32 for 32: Joe Flacco’s Quest to Become Elite Once Again
Editor’s Note: This is a part of our 32 for 32 QB Profiles series.
If “elite” is the word you associate with Joe Flacco at this point in his career, you might be PFT Commenter. The other alternative is that you’re in a 2QB or Superflex league and you are searching the bottom of the barrel for value. In both cases, you’re likely highly inebriated. Regardless, welcome.
Value is certainly a relative term. MD 20/20 is value. Buying bulk one-ply toilet paper is value. That doesn’t mean either is good. Flacco has value as well, indicated by his ADP as QB30 in the TwoQBs’ January dynasty mocks. The question regarding Flacco is whether his fantasy outlook moving forward is good, because last season he provided a mixed bag of results.
If you’re like me, you believe opportunity leads to success. You’re not drafting Flacco to be the number one overall quarterback on the season. A viable starter can go a long way in 2QB and Superflex leagues. Flacco has continued to show he’s viable in this format.
What went wrong in 2017?
Last season was the first time since 2012 that Flacco failed to produce top-20 numbers in at least 60.0 percent of his games, according to his TwoQBs stat card. In order to find out why, we need to go all the way back to 2015. Specifically, November 22nd, 2015. That was the date Flacco suffered a torn ACL and MCL in his left knee. Flacco wouldn’t have a full offseason to prepare for the 2016 season. Entering the 2017 season, he dealt with a herniated disc in his lower back. Once again, the offseason was a time for rehab instead of reconnaissance. Take it from Kurt Warner, the offseason and, in particular, the preseason, has some value for quarterbacks.
Sadly, Flacco wasn’t alone. Lest we forget, the Baltimore Ravens also had their fair share of injuries at other offensive skill positions.
— Graham Barfield (@GrahamBarfield) June 2, 2017
Losing Pitta was just the beginning. Jeremy Maclin, arguably the Ravens’ top receiving threat, played in 12 games but failed to surpass four catches in all but two of those games. The Ravens’ backfield was decimated with injuries from the onset of training camp as well. Despite season ending injuries to Kenneth Dixon and Danny Woodhead, Ravens running backs received a 26.0 percent target share.
The high volume of passes to running backs helps explain why Flacco had a career low in aDOT and the second fewest air yards in his career. A more in-depth look at Josh Hermsmeyer’s QB efficiency models shows a slightly more alarming trait with Flacco’s deep ball. Since the 2015 season, his completion percentage on passes traveling 15 or more yards in the air has dipped well below the league average. Prior to 2015, Flacco’s deep ball accuracy was much closer to the league average. The lack of a quality deep threat helps (no offense Mike Wallace), but it’s a trend worth noting. Is it due to health or is it a warning sign that particular element of Flacco’s game is disappearing?
What went right in 2017?
It wasn’t all bad news for the Ravens offense. Both NFL Next Gen stats and Pro Football Focus recognized the job the Ravens’ offensive line did protecting Flacco. This was despite losing right guard Marshal Yanda, PFF’s top graded guard in 2016, for the season after Week 2.
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) February 13, 2018
Protecting Flacco is important, because (believe it or not) Flacco threw the ball a lot last season…and the season before that…and the season before that. Since 2010, Flacco has the seventh-most passing attempts among starting quarterbacks:
That, in essence, is the peak of his “elite” stats: Opportunity. Last season, coincidentally enough, Flacco had the seventh-most passing attempts in the NFL. The opportunity was there, even if the stats didn’t comply throughout the season.
Where they did work was the second half of the season. From Weeks 11-16, Flacco completed 140 of his 211 passing attempts for 1,387 yards, eight touchdown passes (and one rushing touchdown), and only two interceptions. For the second half of the season, Flacco was firmly entrenched as a high-end QB2.
What About Lamar Jackson?
Ozzie Newsome’s final draft as GM of the Ravens ushered in the era of Lamar Jackson. It’s ironic that it will help undo the financial constraints plagued on the team by Flacco. Flacco’s rock-bottom ADP just fell into a sinkhole, but I don’t see the Ravens rushing to replace him this season. How close were the Ravens to making the playoffs last season? This close:
— NFL (@NFL) January 1, 2018
If Flacco has the team contending for the playoffs, good luck seeing a rookie take the field. According to one online sportsbook, the Ravens win total is set at 8.5 games, with the under at (-120) and the over at (+100). Even if the Ravens don’t win nine games, which these odds indicate is the favorite, what would it take for the rookie to?
If you’re betting against Flacco then close your eyes during the first month of the season. Flacco’s Ravens are 22-11 in the month of September over his career. Outside of the atrocious 2015 season, the Flacco-led Ravens have had a sub .500 record in only four games since 2014. That’s not the news the fantasy community likely wants to hear, but it’s more than likely Flacco is the still the guy starting the majority of the games in 2018.
What to expect in 2018?
In Flacco’s case, he’s been both viable and durable. He’s also 33 years old, a full year younger than Aaron Rodgers. Most importantly, Flacco has a front office and a head coach that believes in him. Now he has a quarterbacks coach again. Not just any quarterbacks coach either. In his only two seasons as a quarterbacks coach, James Urban helped send Donovan McNabb and Michael Vick to the Pro Bowl. As noted in the aforementioned ESPN article, Flacco has performed better with a positions coach.
|Year||QB Coach||Completions||Passing Attempts||Completion %||Yards||Yards Per Attempt||TD||INT||QB Rating|
Perhaps most notable is Flacco’s quarterback rating (insert criticism about the metric here). Excluding his rookie season, Flacco’s three lowest quarterback ratings have come in years where he didn’t have a quarterbacks coach. While it may not result in a significant increase in production, any increase in productivity is a blessing given Flacco’s disrespect in the fantasy community. The bigger question is going to be who Flacco is throwing to exactly.
Wallace and Ben Watson were the two most targeted players last season for the Ravens, and both are unrestricted free agents this offseason. Caught in salary cap purgatory for the better part of five years due to Flacco’s contract, the Ravens could also lose Jeremy Maclin and Danny Woodhead this offseason. All the more reason to buy while the buying is low. If the Ravens can make a splashy move at receiver during free agency and parlay that move with drafting at the position — fingers crossed for James Washington — Flacco could once again regain his elite moniker, even if it just relates to fantasy value.