Is Joe Flacco Worth Your Fantasy Football Attention?
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco had himself quite the postseason. In four playoff games, he threw for 1,140 yards, had 11 passing touchdowns and no interceptions, fumbled the ball away just once and was sacked only six times. His performance in the Super Bowl won him the MVP and his team a Lombardi trophy and marked some of the best, most consistent football we’ve seen in his five-season career.
His 2012 regular season wasn’t too bad either—Flacco’s 3,817 yards were a career-high and he threw 22 touchdowns to just 10 interceptions. In fact, he was the 14th-highest-scoring fantasy football quarterback of the season, his 250.9 aggregate points better than many other fantasy starting mainstays like Philip Rivers and Matt Schaub. However, chances are you aren’t in leagues with 14 or more teams, which made Flacco a marginally-drafted and started player in 2012. And there are red flags about his game that have popped up in every one of his seasons. While Flacco has been invaluable to the Ravens, and will likely be rewarded a massive contract for his efforts, can what he achieved in the postseason translate to fantasy football value in 2013?
On a year-by-year basis, Flacco has been remarkably consistent. Until 2012 and outside of his rookie year, he’s thrown for just over 3,600 yards each season and though his touchdown numbers haven’t been terribly impressive, with somewhere between 20 and 25 per season, he’s never thrown more than 12 picks a year. His yards per completion have been at or just below 12, and despite being sacked between 30 and 40 times per year, he’s never once missed time with injury. He’s resilient and seemingly reliable—at the very least, with Flacco as your fantasy starter, you know what you’re getting into.
The best way to describe Flacco is “consistently inconsistent.” Though you can pretty much guess how his season will pan out in terms of yards, touchdowns and interceptions, there’s almost no way to guess how he’ll perform on a weekly basis. Not counting his rookie 2008 season—rookie years don’t really say much about a quarterback’s future performance, especially when he’s five years into the job—there have been marked ups and downs to Flacco’s production that have little to nothing to do with the quality of teams he’s faced. In 2009, he had six games with fewer than 200 passing yards and six with 250 or more; in 2010, he had eight games with 250 or more yards and five below 200; in 2011, he threw for over 250 yards six times and under 200 seven times; and in his wildly successful 2012 season, Flacco still threw under 200 yards six times and over 250 in seven games.
Just as in real-life football, your fantasy quarterback should be the most consistent, predictable contributor to your team’s bottom line. Not knowing what version of your quarterback will take the field from one week to the next is an added level of stress that isn’t necessary—not when you’re in a 10-team league and you can just draft Peyton Manning or Tom Brady and call it a day. But Flacco does have some actual fantasy upside. The fact that he’s escaped injury thus far makes him a more attractive option than say, Ben Roethlisberger, who seems to never go a season without something happening to him that makes him miss games and his production suffer when playing hurt—and, because of this, he also requires you pay special attention to the backup quarterback position. And Flacco’s performances at the end of the regular season and into the playoffs have more to do with him simply getting hot at the right time—his game actually did improve.
Though the sample size is small, Flacco’s performance did trend upward after the Ravens canned longtime offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and replaced him with Jim Caldwell, who was brought on in the 2012 offseason as quarterbacks coach. The switch was made early in Week 15, prior to the team’s game against the Denver Broncos. Though the Ravens went on to lose that game and though Flacco technically only really played in one more regular-season game with Caldwell calling the offense (he attempted only eight passes before being rested in Week 17 against the Cincinnati Bengals), Flacco never had fewer than 240 passing yards after the switch. And even though Flacco has gotten much credit for how well he’s played in the postseason over the course of his career, he’s only had 240 or more passing yards in just two of his previous nine playoff appearances. With Caldwell as coordinator, Flacco and his big arm appears to have been unleashed, with his ceiling now seeming much higher than it was during the Cameron years. Perhaps Flacco wasn’t holding himself back—it was Cameron and his archaic, conservative offense.
What also helped Flacco was his receivers. While Torrey Smith is the deep scoring threat, Flacco found himself with a very solid group of weapons to throw to, especially once Cameron was swapped out for Caldwell. As we saw in the Super Bowl, Jacoby Jones has proved himself quite the deep-ball complement to Smith; Anquan Boldin was incredibly reliable, pulling down 65 of the 112 passes thrown to him; and tight end Dennis Pitta also was a sure-handed option for Flacco. A lot of the gripe about the Ravens offense stemmed from Flacco seemingly having no one of quality to throw to, but after the offense became more complex and pass-heavy, the talents of his targets started to shine. An offseason with Caldwell honing his craft should do Flacco wonders. However, if the Ravens lose Boldin—who has a $6 million salary in 2013 and may be a cap casualty as a result—they’ll need to draft someone who can reliably step in as a rookie. Tandon Doss just isn’t going to cut it, considering he had only 18 targets in 2012, with a mere seven receptions and two drops. That’s not the kind of production one would hope for out of a second-year receiver and calls into question whether or not he’d blossom into even half the full-time possession receiver Boldin has been in Baltimore. If they lose Boldin, Flacco may not have the kind of numbers you’d otherwise expect from him in 2013.
Overall, there’s still a very real “buyer beware” aspect to drafting Flacco as your starting fantasy quarterback this year. How he performed throughout the playoffs and the way he showed improvement when Caldwell took over the offense are very positive indicators that his 2013 could certainly be his best statistical season, but much will depend on how the Ravens receiving corps looks after they handle their salary cap situation and after the draft. If you’re in a league with 12 or more teams, and if Boldin stays, Flacco is a must-draft and must-start. In 10-team leagues, however, Flacco becomes more risky, but considering that he ended 2012 outperforming some of the safer, go-to fantasy quarterbacks, using a pick on him and choosing to start him wouldn’t be too dangerous. Maybe a bit of an unconventional choice, sure, and one you may have to justify to your league-mates who might laugh at your decision, but his recent upward trend, his generally-reliable by-year production and physical durability makes him an attractive option for your 2013 roster. If you surround him with other players who have a more stable week-by-week history, he should pay off legitimate dividends—just as he has in real life for the Ravens.