There is no player in Baltimore more divisive than Joe Flacco.
His critics point to his lack of pocket presence, his marginal completion percentage and his regression in 2011 as reasons that Flacco is not the man to lead the Ravens in the future.
His supporters, on the other hand, recognize his elite arm strength, solid accuracy and smart play as evidence of his long-term starting ability.
The lack of consensus on Flacco is incredible. No two experts rate him the same way. Ron Jaworski ranks Flacco as the ninth-best quarterback in the NFL, while Bleacher Report's own Matt Miller ranks him 15th.
The truth probably lies in between, but because of the strong feelings many have for Flacco, rating him objectively can be difficult, if not impossible.
Because he is such an enigmatic and controversial player, however, an attempt at objectively rating Flacco is a worthwhile exercise.
To best rate Flacco, I'll analyze him on a scale of 10 on the following attributes: short, medium and deep accuracy, arm strength, mechanics, mobility, pocket presence, decision-making, clutch factor and consistency.
Short Accuracy: 8
Flacco is generally solid throwing short and checkdown-type passes. He occasionally overthrows the diminutive Ray Rice, and he can lack touch on shorter passes and screens.
All in all, though, Flacco's short accuracy is about the norm for the NFL, and is certainly not a problem area. This rating could improve with a full offseason to work with his receivers.
Medium Accuracy: 7
In term of accuracy, this is where Flacco is the most hit-or-miss. Occasionally, he will throw a frozen rope on a deep out that puts fans in awe. The next throw, he will badly miss an open receiver over the middle.
In fact, Flacco is actually much better throwing outside the hashes than inside. He never really became accustomed to throwing down the middle of the field, so he can struggle when asked to throw medium slants and in patterns.
Deep Accuracy: 8.5
Flacco is hit-or-miss here as well, but he does do better on deep passes. While he is capable of an awe-inspiring throw, his consistency here is not great.
Flacco seemed to under-throw Torrey Smith a lot in 2011. He clearly was not accustomed to working with such a speedster, so that timing should improve this season.
Arm Strength: 10
For whatever reason, experts tend to underestimate Flacco's arm strength, often marking it as just slightly above average.
Every single throw is in Flacco's arsenal, and he can easily heave the ball 70 yards downfield. To say that Flacco's arm strength is anything other than elite is just plain silly.
Flacco has the upper body area mechanics down cold. His throwing motion looks effortless, and he has a quick release combined with a solid spiral.
His lower body is a different matter, however. Flacco can occasionally get happy feet in the pocket, which can result in some poorly thrown balls.
His lower body will be a major focus for new quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell, which should help Flacco significantly.
Probably the most underrated part of Flacco's game is his ability to escape pressure and pick up yards with his feet.
While Flacco is by no means a running quarterback, he is constantly improving at shedding pressure and extending plays. Flacco uses his size well to shed tacklers, and he's just fast enough to be a threat when he takes off.
Pocket Presence: 5
Without question, this is Flacco's biggest weakness. Flacco has never been sacked less than 30 teams in his career, and a big reason for that is his inability to function under pressure.
Flacco has a whopping 39 career fumbles as well, a number that is a result of his lack of poise in the pocket.
When the pressure is on, Flacco rarely makes a positive play. He often resorts to a checkdown to Ray Rice, throwing the ball away or taking a sack, none of which are ideal.
If Flacco manages to improve this area of his game, he could improve from good to great.
What keeps Flacco entrenched as the starting quarterback in Baltimore is his solid decision-making, something that is often overlooked by the experts.
Flacco has never thrown more than 12 interceptions in a season, a truly impressive number. Flacco is adept at not forcing passes, and he is more than willing to throw the ball away before giving up an interception.
While part of this is because Flacco is too conservative a passer, he knows when to take shots downfield, and his conservatism rarely hurts the offense too badly.
Clutch Factor: 9
The most improved, and likely the only improved, part of Flacco's game in 2011 was his ability to close out games.
Flacco's drive against the Steelers to lead the Ravens to a come-from-behind win was the best drive by a quarterback all season. Flacco overcame multiple drops to lead the Ravens to a win, showing incredible accuracy and moxie.
Against the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship, Flacco played remarkably well, and he put the ball where it needed to be for the Ravens to win the game. Lee Evans' drop and Billy Cundiff's missed kick cannot take away from what Flacco accomplished in New England.
All in all, while Flacco is not quite captain comeback yet, he is well on his way to being one of the most clutch passers in the NFL.
In the first three games of the Ravens' 2011 season, the Ravens dominated the Steelers and Rams while losing badly to the Titans.
That three-game stretch was a microcosm of both the Ravens' and Flacco's season. Flacco had six games with a passer rating above 100, and he had five games with a rating under 70.
This inconsistency is inexcusable, and if Flacco is to be considered a top-tier quarterback, he will have to be able to stop the baffling performances against mediocre teams.
What caused these abysmal performances is anyone's guess, but Flacco must play steady football if he and the Ravens are to take the next step.
Right now, Flacco grades out as an average NFL quarterback. He can win games for the Ravens on his own, but his inconsistencies will keep him from being more.
When compared to other quarterbacks, Flacco should probably be considered a top-12 quarterback, above guys like Matt Schaub, Alex Smith and Jay Cutler, but he still hasn't taken the next step toward becoming elite.
Fortunately for the Ravens, everything is in place for Flacco to take that step in 2012. He has a full offseason to work with a brilliant quarterback coach and an improved group of targets.
That should result in 2012 being a breakout season for Flacco. If it is not, however, the Ravens will be forced to accept that Flacco will never be more than an average NFL quarterback.
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