A Fiery Debate on Whether to Buy the Joe Flacco Offseason Hype
You've surely read all the offseason reports about how Joe Flacco looks excellent in practice. “Far and away” the best of his career, a longtime Ravens observer told Sports Illustrated's Peter King.
In two preseason games, Flacco has led two touchdown drives, adding to the hype surrounding the Ravens' 11-year quarterback.
Yesterday, ESPN "First Take" host Max Kellerman jumped in, saying Ravens fans should be excited about Flacco.
"You got at quarterback, a Super Bowl winner who looks as good as he has in recent years," he said.
Meanwhile, Kellerman's debate sparring partner – Will Cain of ESPN Radio – dropped his head as if he wasn't listening. Let's just say Cain isn't buying the offseason hype.
"You should feel great about it if you're into mediocrity," Cain said. "It's exactly what you're looking for if you're looking for, I don't know, middle-of-the-pack quarterback play in the NFL."
Instead of looking at what Flacco has done this offseason, Cain looks at the struggles Flacco has had in recent seasons. He also seems to find it odd that Flacco could have his best camp in Year 11.
"At some point, man, the evidence is in," Cain said. "And one might say by the age of 33, you know what you've got."
And herein lies the debate. Flacco led the Ravens to the playoffs in each of his first five seasons, winning at least one playoff game each year and capped with Super Bowl XLVII victory. As Kellerman points out, Flacco may not put up the biggest regular-season stats, but he's proven what he can do in the postseason, and that's extremely valuable.
The counterpoint is that Flacco hasn't been the same quarterback since being named Super Bowl MVP. He has a quarterback rating of 82.2 over the past five years. If stacking that up among last year's quarterbacks, it would be 22nd in the league.
But there are, of course, reasons for that. Flacco's targets were decimated in 2013. He suffered a torn ACL in 2015, which affected his offseason heading into 2016. Last year, Flacco missed all of training camp and the preseason with a back injury, which lingered for half of the regular season.
Now he's healthy and pundits have largely agreed that he has more and better targets around him. And Kellerman believes that "average" quarterback play is valuable in the NFL.
The question is what Flacco will be this season. Will he turn it up a notch? Kellerman thinks drafting Lamar Jackson in the first round will help bring out the best in Flacco.
"The question is, what's the range of their play?" Kellerman said. "Their low range, below average, you want better than that. But their high range is a little above average and a guy who can also play in the playoffs. If it takes competition by drafting a guy in the first round to bring it out of him – at 33, a strong-armed quarterback. You don't want the best version of Flacco as your quarterback? I think that's a good player."
Overall, the tune has changed regarding Baltimore's quarterback situation as a whole.
Not much was expected of the Ravens quarterback group this season. Many media outlets put out rankings for each team's quarterback situation during the offseason and it didn't really matter which publication you looked at – the Ravens didn't get much love.
Both Bleacher Report’s Zach Kruse and Sporting News’ Vinnie Iyer gave the Ravens No. 29 in the NFL, while USA Today’s Steven Ruiz ranked Baltimore No. 27. Business Insider’s Tyler Lauletta handed Baltimore No. 26, while ESPN’s Dan Graziano showed a bit more faith, and rated the Ravens at No. 23.
"In Baltimore, you should feel great about your quarterback situation," Kellerman said.
"You got a guy underneath [Flacco in Robert Griffin III] who has been a successful NFL quarterback, who I said has been sneaky good. And your third guy [Jackson], who is thus far confirming the issues that people thought he might have in the NFL, is full of potential and has two guys ahead of him that give him that cushion to develop. It's kind of exactly what you're looking for in your quarterback situation in Baltimore. You should feel great about it if you're a Ravens fan."
Robert Griffin III to the Cowboys?
So with the Ravens' backup quarterback situation looking so strong, could Baltimore afford to trade one?
There's still a lot of chatter about whether the Ravens need to keep Robert Griffin III to back up Flacco, which would mean Baltimore would carry three quarterbacks for the first time since 2009.
Rookie Lamar Jackson has completed 18-of-43 passing attempts for 201 yards thus far in three preseason games, and has (not surprisingly) still shown that he needs to develop as a pocket passer. Meanwhile, as Kellerman said above, Griffin has been "sneaky good" this preseason.
In three games, Griffin is 18-of-26 passing (69 percent) for 177 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. His stats would look even better had Breshad Perriman not had a pass bounce off his hands and be intercepted and Jordan Lasley not dropped a touchdown.
That means Griffin could be a hot name once the NFL backup quarterback market heats up in the coming weeks.
If the Ravens don't keep Griffin, CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora pointed to the Dallas Cowboys as a potential suitor. Dallas currently has Cooper Rush and rookie Mike White fighting for the backup spot behind Dak Prescott, and La Canfora doesn't think it's good enough.
"Jerry Jones fancies this a playoff team (I don't, for the record), and he better beef up at QB if so," La Canfora wrote. "The Ravens may opt to keep three quarterbacks, though Griffin may have played well enough this summer for some to forget just how miserable he was the last time he played in the regular season."
Checking In on the Ravens 2018 NFL Draft Picks
ESPN has given an update on every player taken in the 2018 NFL Draft. Baltimore’s list is longer than most teams, but that's what happens when you draft 12 players.
Here are some highlights:
TE Hayden Hurst: He appears to be meeting the very high expectations the Ravens placed on him when they used their first draft pick on him. The South Carolina product has impressed the Ravens with his sure hands. According to Pro Football Focus’s Mark Chichester, Hurst has caught all five of his catchable targets, while also showing "promise as a blocker and has accumulated a pass-blocking grade of 72.5, the fourth-best mark among rookie tight ends."
"Hurst is working with the starting offense and will make an immediate impact," ESPN wrote.
QB Lamar Jackson: As noted above, Jackson hasn't completed as many passes as he would like, but he's learning. "He dazzles when he scrambles or throws on the run. Few quarterbacks have Jackson's speed and elusiveness. But Jackson has to become more consistent throwing from the pocket," ESPN wrote.
OT Orlando Brown Jr.: The third-round selection, who was the ninth tackle selected in the draft, looks like a "potential steal," according to ESPN. Brown, who was named to PFF’s Michael Renner’s top 10 list of rookie standout performances during the preseason, has already played a whopping 174 snaps this season. It's been a fantastic opportunity for Brown to work on both his technique and conditioning, which were a couple questions he faced during the Draft process.
"The Oklahoma product has showed himself well as he's allowed only three hurries, zero hits and zero sacks in his 111 pass-blocking snaps," Renner wrote.
WR Jaleel Scott: The New Mexico State product hasn't "flashed at any point this summer," according to ESPN. The fourth-round draftee is on the bubble in most 53-man roster projections, though as The Athletic’s Jeff Zrebiec pointed out, "the Ravens have never cut a fourth-round draft pick after his first training camp with the team." Scott finished with zero catches in the most recent preseason game against the Colts.
"A big-bodied target, Scott needs to be more aggressive and learn how to use his size to his advantage," ESPN wrote.
C Bradley Bozeman: The sixth-round selection has had a solid preseason that's been backed up by strong showings during all three preseason games. ESPN sees Bozeman as "a little stiff, but he fights hard on the interior." Bozeman has also caught the eye of Renner, who included him on the rookie standout performances list with Brown.
"Bozeman has registered 146 snaps including the Hall of Fame game and has yet to allow a single pressure," Renner wrote.
DE Zach Sieler: The final pick of the 2018 draft, Sieler has built up more momentum as the preseason has gone on. He registered a sack against the Rams, leading ESPN to note "the Ravens like Sieler's explosiveness." Sieler has also caught the eye of Russell Street Report’s Ken McKusick.
"He is simply playing too well not to make the Ravens roster," McKusick wrote.
Check out ESPN's takes on all of Baltimore's 2018 draftees here.
Chris Moore Tabbed for A Breakout Year
Wide receiver Chris Moore is set for his best season yet, according to SBNation’s Stephen White.
"Chris Moore, is primed to break out this year and show he is ready for a much bigger role in the offense," White wrote.
While much of the attention surrounding Baltimore's receivers has been focused on free agent acquisitions Michael Crabtree, John Brown and Willie Snead IV, Moore has quietly put together a strong offseason.
In addition to making plays during practices, Moore has caught two passes for 43 yards and a touchdown in limited appearances during games. Jackson's touchdown pass against the Colts overshadowed what an excellent catch it was by Moore.
Moore looks set to improve upon his output in 2017 when he made 18 catches for 248 yards and three touchdowns. His 13.8 yards per catch were second on the team.
"Baltimore had him lining up both inside and outside and no matter where he was, he did a really good job of getting open," White wrote. "Unsurprisingly for a return guy, he was also good running with the ball after the catch as you might imagine."
White's prediction falls in line with Moore's expectations for himself this season, which he talked about on "The Lounge" podcast. Despite the Ravens revamping its receiving corps, Moore still expects to deliver big plays in 2018.
"I'd like to show everyone that I'm a baller too," Moore said. "Yes, we have those three guys and they're amazing. They're gonna do their thing, but I'm here to be a receiver in the league for a long time."
NFL Network 'Experts' have Have Ravens Finishing in Top Half of AFC North
The Ravens will finish no lower than second in the AFC North, according to NFL Network's pundits.
The network's experts predicted the final records for each AFC North team, and Baltimore showed pretty well. Of the five pundits, four saw the Ravens finishing second in the division behind the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The other pundit, former Ravens scout Daniel Jeremiah, predicts Baltimore to win the division for the first time since 2012 with an 11-5 record, one better than Pittsburgh's 10-6 mark, and well ahead of Cincinnati (8-8) and Cleveland (5-11).
Dan Hanzus and Maurice Jones-Drew each had the Ravens finishing 9-7, while Cynthia Frelund and Elliot Harrison predict Baltimore will end the season with an 8-8 mark.
· WNST’s Luke Jones has raised the argument that Flacco should not play against the Miami Dolphins this upcoming Saturday. With three first string offensive linemen – left tackle Ronnie Stanley, lineman guard/tackle James Hurst and guard Marshal Yanda – potentially missing the game due to injury, Jones' point is that it would be smart to not risk Flacco's health.
· Ebony Bird's Richard Bradshaw looks at how far Flacco can take the Ravens in 2018. He also compares the circumstances surrounding the 2018 Ravens to the 2012 Ravens team that won the Super Bowl.
· Baltimore Beatdown's Jacob Louque thinks a "healthy and successful summer means difficult roster decisions loom for Baltimore."