB 16 16 12-4-0 312 542 57.6 3610 20 12 225.6 80.9 31 2 3
2012 27 QB 16 16 10-6-0 317 531 59.7 3817 22 10 238.6 87.7 35 4 4

Age Pos G GS QBrec Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TD Int Y/G Rate Sk 4QC GWD
24 QB 15 14 11-3-0 264 413 63.9 2843 18 12 189.5 86.5 41 4 5
25 QB 16 16 9-7-0 373 601 62.1 3764 28 14 235.3 85.7 31 2 3
26 QB 16 16 14-2-0 317 527 60.2 3620 23 12 226.3 85.9 32 4 7
27 QB 16 16 14-2-0 288 474 60.8 3692 28 14 230.8 92.6 26 0 2
28 QB 16 16 10-6-0 334 530 63.0 4110 26 14 256.9 92.3 26 3 4

Year Age Pos G GS QBrec Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TD Int Y/G Rate Sk 4QC GWD
1998 22 QB 16 16 3-13-0 326 575 56.7 3739 26 28 233.7 71.2 22 1 1
1999* 23 QB 16 16 13-3-0 331 533 62.1 4135 26 15 258.4 90.7 14 6 7
2000* 24 QB 16 16 10-6-0 357 571 62.5 4413 33 15 275.8 94.7 20 2 3
2001 25 QB 16 16 6-10-0 343 547 62.7 4131 26 23 258.2 84.1 29
2002* 26 QB 16 16 10-6-0 392 591 66.3 4200 27 19 262.5 88.8 23 4 5

Player 1 is Drew Brees. Player 2 is Joe Flacco. Player 3 is Tom Brady. Player 4 is Peyton Manning

When you take into account that Flacco has thrown much less attempts through season 5 than Brady, Brees and Peyton, you realize that the yardage totals aren't an indicator of skill as much as sheer abundance of throws, much like Matt Stafford the past 2 years. Stafford's numbers the past 2 years are skewed by the lack of run game. He had 1390 attempts over the past 2 years, which averages to over 43 attempts a game. He only averaged 7.6 ypa, which is less than many average QB’s, including Henne, Locker, Kolb etc. If Flacco was given those attempts, and would have maintained his pace he would have had 4515 yds in 2011 and 5225 yds in 2012. So I do not respect Stafford for his yardage totals. Rodgers 4643 yds in 2011 on only 502 attempts (9.2 ypa) is much more impressive than Staffords 5038 on 663. To give you an idea, if given those attempts Rodgers would have put up 6132 yds! Holy crap. Andrew Luck's rookie season was less impressive than RG3's and Russell Wilson's because they had under 400 passing attempts, in addition to their advantage as rushers, and Luck had a ridiculous 627 attempts to break the rookie yardage record.

So the bottom line is, none of the elite QB's put up those video-game caliber numbers before year 7, so why do people expect that Flacco should?

Point 3: Having a good defense

People say that Flacco has benefited from a top defense his whole career, and he hasn't had to do much to win. They compare him to Mark Sanchez making the AFCCG 2 years in a row. But they don't look deeper than that. The only championships that Tom Brady has won were in the first 4 years he was starting. His teams went 11-5, 14-2 and 14-2. You think his defense wasn't good? He only put up between 18-28 tds a year, so they must have been really good to be dominating like that. We all know how good Eli's defensive line was in his 2 title runs. Big Ben won many games early in his career too, with his dominant defense and stellar run game leading the way. So I am not sure why this is used as an argument against Joe.

Now the truth is, I don't mind the Sanchez comparisons for the first 2 years of Flacco's career. Those 2 years the defense led the way, with Flacco attempting to not screw it up and make an occasional big play, ala Trent Dilfer. But in the past 3 years, the playoff runs and the regular season success were just as much a product of Flacco's importance as the defensive performance. Flacco's playoff stats:

Year(s) Cmp Att Cmp% Yds Yds/Att TD INT QBR
2008-09 57 120 47.5% 660 5.5 1 6 46
2010-11 77 127 60.6% 872 6.9 7 2 93
2012 73 126 57.9% 1140 9.0 11 0 117.2

In addition, take a look at his teams record when he has a bad performance in relation to the elite and sub-elite quarterbacks:

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Rodgers has won 30% of his games when he performs badly. Peyton Manning 42%. Ben Roethlisberger 33%. Tom Brady 37.5 %. Eli Manning 32%. Drew Brees 20%. and Joe Flacco 41%. (Keep in mind this is Flacco's first 5 years in the league vs, the other QB's prime years) So Flacco wins slightly more of his bad performances than Tom Brady, 10% more than Rodgers, Eli and Big Ben, 20% more than Drew Brees, but the same amount as Peyton? It is amusing- we all know that Roethlisberger and Brady played with good defenses, but Peyton and Drew Brees have never had good defenses (prior to Peyton's Denver team this year). Yet Peyton and Brees have very different % of wins. Clearly having an elite defense doesn't automatically mean you are going to win games, even when your QB has a stinker, and Flacco's win % in stinkers is near identical to Peyton, who didn't have an elite defense.

In addition, Brady also had 34 games of less than a 80 passer rating in his first 5 years starting. He was 15-19 in those 34 games, or nearly identical to Flacco's 14-20.

In Summation:

There are 3 parts to a players career, which are more pronounced at Quarterback. There is the ascendance, the peak or prime, and the decline. Flacco is a player who just is hitting his prime as an NFL QB. It is hard to compare him to players in their peak or just past their peak like Peyton or Brady, because Flacco came into the league 7 years later. None of those quarterback's were throwing 40+ td's every year when they were at his stage, so why does everyone expect him to. The real question you have to ask is how does he compare to elite players when they were at the stage he is now. My answer is he stacks up really well.

Comparing him to the rest of the league:

Additionally, here are many out there who want to anoint the next best thing at QB and say that they are better than Flacco. So let's look at the those QB's and see whether they really are better. They fall under 3 categories: The young guns, the ceiling QB's, and the not-battle tested.

The young guns: Colin Kapernick, Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, Cam Newton, Sam Bradford,

The ceiling QB's: Andy Dalton, Jay Cutler, Tony Romo, Phillip Rivers, Matt Schaub

The not battle tested: Matt Ryan, Matt Stafford, Josh Freeman, Andy Dalton

Category 1: The Young Guns

The problem with saying that Colin Kapernick, Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson are already in the top 10 QB's is that 1 year means nothing. Teams have less game tape to study, and in the NFL, that is an advantage for the rookie QB. But by year 2, there is a high probability of regression.

Look at these 3 stat lines from first year starting QB's:

Year Age Pos G GS QBrec Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TD Int Y/A Y/G Rate
2007* 24 QB 16 15 10-5-0 298 527 56.5 3787 29 19 7.2 236.7 82.5

Year ▴ Age Pos G GS QBrec Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TD Int Y/A Y/G Rate
2012 23 QB 16 15 11-5-0 339 627 54.1 4374 23 18 7.0 273.4 76.5

Year Age Pos G GS QBrec Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TD Int Y/A Y/G Rate
2010 23 QB 16 16 7-9-0 354 590 60.0 3512 18 15 6.0 219.5 76.5

Player #1 is Derek Anderson. Player #2 is Andrew Luck. Player #3 is Sam Bradford.

Derek Anderson never returned to the heights of his Pro-bowl year. Sam Bradford will be a very good QB in this league, but has yet to make a significant jump from his rookie year through his 3rd year in the league. We all know Cam Newton had a slight regression in year 2 starting. I am not saying Luck, Kapernick, Griffin or Wilson are not going to be elite, franchise QB's. Chances are all of them will be. But they have alot of growing to do before they are top 10 QB's.

Category 2: The Ceiling Quarterback's

These are the QB's who have hit their ceilings. These guys have all been starting in the league 7+ years, are on the wrong side of 30, and have yet to consistently put up elite stats or make a significant run in the playoffs.

Jay Cutler: 6 (full) years starting, 51-42 record, 0 seasons 30+ tds, 1-1 playoff record, missed the playoffs 5/6 years

Tony Romo: 7 years starting, 55-38 record, 2 season's 30+ tds, 1-3 playoff record, missed the playoffs 4/7 years.

Phillip Rivers: 7 years starting, 70-42 record, 2 season's 30+ tds, 3-4 playoff record, missed the playoffs 3/7 years.

Matt Schaub: 6 years starting, 44-36 record, 0 season's 30+ tds, 1-1 playoff record, missed the playoffs 4/6 years.

Some of these QB's have great resumes. Other's are not that impressive. All of them has at least 1 pro-bowl on their resume, unlike Flacco. But they all seem to have reached their ceiling. It is possible one of them will surprise me and lead their team to the promised land. However I think all of these QB's, have shown us what they can do. 7 years starting is how long it took Brady, Manning, and Brees to peak. Some of the ceiling quarterbacks have shown us they can put up big numbers starting, matching the stats of sub-elite QB's Roethlisberger and Eli Manning. But none have shown the ability to lead their team on a playoff run, nor have they even shown they can make the playoffs on a regular basis. Only Rivers (4 Pro-bowls) has strung together multiple playoff wins, but that was on great Chargers team with Tomlinson and a top ranked defense. He also hasn't made the playoffs in 4 years.

So I don't really think that any of these quarterbacks have proven to be better than Flacco, because despite many years and opportunities, none of them have put up consistent elite-level stats nor done anything in the playoffs.

Category 3: The Not Battle Tested

Last but not least, we have the not battle tested quarterbacks. Matt Ryan is the best of these QB's, but lets discuss the other 3 first. Dalton, Stafford, and Freeman have all been impressive and are still young. Dalton and Stafford have each made the playoffs in the past 2 years, and Stafford has basically broken 5000 yards 2 years running and also threw over 40 td's in 2011. However he also had 1390 attempts, which is a ridiculous amount (over 43 attempts a game). He only averaged 7.6 ypa, which is less than many average QB’s, including Henne, Locker, Kolb etc. If Flacco was given those attempts, and would have maintained his pace he would have had 4515 yds in 2011 and 5225 yds in 2012. So I do not respect Stafford for his yardage totals. He also has Megatron. Like the young guns, I think he could prove himself elite at some point in his career. But right now he is unproven despite his Madden-esque numbers. He needs to win some playoff games and put up those numbers consistently before you can put him ahead of a winning QB like Flacco.

Dalton and Freeman have shown flashes, but lack the numbers, consistency, and the winning pedigree to be top 10 QB's. I am not saying they won't get there, but neither of them boast better numbers, nor have they won anything.

Last but not least is Matt Ryan. Since they were drafted the same year, they will always be compared. But as many Ravens fans, I believe that Flacco has shown to be the superior QB thus-far, despite averaging 5 less touchdowns a season.

Flacco:

Year Age Pos G GS QBrec Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TD Int Y/A Y/G Rate
2008 23 QB 16 16 11-5-0 257 428 60.0 2971 14 12 6.9 185.7 80.3
2009 24 QB 16 16 9-7-0 315 499 63.1 3613 21 12 7.2 225.8 88.9
2010 25 QB 16 16 12-4-0 306 489 62.6 3622 25 10 7.4 226.4 93.6
2011 26 QB 16 16 12-4-0 312 542 57.6 3610 20 12 6.7 225.6 80.9
2012 27 QB 16 16 10-6-0 317 531 59.7 3817 22 10 7.2 238.6 87.7
Career 80 80 54-26-0 1507 2489 60.5 17633 102 56 7.1 220.4 86.3

Ryan:

Year Age Pos G GS QBrec Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TD Int Y/A Y/G Rate
2008 23 QB 16 16 11-5-0 265 434 61.1 3440 16 11 7.9 215.0 87.7
2009 24 QB 14 14 9-5-0 263 451 58.3 2916 22 14 6.5 208.3 80.9
2010* 25 QB 16 16 13-3-0 357 571 62.5 3705 28 9 6.5 231.6 91.0
2011 26 QB 16 16 10-6-0 347 566 61.3 4177 29 12 7.4 261.1 92.2
2012* 27 QB 16 15 13-3-0 422 615 68.6 4719 32 14 7.7 294.9 99.1
Career 78 77 56-22-0 1654 2637 62.7 18957 127 60 7.2 243.0 90.9
Statistically, Ryan has averaged 5 more td's per year than Flacco. But if you look carefully, you will notice something interesting. Before the Falcons drafted Julio Jones, the 2 QB's were neck to neck. Flacco (10,260 yds, 62%, 60 tds, 34 int, 32-16 record) vs. Ryan (10,061 yds, 62%, 66 tds 34 int, 33-15 record). Once Julio Jones came into the league, you see a significant jump in Ryan's numbers. Obviously, you have to give some credit to Ryan for upping his game too, but his lack of playoff success is a major flaw on his resume. Some might choose Ryan over Flacco based on his superior stats. But his post-season resume couldn't be more lacking:

Ryan: 1-4 record, 1230 yds, 9 td 7 int, made playoffs 4/5 years
Flacco: 9-4 record, 2672 yds, 19 tds 8 int, made playoffs and won at least 1 game every year, made 3 AFCCG and 1 ring.

His stats may not be as pretty as Ryan's but any team will take a player who wins in the playoffs over a guy who puts up a few more td's a season.

Flacco has not proven himself elite, but his winning speaks for itself. I would think that after really looking at the numbers in the context of elite players and their early career's, most people would choose Flacco over every QB not named Brees, Brady, Manning, Rodgers or Roethlisberger. Maybe even over Eli and Roethlisberger based on his clearly higher ceiling. His games might not have looked as pretty thus-far as you would want from your $20 million quarterback, but the results are all that matters. And he is a winner with a ring and a Super Bowl MVP. He has set multiple postseason records, including best road QB, most playoff wins in the first 5 years (tied with Brady), and matching Joe Montana's 11 td: 0 int postseason. So if you want to be honest with yourself, you will realize that the 28 year old QB with the playoffs chops is a far better choice than the 33 year old loser or the unproven young gun, whether it be Romo, Schaub, Ryan, Luck or RGIII. Flacco's numbers speak for themselves, it's just a matter of whether you are actually listening.

One last chart and a quote from the corresponding article, for those who want to see Flacco's stats in the context of history:

It’s worth remembering that it’s far too early to write the book on Joe Flacco’s career. The table below shows Flacco, the nine quarterbacks that entered the league after the AFL-NFL merger and the eight quarterbacks with rings that are either active or have retired in the last three years. The table below shows how many games they had started after 5 years, their passing stats through five years, and their career NY/A and ANY/A averages after year five. The final two columns show their NY/A and ANY/A relative to league average.

QB
GS
Att
PYD
PTD
INT
Sk
Skyd
ANY/A
NY/A
ANY/A%
NY/A%
Dan Marino 69 2494 19422 168 80 67 553 7.27 7.37 146 125
Peyton Manning 80 2817 20618 138 100 108 733 6.2 6.8 118 116
Brett Favre 61 2149 14825 108 66 129 823 5.79 6.15 111 104
Jim Kelly 71 2088 15730 105 72 150 1172 6 6.5 118 109
Joe Flacco 80 2489 17633 102 56 174 1218 5.98 6.16 103 99
Ben Roethlisberger 71 1905 14974 101 69 192 1253 6.03 6.54 109 108
Kurt Warner 49 1623 14082 101 64 108 679 7.25 7.74 139 132
Eli Manning 71 2284 14623 98 74 120 844 5.16 5.73 94 95
Tom Brady 62 2018 13925 97 52 130 787 5.93 6.12 111 103
John Elway 68 2158 14835 85 77 142 1054 5.22 5.99 105 102
Drew Brees 58 1809 12348 80 53 92 724 5.7 6.11 106 103
Warren Moon 68 1977 14669 78 85 171 1387 5.13 6.18 103 105
Joe Montana 49 1645 11979 78 44 94 683 6.25 6.5 127 109
Troy Aikman 68 1920 13627 69 66 139 932 5.39 6.17 105 104
Aaron Rodgers 32 1136 8801 59 21 93 607 6.86 6.67 121 108
Terry Bradshaw 51 1227 7524 48 81 121 1056 2.81 4.8 69 87
Dan Fouts 43 1094 7658 34 57 100 722 4.23 5.81 107 109
Steve Young 28 763 5468 32 27 96 668 4.92 5.59 99 95

After year five, Aaron Rodgers had only been a starter for two years, Steve Young had only started 9 games for the 49ers, and Dan Fouts had barely begun building his Hall of Fame career. Terry Bradshaw won his first Super Bowl in year five, and had been a worse quarterback than Flacco up to that point in his career. Eli Manning and Flacco have had similar starts to their careers, too. Meanwhile, Warren Moon, John Elway, Troy Aikman, and Drew Brees weren’t playing at Hall of Fame levels at this stage of their careers, either.

Flacco has a long way to go towards building a Hall of Fame career, and even his win on Sunday won’t separate him from players like Mark Rypien, Jim McMahon, Doug Williams, Joe Theismann, and Phil Simms. But it’s worth remembering that Flacco is still pretty young, and who knows what having won this Super Bowl could do for him.

Look at the chart: Through 5 years, Flacco was in the top 5 in games started and touchdowns, top 3 in yards, bottom 7 in interceptions, and top 10 in ANY/A & NY/A. I think that is a quarterback who everyone needs to stop overlooking and pay him his due. Because before you can blink, he is going to be the next elite quarterback. So you can keep your Romo's and your Luck's, because I, like every Raven's fan can appreciate what we have.

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