Perception vs. Reality is a semi-regular premium-exclusive series that will focus in on a few players that for one reason or another (at least in the eyes of this writer), seem to have a slightly distorted value or a very wide range for their value in the dynasty community as a whole. The goal of this series will be to ignore the common perceptions that might be either too generous or much too harsh based on the name value of the player, the media coverage, or any other number of reasons.
This is not intended to be a buy or sell series, since some of these players will have owners that are extremely high on them, making them impossible to buy at decent value, while others will have owners that are extremely low on them. Instead, this is a series that will hopefully make you channel your inner Dennis Green and make sure that players “are who we thought they were.”
The previous installment can be found below:
A lot of the talk swirling around the media leading up to and now after the big game is about if newly crowned Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco is an elite or franchise level quarterback. With him being a free agent after this season, there is a high chance he might end up being paid like one, but is that a product of supply and demand, a result of his ability or simply a reward for him leading the Ravens to the Super Bowl title? Regardless of which side of the argument you fall on, you need to realize being an elite NFL quarterback doesn’t exactly mean that you are an elite fantasy quarterback or vice versa. Sure, a lot of the best NFL quarterbacks are also great fantasy quarterbacks, but that isn’t always the case. For example, Troy Aikman was a darn good NFL quarterback, but his numbers for fantasy purposes were nowhere near elite. He had career highs of 3,445 yards and 23 touchdowns. On the flip side of the coin, Tim Tebow was a top tier fantasy quarterbacks during some stretches even though he was struggling in the NFL.
Let’s take a few moments to talk a little bit about Flacco and see if we can figure out if he’ll be more like Aikman, a successful NFL quarterback and fellow Super Bowl MVP who wasn’t worth as much in fantasy, or if he’ll be more like the elites of the fantasy quarterback world.
Most people remember Flacco coming out of the University of Delaware. However, very few people realize that Flacco originally attended the University of Pittsburgh. He wasn’t very highly recruited out of high school and wasn’t widely viewed as a top shelf talent. He was redshirted his freshman year, just like many others. During his second season, he failed to beat out then starter Tyler Palko. After spending most of his second year on the bench, Flacco became upset with his lack of playing time, and he transferred to the University of Delaware in the FCS (formerly known as Division I-AA).
After sitting out a year due to the transfer, Flacco started and struggled for much of his first season even though he was playing against FCS competition. He showed what he can do in his second season as the starter. In that year, he posted 4,263 yards with 23 touchdowns against only five interceptions as he led his school to the championship game. He turned a lot of heads and gained a lot of praise with his performance and ended up entering the NFL Draft after that year.
He was selected 18th overall by the Ravens and was billed as a big, smart, strong armed quarterback. He ended up starting week one of his rookie year due to an injury to the starter, Kyle Boller, and illness for the second string quarterback, Troy Smith. To Flacco’s credit, he has started every game since then during his five year career. In addition to starting every game, he has also “led” the Ravens to the playoffs in each of those five seasons and now to their second World Championship, though some would argue it was the running game and defense that truly led the Ravens to the playoffs in several of those years.
Let’s look a little bit closer at Flacco’s production over those five years to see if we can ever expect Flacco to reach elite fantasy quarterback status.
1.) “He is only getting better!”
Well, not really.
It doesn’t really matter which metric is your favorite. All of them show very little progression over his five full seasons of starting. Beginning with his rookie year, his completion percentages have been 60, 63.1, 62.6, 57.6 and 59.7. Yards per attempt show a similar lack of progression with 6.9, 7.2, 7.4, 6.7, and 7.2. Touchdowns, quarterback rating, and many other numbers all follow the same type of line, which is to say they have all been fairly steady since coming into the league. His yards and by extension his fantasy numbers have only improved because the Ravens have thrown more in recent years.
2.) “The Ravens are shifting from a run first, play solid defense team to a passing team.”
Maybe they are, but Flacco had 542 attempts in 2011 and 531 attempts in 2012. He was #10 in attempts in 2011 and #14 in attempts in 2012. I have my doubts about how much more pass heavy the Ravens will actually become, but for the sake of argument, let’s give Flacco a 12% increase in attempts up to 595 – that puts the Ravens on par with teams like Atlanta and Denver this year. That would be his ceiling for attempts and give him a line of 4,200 yards and 24 touchdowns if we follow Flacco’s career averages, which have been pretty steady over the five years. Even with that big of an increase in attempts, he still just barely cracks the top seven fantasy quarterbacks.
3.) “The playoffs are a sign of things to come.”
The Super Bowl doesn’t change much of anything. Larger sample sizes tend to be much more reliable than small ones – that means I’m much more inclined to believe Flacco’s 80 regular season games are a more accurate representation of who he really is than his playoff performance this year. Players have great playoff runs every year, then fail to show up the following year – James Starks comes to mind right away. There have been lots of others as well. Sometimes the playoffs are a harbinger of what is to come, but often times they just showcase a player getting hot over a short period with lots of media coverage thrown in to add to the hype. Winning the MVP award will only add fuel to the fire.
4.) “He’s a winner.”
That’s true, he is. He has set several records for wins at the start of a career. Unfortunately, wins don’t really factor into fantasy points. Outside of those of you with Head Coaches in your fantasy leagues, most of us don’t really care if your fantasy players end up on the winning team or the losing team on Sunday. Sure, winning helps a starting quarterback stay the starter, but it really doesn’t do much else for us. This is probably the biggest deviation between a good NFL quarterback and good fantasy quarterback.
5.) “He throws a great deep ball.”
This is something that is a big concern to those of you with bonuses for big plays, such as double points for plays over 30 yards or things of that nature. While Flacco has a huge arm, he only connects on just over 40% of his passes of 11-20 yards and about the same on 21-30 yards. That percentage drops to 27% on balls thrown 31-40 yards. For comparison, Drew Brees, who isn’t known as being a strong armed quarterback, has completion percentages of 61%, 44%, and 31% over the same intervals in a down year when it comes to completions. Peyton Manning, with the “weak arm” after the neck injury, had percentages of 58%, 43%, and 37%.
6.) “His receivers are only going to get better.”
Torrey Smith will most likely improve. The same can be said of Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson. Outside of those three, I don’t see any pass catchers on their roster I think will continue to improve. Anquan Boldin is on the backside of his career. The rest of the group is young and/or lacking in talent. Boldin’s decline cancels out a good part of the rise of the others. As a whole, the group might be slightly better off in future years, but I don’t see any drastic increase in overall effectiveness unless someone like Tommy Streeter really develops.
Flacco is one of those players who is a better NFL quarterback than he is a fantasy one. When you combine that with the fact I can think of nearly ten other quarterbacks who I would rather have leading my NFL team, it doesn’t say much about Flacco’s fantasy relevance. His upside, if they do go a little more pass heavy, is that of a low to mid-level QB1. We are talking 7-10 range here, at best. I don’t see any reason to think he is ever going to push into top five numbers.
With that said, his floor is fairly high as well, right around the 12-18 range – that makes him a very solid backup for the scrambling quarterbacks who tend to get banged up a bit. It also makes him an asset in leagues that start two quarterbacks or have a superflex.
If someone makes you an offer equitable to that of a top five, top seven, or maybe even top ten quarterback price, I would take it for Flacco. Let the media hype convince your league he’s an elite quarterback and sell high. Unless you believe some switch magically flipped just before the playoffs this year after all those pro starts, he just isn’t an elite fantasy quarterback.