Stepping into light

Delaware's Flacco makes case as a QB keeper

Draft

April 24, 2008|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN REPORTER

Joe Flacco flew so far under the radar last year that NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock didn't discover him until October. He was so unheralded that a contemporary, Michigan quarterback Chad Henne, hadn't heard of him until December.

For Flacco, respect has come reluctantly, perhaps even grudgingly, in this year's NFL draft.

He is the quarterback from Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA) team Delaware, the passer who threw primarily from the shotgun, the guy alleged to have stone feet and a penchant for getting sacked.

Thanks to the Senior Bowl and the NFL scouting combine, now everybody knows Flacco.

By Delaware coach K.C. Keeler's count, the Ravens sent 10 coaches and scouts to Newark, Del., to watch Flacco in a March 25 workout. The Atlanta Falcons flew up a similar number. The Kansas City Chiefs, New York Jets and Seattle Seahawks sent quarterback coaches.

Altogether, 15 teams were represented, and when it was over, the Green Bay Packers, who were absent, asked Keeler for a video of the workout. There was none, however.

"He just killed the workout," Keeler gushed. "The buzz going around from pro scouts was the kid just made himself a first-rounder."

Flacco, 23, might have come out of left field for this draft, but he very well could end up in the first round. If so, he'd be the first I-AA quarterback taken there since Alcorn State's Steve McNair was selected third overall in 1995.

"I think he could [go in the first round]," said Eric DeCosta, the Ravens' director of college scouting. "He's passed every test at the Senior Bowl and combine."

At worst, Flacco is expected to be drafted early in the second round, where several teams are waiting to grab quarterbacks.

Ironically, Flacco was invited to the Senior Bowl as an afterthought when Matt Ryan of Boston College declined. Ryan will almost certainly be the first quarterback drafted Saturday. Flacco might be the second. That's how quickly he climbed the draft board.

After a solid performance in Mobile, Ala., Flacco arrived in Indianapolis at the scouting combine with a chip on his shoulder.

"I don't care what anybody says," Flacco said. "I know what my game is. They can say all they want, put all the pressure on me they want. I have as thick skin as anybody. So bring it at me."

Henne had a chance to see Flacco in Mobile and Indianapolis.

"I honestly never heard of Joe Flacco until the [FCS] national championship game," he said. "[But] he had a tremendous year."

Flacco, at 6 feet 6 and 232 pounds, has the best arm in the draft. He also has better feet than anyone anticipated. He ran a 4.75-second 40-yard dash at the combine and turned in the fastest agility drill by a quarterback in three years.

"The kid's going to be successful because of two things they're talking least about," Keeler said. "He has absolute ice water in his veins and his game-day decisions."

Playing mostly in front of smaller crowds in the Colonial Athletic Association, Flacco threw for 4,263 yards, 23 touchdowns and only five interceptions last season. He passed for 434 yards and four touchdowns against a reeling Navy defense -- in a 59-52 upset win -- in October, about the time Mayock had to take a look.

"A buddy told me, `Go check this kid out.' I watched him in October and he blew me away with his arm strength," Maycock said.

Critics have suggested Flacco played an easy schedule at Delaware. Keeler disagrees -- vehemently.

"In the BLESTO ratings, the CAA is ranked ahead of the [Mid-American Conference]," Keeler said. "We have a pretty good pool of talent. And remember, Rich Gannon, Kurt Warner and Tony Romo all were I-AA [quarterbacks]."

Here's another reason the level of competition doesn't bother the Ravens: "He was recruited at Pitt, so he was recruited to a big-time program," general manager Ozzie Newsome said.

Flacco left Pittsburgh when it became apparent he would not get a chance to compete with Tyler Palko for the starting job. When coach Dave Wannstedt declined to release Flacco, he went to Delaware, not far from his home in Audubon, N.J.

For some, there is compelling hindsight to his journey.

"If he was playing at a major college," NFL draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. said, "we'd be debating whether he should be the first pick in the draft and go ahead of Ryan."

ken.murray@baltsun.com

Joe Flacco

Age: 23

Size: 6 feet 6, 232 pounds.

Hometown: Audubon, N.J.

High school: Three-year starter at Audubon High, passing for 5,137 yards.

College: Played in three games and attempted four passes at Pittsburgh in 2004 before transferring to Delaware. Threw for 41 touchdowns and 15 interceptions in 26 games at Delaware, leading the Blue Hens to the Football Championship Subdivision national championship game in 2007.

Draft projection: Late first round or early second.

Biggest fallacies: That he played exclusively from the shotgun and is immobile. He was under center almost 50 percent of his plays and is reasonably agile for a big quarterback.

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