When Joe Flacco came out in the 2008 NFL Draft, his background at the University of Delaware was picked over and scrutinized.
He checked a lot of boxes (arm strength, size, toughness), but part of the reason why he was available to the Ravens at pick No. 18 was because of the lower level of competition he faced in college.
Fast forward eight years, and Flacco has six playoff appearances, league-leading 10 playoff wins and one Super Bowl MVP. He's proven he can not only handle the best NFL competition, but beat it.
So when a kid named Carson Wentz from North Dakota State entered the 2016 NFL Draft, he got different treatment.
Wentz went No. 2 overall to the Philadelphia Eagles and first-year Head Coach Doug Pederson* *said the Eagles looked at Wentz's small-school background, but it "never came up in the discussions."
"It was never one of the deciding factors to take him or not to take him," Pederson said. "Just felt like the kid could play football."
On Sunday, Wentz and Flacco will square off in a display that proves FCS-level athletes, even at the hardest position of quarterback, can flourish on the NFL's grand stage. It's a testament to all those college players that don't end up going to the SEC or Big-10 schools.
And Flacco, to a large degree, paved the way.
"Having a guy that's come from that level and to go in the way he did and have the success early, I think it just made people believe that it could be done again," Wentz said. "I think he set the bar – set the standard for that, at least in recent times. For me, I think that was huge."
Flacco often says he doesn't get much of a chance to watch other quarterbacks, but he admitted this week that he's kept an eye on Wentz's progress.
"You always look at the I-AA guys and the small-school guys," he said. "I feel like you have a little bit of a connection to them."
There are several reasons why Flacco, Wentz and those around them feel like they were able to make the FCS-to-NFL leap and have immediate success.
First of all, both quarterbacks contend that the talent difference between the big-time college programs and FCS is either not all that great, or doesn't matter.
"The jump is a big jump no matter where you are coming from – Division III, FCS, FBS, SEC – it doesn't matter," Wentz said. "Everyone is bigger, faster, stronger [in the NFL]. Obviously, we believe at the FCS level that there is a lot of good talent, and you are playing a lot of good competition. I think they just lack the depth overall that a lot of FBS teams have."
Flacco took a different spin, saying that while the competition the quarterback is playing against may not be as high, neither are the weapons around the quarterback. He also said they're good football players, but just not typically as great of athletes.
"I was not playing at Delaware, Tony [Romo] was not playing at Eastern Illinois, with USC wide receivers," Flacco said. "A lot of the time when you are down at that level, guys can play football. They just do not run 4.3 [40-yard dashes].
"As a quarterback, you are still throwing into the same windows. You are still making the same decisions, reading the defenses and doing all of those things. If you get a guy that can do that, and you also feel like he has the physical traits to play in this league, then I think the jump is not really any different than any other level."
Flacco and Wentz have NFL physical traits. They're both big and they can both sling it. Wentz is 6-foot-5, 237 pounds. Flacco is 6-foot-6, 245 pounds.
Then there's the fact that both quarterbacks are just plain winners. Flacco led Delaware to the FCS championship during his senior year. Wentz won two FCS championships at North Dakota State (they've won five straight as a program).
Flacco kept that rolling in the NFL. He became an immediate starter after injuries befell the team's other quarterbacks. The Ravens installed a strong rushing attack (they led the league in rushing attempts), and a hearty defense to back up their rookie.
Flacco won his first two games before a three-game losing streak. The Ravens then won nine of their next 11 games and reached the AFC championship.
Wentz started hot like Flacco, but has trailed off as his rookie year continued and the pieces around him changed. The Eagles won their first three games of the season and averaged more than 30 points per game. Wentz threw five touchdowns to zero interceptions.
Then came the bye, and the Eagles' fortunes changed once teams got a better look at Wentz. Wentz and the Eagles have lost eight of their last 10 games. He has thrown eight touchdowns to 12 interceptions.
A lot has been put on Wentz's plate. He manages the run game, passing protections and other aspects of the offense, Pederson said. Recently, he's had too much on his shoulders. Wentz has averaged 45 throws per game since Week 8 and tossed it a whopping 60 times in a loss to the Cincinnati Bengals two weeks ago.
"You never want to ask you rookie quarterback to throw the ball 60 times and then 46 times like he did this past weekend. It's usually a recipe for disaster," Pederson said. "You have to have a great running game; defense has to hold up, things like that. Things that you definitely see in Baltimore and their success. It helps young quarterbacks that way because then you get a great feeling about the National Football League."
As Flacco and Wentz get ready to square off Sunday, Flacco has lived the prototype for how a young, small-school quarterback should enter the league. Wentz and the Eagles see the model, and they'll be trying to emulate it at M&T Bank Stadium.
"I have a lot of respect for what he's done and what he's continuing to do," Wentz said of Flacco.