Joe Flacco Is Not an Elite NFL Quarterback and Never Will Be

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Joe Flacco Is Not an Elite NFL Quarterback and Never Will Be
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Every Super Bowl finds new ways to infuriate me. It's almost like ESPN wants me to come on here and make them look stupid.

This year we've hit an all-time low: Some people actually believe Joe Flacco is an elite quarterback. In fact, ESPN's Merril Hoge went on SportsCenter and declared for all of the world to hear that Flacco is the best quarterback in the NFL (props to Pro Football Zone for posting the video). I mean...really?

Joe Flacco isn't elite. He's not even close. I don't see how any ESPN personality can say that considering he was ranked 25th this year on the QBR stat they both created and have spent the past two years cramming down our throats. 

There is no existing metric that places Flacco among even the league's top 10 quarterbacks. His 87.7 passer rating was good for 12th in the league in 2012. He finished 14th in passing yards, 15th in passing touchdowns and 19th in completion percentage. 

Things get even worse for Flacco when we move to advanced metrics. By Football Outsider's DVOA stats, Joe Flacco is 1.4 percent worse per play than a league average quarterback. Even when you take out the adjustment for Baltimore's admittedly tough schedule, he still ends up with a rating of -0.1 percent. 

How can Joe Flacco be elite if statistically he's not even above average? Considering the narrative-driven world we live in, the answer is that he played well in the playoffs. 

Well, is playing four straight good games really that hard? Let's take a look at these samples:

Player A: 8 TD, 3 INT, 62.4 completion percentage, 1,055 passing yards, 100.5 passer rating. 

Player B: 11 TD, 0 INT, 57.9 completion percentage, 1,140 passing yards. 117.2 passer rating.

Player C: 10 TD, 3 INT, 57.3 completion percentage, 1,005 passing yards, 98.2 passer rating. 

Player B has an admitted edge because he didn't throw any interceptions, but other than that these numbers look fairly similar. All threw for around 250 yards per game for between two and three touchdowns. The only real outlier is Player A's higher completion percentage. Player B has the best line here, but not by too much.

Player A is Rex Grossman during the first four games of the 2006 season. Player C is Ryan Fitzpatrick during the first four games of the 2011 season. Player B is Joe Flacco during this playoff run.

What do all three have in common? They were all anointed elite far too quickly. The first two eventually (and often comically) fell off. Flacco won't fall as far as those two, but this helps to prove my point that anyone can have four straight good games.

But Sam, you're probably thinking, Joe Flacco did it in the playoffs. The playoffs are the be all and end all of NFL quarterback evaluation, right? Wrong. Absolutely, unequivocally, I can't stress this enough to be wrong.

Let's compare two playoff quarterbacks on a per-game basis:

Player A: 1.5 TDs, 0.5 INTs, 60.5 completion percentage, 192.5 passing yards, 94.3 passer rating.

Player B: 1.46 TDs, .62 INTs, 55.5 completion percentage, 205.5 passing yards, 86.2 passer rating. 

You'd rather have Player A right? He gives you 13 less passing yards per game, but he completes five percent more of his passes and presents a lower risk for interceptions. Well, remember you said that, because Player A is Mark Sanchez and Player B is Joe Flacco

Want to praise Joe Flacco for winning on the road? All four of Sanchez's playoff wins are on the road. What about beating Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in the same playoffs? Sanchez did that in 2010. All Flacco has that Sanchez doesn't in terms of the playoffs is a ring.

Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Joe Flacco's playoff doppelgänger

Yet I would never make the claim that Mark Sanchez is a better quarterback than Joe Flacco. It's an asinine statement. Why? Because we have the tools to prove it wrong. We have dozens of regular-season games to use as a statistical sample, why use only a few playoff games in their place?

By that logic, let's compare Joe Flacco to the truly elite quarterbacks in today's game. By my definition, the word "elite" loses all meaning unless it is attached to only the top two or three players at a position. In that vein, we're going to skip over the borderline guys like Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning and head straight for the big guns. 

Joe Flacco has had a passer rating above 90 once. Aaron Rodgers has had a passer rating below 100 once. Joe Flacco's best season (2010) was worse than Aaron Rodgers' worst season (2008) by that statistic.

Peyton Manning throws 31.1 touchdowns per year. Joe Flacco averages over 10 less touchdowns per year at 20.4. Manning completes 65.2 percent of his passes, Flacco completes 60.5 percent of his. Manning is sacked on 3.1 percent of dropbacks, Flacco is sacked on 6.5 percent of dropbacks despite offensive lines that have traditionally ranked fairly similar to the ones Manning enjoyed in his prime. 

Of all passes Tom Brady throws, 5.6 percent are touchdowns. 4.1 percent of all passes thrown by Joe Flacco are touchdowns. Brady throws for 253.1 yards per game, Flacco throws for 220.4. Since its creation as a stat, Tom Brady has never had a QBR below 65 (and that was the year after suffering a torn ACL), Joe Flacco has never reached 61. This year alone, Brady beat Flacco by over 30 points (77.1 to 46.8). 

At any point in the past three paragraphs did you think that Joe Flacco came even remotely close to the quarterback against which he was compared? I'm guessing no. That essentially leaves two explanations for Joe Flacco's last month of football. The first is that he is an elite quarterback.

The second, far more likely explanation is that Joe Flacco is an approximately league average quarterback who happened to be drafted onto a team with a great defense (average rank in Flacco's career: seventh), a great running game (Ray Rice's average yards per year as a starter: 1,266.5) and traditionally horrible quarterback play.

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When you replace a horrible quarterback (Kyle Boller) with an average one combined with the supporting cast Flacco has had, odds are he's going to look a lot better than he really is. 

Yet we live in a world where winning the Super Bowl masks pretty much any deficiency a team or player actually has. ESPN feels the need to spend the six months leading up to the following season force-feeding us mediocre players and teams because it gives them something to talk about.

But if you look at it objectively, it's fairly obvious that Joe Flacco isn't an elite quarterback and probably never will be. He's not even close, and pretty much every statistic we have backs that up. Try to remember that when Joe Flacco is making $20 million next year. 

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