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Late For Work 5/8: Best AFC North QB? Joe Flacco vs. Big Ben


Best AFC North QB? Flacco vs. Big Ben

When Joe Flacco first entered the league in 2008, there was little doubt as to who was the superior quarterback in the division: Ben Roethlisberger.

Roethlisberger was already the youngest Super Bowl-winning quarterback in NFL history, and added a second ring after beating rookie Flacco in the AFC championship game. Big Ben is a two-time Pro Bowler and one of the most efficient passers in NFL history.

But Flacco has developed over the years, and became the latest Super Bowl MVP when the Ravens hoisted the Lombardi Trophy in February. He is the only starting quarterback in NFL history to win at least one playoff game in each of his first five seasons. Flacco has never missed a game in his five-year career (93 starts), while Big Ben consistently deals with injuries. Roethlisberger has only played in all 16 games of a season one time during his nine-year career.

It begs the question: Who is currently the best quarterback in the AFC North?

ESPN's Jamison Hensley believes the honor still belongs to Roethlisberger.

"Joe Flacco has a Super Bowl ring. He also has a $120.6 million contract. So putting the Ravens' quarterbacks at No. 2 will certainly draw some criticism," Hensley wrote.

The AFC North blogger sided with Big Ben in part because he maintains consistent production throughout a 16-game season. Hensley noted that Roethlisberger was an MVP candidate for the first nine weeks of last season before getting injured.

But therein lies the problem. Hensley's banking on Roethlisberger not getting hurt.

"I probably should put an asterisk by this [ranking] that notes: only if Ben Roethlisberger stays healthy," Hensley wrote. "When he's not limping around or grimacing in pain, he's an elite quarterback.

"The Ravens would be atop these rankings if Flacco can play like he did in those four postseason games under Offensive Coordinator Jim Caldwell. But Flacco has never shown that type of high-end productivity over 16 games."

In the end, it appears Hensley is making his prediction based on which of two scenarios is more likely: Roethlisberger staying healthy, or Flacco staying consistent.

He's betting on Big Ben.

It should be noted that Hensley's ranking is a projection of how each team's group of quarterbacks will fare in 2013. In other words, backups Bruce Gradkowski and Tyrod Taylor were factors. But based on the blogger's explanation for his final list, it seems his decision was mostly determined by the matchup between Flacco vs. Roethlisberger.

Hensley also ranked the division’s running backs, and listed the Ravens' tandem of Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce at No. 1. The Browns (Trent Richardson, Montario Hardesty) were second, followed by the Bengals (BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Giovani Bernard) and Steelers (Le'Veon Bell, Jonathan Dwyer, Isaac Redman), respectively.

Confusion Over 'Second Chance' Comment On McClain
There seems to be some confusion about Assistant General Manager Eric DeCosta's “second chance” comment about newly-acquired linebacker Rolando McClain, reported by The Baltimore Sun.

Everyone's wondering which "second chance" DeCosta was referring to.

The way the quote was reported gave the impression that the Ravens were going to give McClain another chance after getting arrested just nine days following his signing with the team.

But NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported that DeCosta was saying the signing itself was the second chance. talked to a source that seems to agree with Rapoport, and also indicated DeCosta's quote was misinterpreted because it didn't specify the question being asked.

"The [Baltimore] Sun then published DeCosta’s answer without the question, creating the impression that DeCosta was talking about the team's attitude toward McClain following his latest arrest," wrote Mike Florio.

In the video below, Rapoport says the Ravens still haven't fully made up their mind on McClain's future in Baltimore.

If the Ravens do keep McClain, Hensley will be surprised and thinks that move would say a lot about their confidence in the linebackers corps.

"By keeping McClain, this tells me that the Ravens really need him, even after they traded up in the second round to draft inside linebacker Arthur Brown," Hensley wrote. "Maybe the Ravens aren't certain that Brown can start right away. He is converting from a 4-3 defense at Kansas State. And, when seeing Brown at Ravens rookie minicamp, he was so small-framed that he looked more like a running back. Perhaps the Ravens are hoping McClain can be that one-year bridge until Brown can take over as starter."

Gradkowski Still Front-Runner At Center

Second-year center Gino Gradkowski is still the frontrunner to replace six-time Pro Bowl selection Matt Birk, reports The Sun's Aaron Wilson.

This remains true even though the Ravens drafted Colorado State-Pueblo center Ryan Jensen in the sixth round of the draft last month and Gradkwoski, 6-foot-3, 300-pounds, is slightly undersized.

"I think people probably look at Gino and think, 'Oh, he's kind of a small guy,'" DeCosta said during The Sun's Sports Forum. "He's a small-school guy and he's probably not the biggest guy physically, but I think he's a gritty, smart tough guy, very quick-footed. He fits our zone blocking scheme very well.

"He's definitely going to have every opportunity to be a starting center for us this year. He's going to have some competition. He's got the right mentality, the right makeup, the drive to be a good player. He comes from a football family. He's an important piece of the puzzle."

Quick Hits

Coming to officially sign his contract? Participate in workouts? Other? … @bryantmckinnie: Bmore boundbut my flight is delayed 2hrs [Twitter/Instagram]

  • Oooooh snap! I like it! I like it a lot. … Grammy-winning "American Idol" champion Carrie Underwood will replace Faith Hill in singing the theme song for "Sunday Night Football." I've loved Underwood since she won American Idol, and I'm going to go ahead and take credit for that win since I voted non-stop for her each week. That was before you could easily assign 50 votes to a contestant via an iPhone app. I voted the old-fashioned way, pushing redial on my phone for two hours straight. My life was complete when I finally got to meet her when she visited the Ravens facilities.  I was beaming for days after snapping the picture to the right. Love. That. Girl. OK, deep breath. Thank you for indulging me. #stoprantingaboutyourgirlcrushandgetbacktofootballsarah [Associated Press]
  • Pro Football Focus compiled a list of the top 101 players of 2012, and the Ravens had four players make the list: Marshal Yanda (No. 32), Rice (92) and Flacco. Former Ravens receiver Anquan Boldin also made the list at No. 63. The 49ers, who the Ravens beat in the Super Bowl, had 13 players make the list. [Pro Football Focus]

Brian Billick released his post-draft power rankings, listing Baltimore at No. 5. "It was panic mode in Baltimore during the first few days of free agency, but with the signings of Elvis Dumervil and Michael Huff followed by yet another stellar draft, the Ravens fans are once again praising Ozzie Newsome," the former Ravens head coach wrote. The top four teams were: San Francisco, Denver, Seattle and Atlanta. [] * @klm_89 [Ravens rookie Kapron Lewis-Moore, who likely won't play this year after tearing his ACL in the national championship]: One of the many pics that keep me motivated!!! [Twitter/Instagram] * DeCosta compares seeing rookies for the first time in Ravens uniforms to when "your wife gives birth." []

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