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Friday, May 2, 2008

Evaluating Flacco - Part I

The honest truth about the NFL Draft is that it's a crapshoot. Even Mel Kiper and Todd McShay will tell you that. Guys rise up from nowhere (Willie Parker) and guys trip over their own shoelaces (Cedric Benson) when they finally get into the NFL.

Lately I've been reading up on the huge draft busts of the past to see what they have in common, and so far, I've seen that maturity can be a big factor in how draft choices pan out.

Classic example: Peyton Manning was the senior QB at Tennessee that had a good arm and was considered more grown-up, but athletically limited. Ryan Leaf was the kid out of Washington State with the actual "rocket arm" that Manning talks about in his commercials. At the time, Leaf was considered to have higher upside, while Peyton was the pro-ready prospect. No matter what Colt GM Bill Polian says, he was on the right side of a lucky guess. One is going to be a top-3 greatest QB ever when he retires, the other is the most epic flameout of the league ever.

Two other prospects that represent the maturity theory:

- Brian Bosworth: Just watch this video segment. His cultural celebrity eclipsed his NFL playing ability.

- Tony Madarich: Reading this SI article, how could people not know this guy was going to be a bust? He's a jerk!

So after my initial reaction of "Boller: Episode II" to the Joe Flacco selection, I cleared my head and began to look online for more about the guy. Knee-jerk thoughts are not the way to evaluate how scouting departments select the marquee picks of their drafts.

Luckily, people have done most of this work for me.

Dewey Hammond, who is one of the greatest blogging advocates and enablers today in my opinion, has developed his reputation behind the Yardbarker Network to the point where he's treated like a legitimate news organization representative. He gets interviews with athletes and direct-to-audience content like no one else does. Thankfully, he's also a Baltimore Ravens fan.

He somehow got in touch with Joltin' Joe Flacco and did this interview.

Reebok is trotting this man out, because he also did this interview with Keith Van Valkenberg of the Baltimore Sun, of whom I've become a fan in recent weeks.

Maybe I'm just being optimistic, but I feel like the general impression of Flacco is that he's a sharp guy that isn't afraid to be a little light-hearted. Ravens coaches apparently drafted him because of his physical tools and "coachability" or the way he actually executes what he's asked to do. Reports are that when he completed his workouts for the Ravens, he listened carefully to their suggestions and vastly improved over the course of the few days he was there.

This represents to me a kind of maturity that is a promising sign in a young prospect. Not every first-round draft pick has the character or the demeanor to work hard and do things a different way, even if it's difficult.

Furthermore, I've watched some of his video. On YouTube, it's a two-part series:

Part One

Part Two

What I see in these videos that the guy obviously has a big arm - he makes 40-yard throws with ease. But everybody already knows that. His accuracy is fair to middling; he'll have to work on his short-range accuracy. But he also has great poise and pocket sense. He stands in to take the hit, but he also knows when the hit is coming. He also doesn't have the bad habit of stutter stepping when he feels the heat, like Boller would do. I think we're dealing with more of a Jay Cutler than a Boller, hopefully.

From a personal standpoint, I'm warming up to the guy. I fully recognize that he was drafted as a project player and has a lot of development to do before he sits behind center in a real game. But even knowing these conditions, I feel better about the pick than I did before (similar to Rick Maese in this column). For a project, he seems to have everything you could reasonably hope for, and someday he could come out as one of the better QBs in this draft.

I'm not saying he's our savior, and I'm definitely not saying he's the best option we have this year, and I'm most definitely not saying he should win the QB battle out of training camp. The Ravens made their choice with the way they drafted this year - the organization is retooling. New coach, new personalities, project players warming up to their roles: that doesn't measure up to a winning season this year, especially when the Browns and the Steelers are going to be so competitive.

Flacco is an investment, something for next year or the year after that. Hopefully folks like Ozzie, Rex Ryan, Ray-Ray, Derrick Mason, Terrell Suggs and all the other vets are still around when it starts paying dividends. But for the organization, this could be - and I stress could be - the turnaround pick for this franchise.

The reason this post is labelled Part I is because everybody knows that draft picks cannot be evaluated for some time until they're actually in the game for awhile. I anticipate coming back to this selection several times over the next few years and seeing how he's progressing. This only counts as initial reaction and observation - nothing is written in stone.

Photo Credit: Baltimore Sun, The Tide Druid

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