Eisenberg: Ravens Got it Right

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Three games into Joe Flacco's second pro season, the verdict is in on whether the Ravens were smart to gamble on a big-armed, little-known quarterback in the first round of the 2008 draft.

They were smart. They got it right.

It's only the most important thing to happen to them since they won the Super Bowl, a decision that could resonate for a decade or even longer.

Surprisingly few quarterbacks taken in the first round become successes, but Flacco steadily improved during his rookie season and has emerged as a star in 2009, throwing for six touchdowns and 839 yards in the first three games.

Is he a finished product? Hardly. Will he continue to struggle at times? Without a doubt.

But I'm talking big picture here. Even though he is still a work in progress, you can clearly see his career arc developing. Already an upper-tier quarterback, he is just too talented for this to be a false positive.

He is exactly what the Ravens wanted him to be – a game-changer for the entire franchise.

They're still playing the tough, hard-hitting defense they're known for, but they're much more balanced now, becoming a scoring juggernaut.

This is why teams continually draft quarterbacks in the first round, as the Ravens did with Kyle Boller in 2003. The potential rewards are so high. A franchise quarterback is more important to a team than a stout defense, a rugged offensive line, anything. When you have a star quarterback, you wake up every Sunday knowing you have a chance to win no matter what else happens.

But a majority of quarterbacks taken in the first round don't pan out. In one study posted on the Associated Content website, 55 percent of the quarterbacks selected in the first round in the 1990s received career grades of D or F, while just 30 percent received A's.

The teams that took Peyton Manning and Steve McNair got it right; the teams that took Ryan Leaf, Akili Smith, David Klingler and Heath Shuler got it wrong, wasting top 10 picks.
There's no guarantee whatsoever that a strong college career leads to NFL success. Other qualities are more important -- and not easily defined. Boller had a strong arm, good mobility and intelligence, but something was missing. Flacco has already surpassed him.

"For as long as we've been looking (for an answer) at that position, we were never really sure what we were looking for," Ravens director of player personnel Eric DeCosta told me. "But now that we've seen Joe, we know what it takes. I feel like if we had to take another quarterback now, we'd get it right again.

"There's a lot of nuance at that position. Personality is really important. And Joe has the personality to handle adversity, be a leader, finish games. His poise. His unflappability when things go wrong. Those intangibles are huge."

The Ravens initially wanted Boston College's Matt Ryan more, DeCosta said, but his stock soared so high that the Ravens, with the eighth pick, gave up on getting him. Flacco became their focus. One of their area scouts, Joe Douglas, had identified him as a player to watch when Flacco was a senior at Delaware. When DeCosta went to see him play against Navy, Flacco put on a mesmerizing show.

"He was off the charts. I got excited," DeCosta said.

His relatively lowly college competition and unassuming personality were concerns, but the Ravens were sold after meeting with him several times and watching him put on another mesmerizing show at a private workout. On draft day, they traded down to No. 26 in the first round, then back up to No. 18 to make sure they got him.
Some people knew right away they'd gotten it right.

"Everyone else is having their eyes opened this year, saying, 'Wow, he's playing well,' but some of the things he did last year, when he first came in, opened my eyes," tight end Todd Heap said. "The things he did before the games even started, how he handled himself, his calmness, his poise. You could just see it. All professionals have confidence, but Joe has all the confidence in the world. He is one of those guys who gives off the air that he knows what he's doing and knows he's good at it."

You can just see it. The Ravens nailed the pick, got it right. And goodness, how that one decision has changed their world.

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