Thursday, April 10, 2008

What Dreams May Come: Joe Flacco

As much as I say that I love unknown commodities, I’m not without an understanding of tradition. I loved watching Jack Del Rio bludgeon teams to death with the old school. I love watching Peyton Manning operate from a pocket and tear teams apart. So I’m often forced to frame my desire for the unpredictable within familiar structures. Just look at the draft picks we’ve covered so far; they all meet some easy comparison, some tweak on the known.

Joe Flacco doesn’t have an easy comparison, which is what makes him so weird to discuss. On the one hand, he’s got as much upside as anyone in the draft. All of those things that we say make Matt Ryan a sure thing, the size, the mobility, the arm? Flacco has more of each. He towers over his opponents at 6’6”. All of that makes for an imposing collision when he tucks and takes off, which he can do in a heartbeat. Add to that the fact that he makes small window throws whether standing tall or hustling from defenders, and the questions about in which round he’ll be taken seem silly. After all, what could keep teams from snatching that kind of talent?

But that’s where the fear of the unknown comes into play. Flacco wasn’t towering over a level playing field; he was towering over a bunch of kids who, for some reason or another, were deemed unfit to play BCS ball. You think teams are worried about a first round quarterback trying to adjust to NFL speed? How can they possibly predict what a kid who toiled in the shadows of the FCS will do when everyone is bigger and faster?

It’s the fear of a mirage that drives people away. What’s “real” when you look at Flacco’s footage? Is he doing the things he does because he’s that gifted, or is it a trick of proportions? Is he actually fast, or just faster than everyone else on the field thanks to his competition level? And yet the measurements don’t lie…right?

It’s a scary thought for NFL GMs, ones who, probably much like me, want the stats and clips and physicality to be genuine yet still have nagging doubts about it all.. The visible in Flacco’s game erases the “if” question of his draft status. He’s too big, too fast, and got too intriguing of an arm to let slip away. At the same time, the invisible part of his game is what raises the big, ugly “when” question; specifically, when is some team going to finally decide that upside and practicality have achieved balance. The beauty of this whole thing is that for all the talk about what teams think of him, there’s no way anyone has any real idea when he’s going. It’s fear pitted against greed, and the NFL is a beast that feeds rather heartily on both. Considering how many teams have large question marks under center, we’re poised to have a Mexican standoff take place over Flacco, one that could cripple a team just as easily as it could rapidly improve them. Who dares wins...or at least, who dares makes my draft day.

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