Late For Work 6/10: Can Joe Flacco Really Play Into 40s?

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Can Flacco Really Play Into 40s?

This is the golden age of quarterbacks.

There's a chance we could be headed toward seeing several signal callers playing NFL football into the fourth decade of their lives.

Peyton Manning is 39 and one year removed from an MVP season. Tom Brady turns 38 this summer and is showing zero signs of slowing down. Drew Brees, 36, said last offseason that he'd like to play until he is a whopping 45 years old. Tony Romo, 35, said last year that he has at least five years left in him.

"Forget about a done Johnny Unitas finishing out his career in sad fashion with the San Diego Chargers or Joe Namath's oft-forgotten fade into the sunset with the Los Angeles Rams," wrote USA Today's Jim Corbett shortly after Brees' 45-year-old declaration. "We're not talking about a 41-year-old Brett Favre hanging on a year too long with the Minnesota Vikings. Or Vinny Testaverde coming off the couch to make a Carolina Panthers cameo at 44.

"We're talking about quarterbacks playing into their 40s at a high level."

Quarterback Joe Flacco envisions himself as one of those older, high-octane quarterbacks.

"I'm not going to be 50 and playing," Flacco said after a recent organized team activity. "I hope I'm 40, but 50, no."

That's a lofty goal considering Flacco is still a long ways away. He just celebrated his 30th birthday last January, which means he has yet to throw a regular-season pass as a 30 year old.

And even by NFL standards, Flacco is still considered young. There are 14 starting quarterbacks this season who are older than Flacco, according to ESPN's Jamison Hensley.

That said, analysts* *believe Flacco legitimately has a chance to play until 40 because of two major factors: health and wins.

"Success and durability determines a quarterback's longevity, and Flacco has a good shot at lasting for another decade because he has excelled in both those areas," wrote Hensley. "He also has become one of the most reliable quarterbacks in league history."

"Flacco has been the picture of health and durability," added NFL.com's Dan Hanzus.

In terms of durability, Flacco has started all 112 regular-season games since his rookie year. If he starts the first five games of next season, he'll pass Ron Jaworski and become No. 5 on the all-time consecutive starts streak for NFL quarterbacks, per Hensley.

Of those 112 starts, Flacco has won 72 of them. That ranks as the fifth-most wins of any QB before turning 30. His 10 postseason wins during that span trail only Brady's 12.

While many players suffer major injuries and/or undergo surgery at some point during seven full NFL seasons, Flacco says he feels just fine.

"I don't feel any worse because of my age yet," Flacco said.

Ravens' Secret Superstar

It's time for Pro Football Focus' (PFF) annual series naming a "secret superstar" for each of the 32 teams, and their choice for the Ravens is certainly helpful in light of losing perennial Pro Bowler Haloti Ngata.

The Ravens' secret superstar is … drumroll … second-year defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan.

"The loss of Haloti Ngata from the defensive line will be felt, but will also be surmountable with the Ravens' secret superstar Timmy Jernigan coming into form and filling that void," wrote PFF's J.J. Ziegler.

Ziegler called Jernigan a "draft steal" since he was widely believed to offer first-round talent, but the Ravens got him with the 48th-overall pick in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft.

PFF graded Jernigan as the third-best defensive lineman for the Ravens last season, just behind Ngata and Brandon Williams. When Ngata wasn't serving his four-game suspension, Jernigan saw limited snaps, but Ziegler said he did a lot with them.

He posted the sixth-best run stop percentage (10.1%) and the second-highest pass rush productivity (9.7) among all NFL players in his position group.  

"The Ravens' GM, [Ozzie] Newsome, is one of the best in the league, often replacing a player before the need is felt, all while maximizing the [compensatory] draft picks," wrote Ziegler. "It pains every fan base to see one of their favorites sign with another team, but the Ravens have a good player being developed in Timmy Jernigan."

Ravens 'Triplets' Rank No. 17

What the heck is a "triplet" in football terms, you ask?

It's a team's three primary offensive weapons: quarterback, wide receiver and running back.

And NFL.com's Dave Dameshek ranks the Ravens triplets – Flacco, Steve Smith Sr. and Justin Forsett – as the 17th best in the league.  It's a below average ranking, and one could argue the Ravens deserve to be higher considering Flacco's success, Forsett leading all running backs in yards per carry last year and Smith breaking the 1,000-yard mark … again.

"Supporters rightly point to Flacco's ability to raise his game in January, but Joe can look awfully ordinary – or just plain awful – in the regular season," wrote Dameshek. "Forsett and Smith were both nice stories for a franchise desperately in need of them, but the NFL is a  What have you done for me lately?' league. Will the journeyman running back and mature receiver be able to help carry the load again in what'll be a closely contested AFC North?"

Upshaw Knows 'Close' Doesn't Get Job Done

Courtney Upshaw has been close to notching sacks plenty of times when getting after the quarterback.

But he knows "close" isn't enough.

"Everybody knows that being close is not actually getting the job done," Upshaw told The Baltimore Sun's Aaron Wilson. "In this league, sacks count.

"A lot of people look at the pressures. With me, it's either I get there or I don't. I don't count the pressure as actually getting the job done. They gave me plenty of opportunities to get after the quarterback. It's on me to take advantage of those opportunities."

Upshaw has three sacks in his three-year career, and recorded zero last season. The closest he got was when he absolutely bulldozed Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, but it was erased by a questionable roughing-the-passer penalty.

Heading into the final year of his rookie contract and hoping to cash in on the free-agent market next offseason, Upshaw knows he's got to beef up the stat sheet. He says he's feeling strong and healthy, and knows there is an opportunity with Pernell McPhee now in Chicago.

Regardless of how the season goes, Upshaw would like to be back in Baltimore for the long-term.

"Of course, who wouldn't want to continue with the team that gave them a chance by drafting them?" Upshaw said. "At the end of the day, it's all about going out and showing them they brought me in here for a reason. I want to show them what I can do. ... I want to show anybody who had a part in me being here, from the owner down, it's another opportunity to show what I can do and give back to them for giving me the opportunity."

Quick Hits

  • While Peter King ranked the Ravens as the No. 1 overall team in his offseason power rankings, Elliot Harrison doesn't have anywhere near the same confidence in Baltimore. Harrison placed the Ravens in his second tier of AFC teams. For each of his rankings, Harrison pointed out teams' weaknesses and said the Ravens' passing attack is their Achilles heel.

"Joe Flacco is better than people realize, but I didn't include him when listing the top 10 quarterbacks for 2015, mostly due to his supporting cast," wrote Harrison. "The Ravens will be starting a 36-year old wideout in Steve Smith and, potentially, two rookies in receiver Breshad Perriman and tight end Maxx Williams. This could be problematic, given that Flacco's middle-of-the-pack passer rating (91.0) last season was the second-highest of his career. Of course, passer rating is merely one facet of the game; another is two-minute offense, where, unfortunately for the Ravens, they were terrible last season (ranking 28th in two-minute scoring). Baltimore is destined to play tight contests in the AFC North, so relying on young receivers – who might not know what they're doing, pre-snap – in crunch time could spell trouble." [NFL.com]

  • What is Keith Wenning up to these days? After the 2014 sixth-round pick was cut by the Ravens earlier this offseason, he and his wife returned to their hometown of Coldwater, Ohio and he continued training for another shot in the NFL. "I've just been staying in shape, working out, throwing, waiting for a workout with teams and stuff like that," Wenning said.  "I've had a couple, a couple more to come. I was with the Colts. I have Detroit and a few other ones that are in the works but not exactly specific days yet." [The Star Press]
  • Adam Schein named Terrell Suggs the Ravens' most "indispensable" player. "I could start by mentioning the 12 sacks last season," Schein wrote. "But to me, Suggs' indispensability runs far deeper than that. He's the heartbeat of the Ravens in the post-Ray Lewis/Ed Reed era. Joe Flacco leads with his calm demeanor. Suggs leads with his bravado. He makes the Ravens the Ravens, putting forth the image this franchise has cultivated on defense for years. Due to turn 33 in October, Suggs is no longer the physical freak he once was. But he's still T-Sizzle, an invaluable presence for this franchise." [NFL.com]
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