Now that we’ve had a week to reflect on last week’s Super Bowl and are hopefully free of those silly knee-jerk reactions that come while emotions are high and minds are, let’s just say, altered, we can tackle the question everyone’s asking about Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco: is he elite? Flacco is now a Super Bowl winning quarterback, which means we must re-examine five years worth of claims that he’d never win a Super Bowl and would never be considered an elite quarterback.
A Super Bowl victory is more or less a pre-requisite for being considered elite, so now that he’s done that, what else do we know about Flacco? Well, the numbers, assuming those matter to you, are pretty impressive. He has thrown for over 3,000 yards in each of his five seasons, except his rookie year, in which he was just 29 yards shy. He has averaged 20 touchdowns per season for his first five years and his career completion percentage sits at 60.5%. Those numbers are nice, but they pail in comparison with the likes of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, two future hall-of-famers, whose status as elite quarterbacks is firmly established.
Flacco is often given credit for throwing the deep ball, but in reality he has averaged about the same number of completions of 40 yards or more per season as his two legendary predecessors. In almost every statistical category, as good as Flacco has been, he falls well short of quarterbacks that have long since been labeled as elite.
When it comes to winning and team accomplishments, Flacco’s case gets a lot stronger. Not only has Flacco brought the Ravens to the playoffs each of the last five years, but he is also the only quarterback to win at least one playoff game in his first five seasons. In those five seasons, Flacco has won nine playoff games, which ties him with Brady for the most playoff wins by a quarterback in their first five seasons.
Of those nine playoff wins, six have come on the road, which is already the most in NFL history, although Eli Manning of the Giants, who has five road playoff wins, should continue to contest that record over the next several years. Of course, this most recent playoff performance is what stands out the most, as Flacco won four games, including two road games against Peyton Manning and Brady, all while tying Joe Montana’s record for most touchdown passes in a single postseason with 11 and setting a new NFL record by playing four playoff games in a single postseason without throwing an interception.
On top of everything else, he was also the Super Bowl MVP. If winning is all that matters in football, then Flacco is already one of the most accomplished quarterbacks in NFL history after just five years in the league, and has put himself on pace to eclipse all other quarterbacks in terms of postseason prestige.
Finally, there’s the eye test, where opinions can obviously differ from person to person. Still, Flacco’s arm strength is considered by many to be the watermark for the rest of the league, and his ability to throw the deep ball is as impressive as any other quarterback in the league. Also, the poise he displayed both in the Super Bowl and throughout his entire career is something to marvel at. To be so unaffected by one’s environment is a unique trait that Flacco possesses, and in a lot of ways explains how he has been able to have such great postseason success, especially on the road.
So, when you add it all up, is Flacco elite? In short, no. His postseason success just five years into his career is nothing short of astounding, and it brings him to the cusp of being an elite quarterback; but he’s not quite there. He’s received a lot of help from his teammates over the last five years, and that’s what’s holding him back, but the potential is certainly there. As Flacco moves into the next phase of his career, he will need to do more; he will need to put his teammates on his back and carry them to success. If he can do that, he’ll move into that elite class of quarterbacks. Whether he can do so or not remains to be seen, but he definitely has the opportunity.