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Spotlight: Joe Flacco

posted by Mark Wimer on Aug 6th


Mark Wimer's thoughts

Joe Flacco has done exactly what young quarterbacks in the NFL are supposed to do - improve every year that they are in the league.

Year Gms Comp Atts Com% Yds TDs TD% INTs Int% YperA PassRate
2008 16 257 428 60.0 2,971 14 3.3 12 2.8 6.9 80.3
2009 16 315 499 63.1 3,613 21 4.2 12 2.4 7.2 88.9
2010 16 306 489 62.6 3,622 25 5.1 10 2.0 7.4 93.6

Last year, Flacco climbed into starting fantasy QB range, with 306/489 for 3,622 yards, 25 TDs and 10 interceptions thrown, with 43/84/1 rushing to his credit, to end up the 12th best fantasy QB. He apparently took the 24-31 playoff loss to Pittsburgh as a personal challenge during the offseason, dedicating himself to working out extensively despite the NFL lockout. Flacco has gained ten pounds of muscle, and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said that he feels itbwas beneficial. "Joe has come back in great shape," Cameron said. "He has put on ten pounds, which was his choice, and you really can't notice it, other than seeing added strength. He is in tremendous shape."

So here we have a successful, young NFL quarterback entering the prime of his career, who is coming into the 2011 season in his best physical condition ever - yet many fantasy owners/observers are down on Flacco's 2011 prospects. What is going on here?

For starters, the free agency period has featured a big talent drain on Baltimore's receiving corps at both tight end and wide receiver. Todd Heap and Derrick Mason were cut in salary cap moves, and though the team expressed a desire to sign both players again at lower salaries, Heap and Mason had other ideas, moving on to the Arizona Cardinals and the New York Jets, respectively.

The team had made plans for life without Heap during the 2010 NFL draft, bringing in Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta to understudy Heap. Even so, now the team is going forward with a tight end tandem have a combined total of 12 career receptions for 153 yards and one TD. Dickson has the most game experience with 15 games played yielding 23 targets for 11/152/1 receiving; Pitta was in on 11 games last year and caught one pass for one yard. Obviously, there is a good deal of uncertainty whether Dickson and Pitta are going to be an upgrade over Heap during 2011.

However, the team isn't nearly as well-prepared at wide receiver for life without Mason. Anquan Boldin enters his second year with the team as the sole experienced wide receiver on the roster. Boldin underperformed expectations in his first year with Baltimore, handling 108 targets for 64/837/7 receiving. Though he led the team in targets and receptions last year, Boldin should be more comfortable with Flacco and improve on those numbers. The really glaring problem on the roster is that rookie Torrey Smith (second-round pick from Maryland during the 2011 draft) and never-has-been James Hardy (a second-round pick from Indiana who busted in Buffalo with only 10/96/2 receiving over two seasons in upstate New York) are currently fighting it out for #2 wide receiver role. That is not an optimum situation; especially considering neither youngster got a full suite of OTAs and mini-camps this season thanks to the NFL lockout.

Though the Ravens might bring in a well-regarded veteran to fill the void across from Boldin, there just aren't many of those left on the market as we write this. The best of what's left are Steve Smith (of the Giants) and Terrell Owens. Both are nursing knee injuries and won't be available for training camp, and Owens may not be available until late in the season. Jerricho Cotchery, who was released to make room for Mason in New York, is rehabbing a back surgery to repair a herniated disk and probably couldn't practice right away with Flacco and company, either.

In short, there aren't a lot of options outside the guys already on the Ravens' roster to fill the #2 wide receiver role, and the guys already there are very short on NFL experience and/or results, and also are new to the team and Joe Flacco.

All of the problems among the receivers' depth charts in Baltimore may tend to reinforce the team's run-first-and-play-great-defense mentality. They brought in Vonta Leach, a pure-run-blocking full back to open holes for Ray Rice. With the departures of Willis McGahee and Le'Ron McClain, Rice will be one of the true featured backs in the NFL, but that won't help Flacco solve his primary problem, which is a lack of experienced targets outside of Boldin and Rice.

Positives

  • Flacco has improved his performance every year since joining the Ravens
  • Flacco is in great physical condition
  • Flacco is showing good leadership this offseason and is rising to the challenges of divisional rival Pittsburgh

Negatives

  • Two of Flacco's most trusted targets have fled in free agency
  • The Ravens are very young at wide receiver behind Anquan Boldin
  • There is a dearth of healthy, available free agent talent to fill the voids left behind by Mason's and Heap's departures

Final thoughts

Given the talent surrounding Flacco in Baltimore, he's going to probably suffer through a slow start to the season as a passer (at the minimum), and he may be less productive throughout the year as things stand - through absolutely no fault of his own, by the way. Fantasy football production is about talent+opportunity - and Flacco's opportunity to shine this year looks hampered by the salary-cap induced meltdown on the receiving roster. The team can try to spin the happenings as a youth movement, but fantasy owners shouldn't be buying that line, in my opinion. I'm the least-enthusiastic about Flacco's chances this year; ranking him 20th on my QB board (the consensus ranks him 16th right now). In fact, the process of writing this spotlight spurred me to drop Flacco's projections and rankings to the current level.


Quotations from the message board thread

To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.

rzrback77 said:

Joe Flacco is an interesting projection for 2011. He has shown obvious improvement for the Ravens throughout his career. His TDs for instance have climbed from 14 as a rookie in 08, up to 21 and then 25 last season. His completion percentage rise has been similar from 60.0% as a rookie to 63.1% and then 62.6% a year ago. His yards per attempt have shown even more improvement from 6.94 (not bad) as a rookie, then 7.24 and finally 7.41 a year ago.

The Raven offensive focus also seems to have shifted. in 08, they passed only 42.5% of thier plays, but that rose to 52.5% in 09 and then flattened back to 50.6% a year ago.

In the recent 2011 draft, they added an OT Jah Reid at pick 85, who is athletic and should be a good pass blocker as well as two WRs in Torrey Smith at 58 and Tandon Doss at 123. Smith should have the speed that they have sorely needed to open up the field some.

Recent coach speak articles have highlighted that Flacco's role would be shifted give him more flexibility with audibles and to be the team leader. Even discussions about extending his contract have sprung up during the lull that is the lock-out. The Raven defensive leaders are also aging and one of these years, this defense is going to slip some.

For his career he has been one of those reliable QBs that you are comfortable with, but do not provide many of those huge carry your fantasy team days. If he makes an upward trend move similar to what he made between his first and second years, he could be a difference maker for fantasy teams in 2011 as he typically is drafted in the QB range of 12 to 14 and yet a year ago in FBG scoring he ranked 11th and there are several indicators out there that his numbers should improve in 2011.

Iwannabeacowboybaby! said:

I don't see Joe Flacco turning into an elite fantasy QB. He has made progressions each of his 3 years in the league, but I can't ever see him being a top 5 guy. I think he'll finish this year about the same as last, which is a QBBC type QB. Joe Flacco shouldn't be drafted as a guy who will start every week for your fantasy team.

fightingillini said:

Joe Flacco isn't a guy that excites me too much. BAL likes to run the ball a lot (very balanced on offense), Anquan Boldin and Todd Heap can't stay healthy, and Mason is on his last legs. BAL did draft some WRs, but you can't expect them to significantly contribute right away. He isn't a threat to run. And has to play the Steelers 2x. When drafting in the QB10-QB15 range, I am looking for upside, and I don't see it here with Flacco. He's a good QB2. Not a guy that I want as my starter.


Joe Flacco projections

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