We can argue all day about which quarterbacks are elite and which ones fall short of that lofty title. That's because there's no clear-cut definition of what makes a guy "elite." Does he need to throw for 5,000 yards? Toss 35-plus touchdowns? Win a Super Bowl? Marry a supermodel?
It's a different story in fantasy football though. Numbers are all that matter. That makes a player's value quantifiable.
Joe Flacco made a strong case for induction into the class of elite "real life" quarterbacks with his Super Bowl XLVII victory and MVP award. His 11 to zero touchdown-to-interception ratio across four postseason outings tied Joe Montana for the best mark in NFL history.
But in fantasy football, Flacco is still a couple rungs below elite.
While his playoff performances have been legendary, he's been just mediocre during the regular season. Flacco has yet to hit the 4,000-yard passing mark. His 3,817 yards this past year were a personal best. And that ranked just 14th in the league.
Flacco's final fantasy rankings in his first five seasons? He's come in at 20th, 17th, 12th, 15th, 15th. That's not elite. And there’s no arguing with that.
Of course, it's 2013 and beyond that we're really concerned with. Is Flacco capable of joining the elite in fantasy football?
I'm not banking on it.
Flacco isn't lacking in the talent department. He has a rocket arm and is plenty accurate. He understands coverages and has noticeably improved his pocket mobility.
But Flacco simply isn't in a situation to produce big numbers. While the NFL has gone pass-crazy, the Ravens have maintained a balanced attack. In 2012, they finished with a 56 to 44 run-to-pass ratio. They ranked 15th in pass attempts and 12th in runs. Flacco’s 531 throws were just 14th league-wide. He’s never finished higher than 10th.
It’s tough to produce big-time numbers without the volume to support it. The margin for error is small. This past season, six of the top eight fantasy quarterbacks attempted at least 580 throws. The two others—Aaron Rodgers and Cam Newton—had rushing numbers to help vault them up the rankings. Flacco never has and never will produce on the ground.
With Ray Rice—and now Bernard Pierce—in the backfield, don’t expect Baltimore’s offensive philosophy to change any time soon. The unit is built on the ground game.
Then there’s Flacco’s supporting cast. Torrey Smith has flashed tons of big-play ability over his first two pro campaigns. Game-to-game consistency has eluded him, but that’s something that comes with experience. I still like Smith’s chances of emerging as a legitimate No. 1 wide receiver. 2013 could be a breakout year for him.
It gets shaky beyond that, though.
Anquan Boldin is aging but still productive. He went for 921 yards this season—his highest total since 2010—and then led the team with 380 yards and four touchdowns in the playoffs. But he’s due $6 million in 2013. That’s pricey for a 33-year-old. And Baltimore will be up against the salary cap this offseason, especially with Flacco looking for a lucrative long-term deal.
No. 3 wide receiver Jacoby Jones and his $4 million 2013 salary could also be on the chopping block. Behind him are inexperienced, unproven guys like Tandon Doss and Tommy Streater. Dennis Pitta has emerged as a rock-solid tight end, but he’s not a difference-maker.
The best we can say about Baltimore’s pass-catching corps is that it’s a good-but-not-great group. And that’s if Boldin and Jones return.
Now, Flacco supporters will argue that this season’s playoff performance will help vault his regular-season play. The problem with that take is that Flacco has excelled in the postseason before—only to slide back to mediocrity the next year.
I’m a big fan of Flacco’s game. He can make all the throws, knows how to manage a game and comes up big in the clutch.
But that stuff doesn’t win fantasy games. There’s a difference between real-life success and fantasy production. And Flacco isn’t in the right system, nor does he have the supporting cast to become an elite fantasy quarterback in 2013.
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