The Ravens Have Hope, and His Name Is Flacco

Chris CobbContributor IOctober 2, 2008

When the Baltimore Ravens drafted this kid, I immediately said, "We'll either be building statues of him, or trying our best to forget him." 

Joe Flacco has all of the physical tools to be great—the cannon arm, he's 6'6", weighs in at 230, and the mobility to extend plays.  But what we fans didn't know, heck what NOBODY knew, was if he had the "intangibles". 

You know, the difference between say, Kyle Boller and Tom Brady.  On paper, Boller is the better quarterback because he's got about the same accuracy and a stronger arm, but it's what Tom Brady does with those tools he has.  He makes the right throws, he doesn't get flustered by pressure from the defense or a game situation, and he leaves his mistakes from the last drive behind him.  Kyle Boller...doesn't. He, and quarterbacks like him (ahem Tavaris Jackson, Vince Young, Alex Smith, Ryan Leaf, David Carr, you get the idea), doesn't ever make the connect from physical ability to game ability.

The Ravens have found a quarterback who has that game ability. He hasn't put up the most gaudy stats in the world, although last week's 16/31 192yd 1 TD performance is respectable, especially against the Pittsburgh Steeler's defense, but what he does is keep drives alive. 

He finds the open man and keeps the chains moving.  He's not challenging the Brady touchdown record, but he's only a rookie, what is important is that he's shown Brady's poise in the pocket, and Donavan McNabb's poise outside of it.  What is important was the fourth quarter drive from his own 24 yard line: he drove his team down the field, going three-for-three for 60 yards, setting up a Leron McLain touchdown (impressively bulled his way in too) to tie up the game. 

Oh yeah, and this was a little after he had fumbled on a sack, about the time most rookie quarterbacks would've folded up and called it a night.

Of course Flacco has also shown his big play ability. In week one, he scored his first NFL touchdown by running 38 yards for a touchdown, which ended up being the game winner.  Last week against the Steelers, Joe played reminiscent of Donovan McNabb, he was forced out of the pocket to the left sideline, and just when you thought he was going to throw it to the cheerleaders, he cutback, leaving three pursuing Steelers behind. From the RIGHT sideline he hit Wide Receiver Derrick Mason down the field.  And as Ron Jaworski pointed out during the broadcast, during the entire scramble his eyes were always upfield looking for a play to make—the sign of a mature quarterback.

There were some before the season and to this day who think that Troy Smith is the man for the job.  I count myself amongst the people that thought Smith deserved a shot at the job after he showed flashes of potential last season, the Ravens were a team desperate for a long-term solution at quarterback, and he seemed like he could have the stuff after watching Steve McNair for a part of the season. 

But what Joe Flacco has shown with NO experience at the pro level, not even watching McNair, far surpasses anything that Smith showed last season, or looked even capable of during the pre-season. 

Smith looks like he could end up as an effective journeyman quarterback, but Flacco looks like he could be a franchise quarterback, the very thing that every franchise wants and salivates over. 

Smith's stats, like Flacco's, aren't gaudy, but passable.  Smith shows some flashes of big play potential and a decent amount of composure.  This is the man who won a Heisman, so he's a capable leader.  But what he lacks is physical ability on the level of Flacco.  Smith can't make "all the throws".  He stands at only 6'0", there's not a chance that he can see over those big offensive lineman of his, much less the big defensive end trying to get in his way. 

He has potential to be a good quarterback, but not great.  And certainly not the kind of quarterback that you can build your team around.

The Ravens look like they have finally found their man in Flacco.  A quarterback who combines great physical abilities with intangibles.  One who has composure and can lead his team on a game winning drive.  Ever since their move from Cleveland in the '95-96 season, the Ravens have been looking for a franchise quarterback. 12 years later, it looks like they've drafted the right man. At long, long last.