Joe Flacco’s Quest to be Elite

Dylan Snyder

There is something to be said about the judgment of quarterbacks in the National Football League.  When asking fans, players, or anyone with an opinion of the subject of who is the best quarterback in the league the number of different answers will probably be pretty close the number of people being asked. The easiest way to judge these players is probably to create some sort of tier system instead of simply ranking them. Some players are very clearly elite, such as Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers Tom Brady and Drew Brees.  After those four however (and even amongst those four depending on who you ask) the issue starts to get a little cloudy. Other quaterbacks have done the things that make these players elite, some do it even better.  But one quarterback, who has had success in many major fields for the first five season of his career, yet is openly criticized as being lackluster is Baltimore Ravens starting quarterback Joe Flacco.

Two seasons ago Flacco stated in an interview, “I mean, I think I’m the best.  I don’t think I’m top five, I think I’m the best.  I don’t think I’d be very successful at my job if I didn’t feel that way.” And from the media and fan reaction he might as well have said, “I love punching babies.” The public backlash was huge, but Flacco has a point on all accounts.  No quarterback can think that he isn’t the man for the job and that when facing another quarterback, he will be outplayed.  Flacco is stating he has the mentality that in any situation, he would bet on himself over anyone else.

Since then there have been so many ‘Joe Flacco is elite’ jokes that it’s hard to count.  Looking back at his body of work though it will be interesting to see if this upcoming game against the 49ers will define him as elite once and for all. To be considered an elite quarterback they must lead, keep up in the stats race that is currently occurring around the league, and most of all win. It takes satisfying all three of those increasingly difficult tasks before someone is considered elite.

Flacco’s stats leave something to be desired especially as the league continues to see people put up unreal numbers. Drew Brees has three of the six 5,000 yard passing seasons in NFL history and five of the six have come in the last four season. Flacco has never passed 4,000. He hasn’t thrown for more than 30 touchdowns in a season and never broken an NFL record. Stats don’t mean everything though, Matt Stafford is one of these 5,000 yards passers isn’t considered in the same class as many others because he has the best receiver in the game, and continues to lose despite his gaudy numbers.  Other great quaterbacks never had a 4,000-yard season, such as of Joe Montana, who’s four Super Bowls conveniently make people forget about that fact. Peyton Manning set the record for single season passing touchdowns, but people wondered if he was truly great until he got his ring. Dan Marino was for a long time the most prolific statistical passer in the history of football, but his lack of a Super Bowl win shrinks his legacy in comparison to those who have on.  Stats are nice, and help people make the separation between good and great, but not great and elite. Elite needs something more, something that doesn’t show up on a stat sheet, but can only be noticed by watching the game.

Some thing at all great quaterbacks around the league have is control of their locker room. Peyton Manning calls offensive rookies on draft day, Brady has the golden boy aura about him that make the Patriots bearable, Brees has taken the city of New Orleans and his team all the way to the top of the sports world after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.  When you think of the Broncos, Patriots and Saints those are the first names you think of. When thinking of the Ravens most fans would say Ray Lewis is far and away the face of the franchise.  After that most would agree that Ray Rice is the next most recognizable figure.  Flacco comes in third, and for a quarterback, that’s not that great.   Flacco still doesn’t have that kind of control of the locker room, but the opportunity to seize it is coming. No quarterback that operates a run first offense, or an offense where fans are calling for the running back to get the ball more will be considered great. Flacco struggled so much this year that offensive coordinator Cam Cameron was fired near the end of the season, but media and fans alike are fickle people.  Ray Lewis is retiring after the Super Bowl, so his hold on the locker room with naturally leaves with him.  A great game by Flacco, one where he proves he doesn’t need Ray Rice to help him run the offense will finally deliver him in the realm of quaterbacks that makes the players around them better, not one who needs great players to succeed.

Quaterback wins have the ultimate judgment of how good a quarterback is, but has recently come under scrutiny for allowing mediocre quaterbacks become highly overrated simply by not messing up bad enough to lose a game. Superbowl winners Trent Dilfer, Brad Johnson, and Jeff Hostetler could get confused with greats like Brady, Montana, and Troy Aikman.  However, something is to be said for what Flacco has been able to do his time in the league.  Flacco in the only quarterback to ever win a playoff game in each of his first 5 seasons, has the most road playoff wins ever for a career, and with a win on Sunday would tie Tom Brady for the most playoff wins in his first five season. Flaccos ability to win cannot be overlooked forever and with a Superbowl ring he has to join the ranks of quaterbacks to be feared around the league.

All this being said I don’t think that many outside of the Maryland will consider Joe Flacco elite even if he wins this game.  He can’t stack up to the stats, he isn’t the man, even on his own team, he isn’t made for legendary fourth quarter comebacks that define great quaterback’s careers.  He will be good, maybe even a great quarterback, but in my estimation elite means someday he will be a legend. Legends are men that can create pro-bowl and all-pro caliber receivers out of third round picks. Legends don’t need their team to bring in talent, they make the talent that others need to bring in. Legends are men that people will talk to their grandkids about and right now no one will be telling their grandkids about the time they saw Joe Flacco do much of anything.