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Scouting Jets quarterback Joe Flacco

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Denver Broncos v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

We’ve been reviewing the two recent veterans signed by the Jets in detail, concluding today with veteran quarterback Joe Flacco.

The 35-year old is listed at 6’6” and 245 pounds and has passed for over 40,000 yards in his NFL career, despite never having been to a pro bowl. His career highlight was the 2012 season which saw him win the Super Bowl MVP as he led the Baltimore Ravens to a championship. Flacco spent last year with the Denver Broncos, but lost six of his eight starts with them.

Background

Flacco grew up in New Jersey and was a three-star recruit coming out of high school. He was initially recruited to Pitt but ended up red-shirting his freshman year and then found himself stuck behind starter Tyler Palko in 2004.

Having completed just one pass while at Pitt, Flacco decided to transfer to Delaware and was therefore ineligible to play in the 2005 season. However, he became a starter in 2006 and passed for almost 3,000 yards and 18 touchdowns with just 10 interceptions.

Ahead of his final season, Flacco contemplated transferring to baseball but was surprised to hear his coach tell him that he would probably be an NFL draft pick. He rededicated himself in his final season and ended up setting 20 school records as he passed for 4,263 yards and 23 touchdowns with just five interceptions in his senior year.

After a solid display at the senior bowl and at the scouting combine, Flacco’s stock was on the rise and the Ravens eventually selected him with the 18th overall pick in the 2008 draft.

As a rookie, Flacco moved straight into the starting line-up and started every game, leading the Ravens to the AFC title game and earning Pepsi Rookie of the Year honors.

He had posted modest stats as a rookie, but opened the 2009 season with the first 300 yard game of his career. The Ravens again made the postseason and even eliminated the Patriots, although Flacco was limited in that game and only completed four passes.

2010 saw Flacco post a 93.6 quarterback rating, which is still the best in his career. Once again the Ravens made it to the postseason. They made the playoffs again in 2011, even though Flacco’s completion percentage of 57.6% was the lowest of his career.

His career peaked in 2012 as the Ravens won the Super Bowl behind his 287 yard, three touchdown performance in the 34-31 win over the 49ers. Flacco had been almost flawless in the postseason, with 11 touchdowns and no interceptions.

Off the back of that performance, Flacco - who had turned down $16 million a year in July 2012 - signed a six-year deal worth over $20 million a season.

With the pressure of the big money deal, 2013 ended up being the worst season of his career statistically. The Ravens missed the postseason for the first time in his career as he posted a career-worst 73.1 quarterback rating. For the only time in his career so far, Flacco threw more interceptions (a career-high 22) than touchdowns (19).

2014 was a bounce-back year for Flacco as he threw a career-high 27 touchdowns. This included a blow-out win over the Bucs where he threw for four first quarter touchdowns and ended up with five for the only time in his career. The Ravens went 10-6 and returned to the postseason.

2015 ended abruptly for Flacco as he suffered a torn ACL and MCL and missed the last six games of the season, the first games he had missed in his career. Even before the injury, the season hadn’t been going well for Flacco who had won just three of his 10 starts.

Flacco had mixed fortunes in 2016, as he posted the first 4,000 yard season of his career and set franchise records in terms of attempts and completions. However, the Ravens missed the playoffs despite a 3-0 start and his average yards per attempt was a career-low (6.4).

In 2017, the Ravens posted a winning season but again narrowly missed out on the postseason as Flacco’s yards per attempt average was even lower at a league-worst 5.7. This prompted the Ravens to draft Lamar Jackson after the season.

Although Jackson began 2018 as the back-up, his role was gradually increased and he became the full-time starter when Flacco suffered a hip injury nine games into the 2018 season. Flacco didn’t play again that season, although some fans were chanting for him when Jackson was struggling in the wild card game.

That marked the end of Flacco’s tenure in Baltimore, as he signed for Denver during the offseason. He ended up starting eight games, losing six, before being replaced by Drew Lock. Flacco did have one three-hundred yard game, but passed for less than 200 yards in each of his two wins as a starter.

Let’s move onto some more in-depth analysis of what Flacco brings to the table, based on in-depth research and film study.

Measurables/Athleticism

Flacco has good size and, although he’s not a running quarterback, entered the league with reasonably good athletic ability. Looking back at the 2008 combine data, Flacco posted good agility numbers and ran a 4.84 in the 40-yard dash but his explosiveness numbers were poor.

Obviously he’s 35 now and has a surgically repaired knee, so he’s not as athletic as he once was.

Arm Strength

Flacco has always had a big arm, something he first showcased on a wider scale during the pre-draft process in 2008 when he beat several other prospects, including Matt Ryan, with a winning throw of 74 yards in the arm strength event at the all-star challenge.

With the Ravens, he developed into one of the most prolific downfield passers in the NFL, leading the league on downfield attempts and ending up fourth in yardage on such throws in 2012. However, he’s thrown less and less downfield since that time and has had mixed results when doing so.

Here he displays that he still possesses the ability to connect downfield if he can step up and into his throw.

On the whole Flacco was pretty effective on downfield throws last year, although he didn’t attempt many and there were signs that maybe his arm doesn’t have the juice it once did.

Flacco can still put zip on a throw to connect in a tight window but is also capable of making throws with good touch.

Accuracy

In 2019, Flacco actually set a career mark by completing 65.3 percent of his passes, although this was perhaps a by-product of the fact he didn’t throw as many low percentage downfield passes as he usually does.

Generally speaking, his accuracy has been consistently around the 60 percent mark for his entire career and he does have the ability to hit his man on time and in stride or squeeze a throw into a tight window.

However, he will have lapses at time and this if often, but not always, because he’s under pressure.

Under pressure

Flacco’s numbers have really suffered when he’s been under pressure, which happened increasingly after the Super Bowl run - perhaps because the Ravens had so many resources invested in him that they couldn’t afford to prop up their offensive line with high priced additions.

While he lacks the athleticism to run around eluding tackles in the pocket, Flacco will hang in and extend plays and can be creative in getting rid of the football.

Generally speaking, Flacco does a good job of moving away from pressure to create angles to get his throw off, but he has struggled with that over the past two seasons. In his first 10 years, he had just over 6.5 passes batted down at the line of scrimmage each year on average. However, over the past two years, that’s happened 20 times in 17 starts.

Flacco tended to hold the ball longer earlier on in his career but has been getting rid of it earlier in recent years. That reflects more of a league-wide trend though.

Back in 2013, Flacco was sacked a career-high 48 times, but this issue was corrected in 2014 and he was only sacked 19 times. However, last year, he was sacked 26 times in eight starts, including nine times in a loss to the Chiefs. He ended up with the third-worst sack rate in the league.

Ball security has been a constant concern for Flacco who has fumbled 94 times in his career, including postseason games, with more than 10 in a season twice. He had eight in eight games last year, although he’s had decent “fumble luck” with only nine fumbles lost in the past seven seasons, including two years where he fumbled six times but all six were recovered by the offense.

Footwork/Technique

Flacco was thought to have solid fundamentals in terms of his footwork and release, but after the Super Bowl run there was increasing chatter about the fact that he had allowed himself to become a bit sloppy technique-wise.

After a series of mistakes where Flacco shortened his stride, didn’t step into the throw at all or threw off his back foot or while fading away, more and more analysts started to pick up on this fact. He was also inconsistent with his release point at times. These issues were leading to turnovers and missed opportunities down the field.

After he returned from his knee injury in 2016, it was even more noticeable that Flacco was more timid in the pocket and protecting that leg by avoiding stepping into throws.

He arguably looks most comfortable when throwing a quick timing pattern in rhythm or when throwing on the move.

Decision Making

Over the course of his career, Flacco has had a consistently good interception rate. He’s been in the top 10 for lowest interception rate five times, albeit never higher than fifth. While he reached double-digits in interceptions in each of the first 10 years of his career, he only went over 12 once in his first eight seasons.

A lot of that is as a result of being smart with the football, although at times he has had a reputation for being too eager to check down or take the underneath option.

There have been times when Flacco has thrown a risky pass as he’s got rid of the ball to avoid a sack and he will make bad reads from time to time.

In clutch situations, Flacco has shown poise over the years with 19 fourth quarter comebacks and 26 game winning drives. That includes a couple of big moments among his 10-5 postseason record. While he hasn’t had a fourth quarter comeback or a game-winning drive since 2016, he actually brought the Broncos from behind to take the lead with under two minutes to go twice last year, although the defense let him down on each occasion.

Mobility

Flacco has definitely always been a pocket passer rather than a dual-threat quarterback but, for most of his career, he’s been the kind of quarterback who can take off and make some yardage with his legs.

In his first ever NFL game, Flacco ran for a 38-yard touchdown, although that’s still the longest run of his career and he’s only ever had one other 30+ yard run. He’s racked up 831 yards and 16 touchdowns over the course of his career though. Most of those touchdowns were on quarterback sneaks, but he can execute a bootleg or quarterback draw.

On 12 carries last year, he picked up four first downs, but his longest run was just nine yards.

He also caught two passes in his career, one on a long pass for 43 yards and another on a play where the ball was batted back to him and he was tackled for a loss.

Within the pocket, Flacco can move around well and has the ability to buy time and extend plays without having to scramble.

Special teams

Flacco hasn’t played on special teams at the NFL level. However, while still at Pitt, Flacco punted once for 25 yards, on this terrible third down quick kick which saw him get booed off the field.

Scheme Fit

The Jets obviously feel comfortable with Flacco being a good fit because general manager Joe Douglas would be particularly familiar with him due to his time in Baltimore.

While with the Ravens, Flacco was teammates with several players who are current Jets, including the likes of CJ Mosley and Alex Lewis. It will be interesting to see if he has any chemistry with Breshad Perriman, who began his career in Baltimore.

Flacco also played with Ahmad Gooden and Connor McGovern with the Broncos last season.

Injuries

Flacco’s career had been largely injury-free until he missed the last six games of 2015 with his MCL/ACL tear. He had started every game of his career to that point, although he was limited in the 2014 wild card game due to a quadriceps injury.

In 2017, he suffered a disc injury in his back during training camp and was expected to be out for up to six weeks but did make it back for the season opener. Later that year, he suffered a concussion following a late hit from Kiko Alonso, which saw Alonso ejected. Flacco still was able to start the next game, though. Then in 2018, he suffered a hip injury which saw Lamar Jackson replace him for the last seven games of the season.

Flacco joins the Jets having recently undergone a surgical procedure to correct another disc issue, this time in his neck. It’s been reported that he is unlikely to be ready in time for the season opener.

Intangibles

Flacco has a lot of self confidence, as evidenced by the comments he made back in 2012 that suggested he believed he was the NFL’s best quarterback. While he was widely ridiculed for making those comments at the time, within a year he had a Super Bowl MVP award and a $120 million contract, so was essentially vindicated. His star has fallen since then though.

While he brings good experience to the role and has said he is prepared to be a mentor to Sam Darnold, Flacco ruffled feathers in Denver by saying that mentoring Drew Lock wasn’t his job and his demeanor and body language as he was losing his job to Jackson in Baltimore wasn’t always ideal. He also has a reputation for not making much of an effort to make the tackle when he throws an interception.

As a draft prospect Flacco initially impressed teams by performing well at a workout during senior bowl week in windy and rainy conditions. He didn’t play in any cold weather games in 2018 or 2019, but his quarterback rating was above 80 in such games in 2017 and 2016.

He’s been responsible for 42 penalties in his career, with over half being for delay of game and 10 for intentional grounding, including his only penalty of last season.

Conclusions

Flacco was one of the best backup options still on the market when the Jets signed him and they got him on a low cost deal ($1.5 million, plus $3 million in potential incentives) so it’s difficult to have much of a problem with this move.

He’s not the player he once was, and never lived up to his Super Bowl MVP status or the contract that followed, but it’s still possible he could have a similar effect to Ryan Fitzpatrick or Josh McCown if called upon.

While few would feel confident that Flacco could lead the Jets to the postseason as the starter, he’s an ideal replacement to finish a game if Darnold got knocked out of it, or to hold the fort for a few weeks if needed.

While the fact he won’t immediately be ready is a minor worry, he should definitely be a significantly better option than the likes of David Fales or Mike White. With rookie James Morgan unlikely to be ready to deputize off the bat, we’ll have to see what kind of a contingency plan the Jets have in place until Flacco is ready.