Elite: adjective. Representing the most choice or select; the best.
We may know Merriam-Webster’s definition of the word, but when it comes to NFL quarterbacks, fans and pundits alike struggle to understand its meaning. While “analysts” like Skip Bayless might think they have it all figured out, labelling a quarterback as elite or not elite is not only pointless but also misleading.
All of the quarterbacks in the NFL are the best of the best — that is why they are in the NFL to begin with. While some quarterbacks may have higher quarterback ratings or longer win streaks, this has more to do with their amount of experience, the protection their offensive line can provide, the talent and speed of their receiving core, their coaching staff and, yes, luck. Undoubtedly, there are some all-time greats, for whom everything came together at the right time, such as JohnnyUnitas, Joe Montana, Dan Marino, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.
But for every Hall of Famer, there exist other quarterbacks with just as much talent and determination that simply don’t rack up the yardage and put up the points like these legends. Case in point: Joe Flacco.
Journalistic standards compel me to disclose that I am a Ravens fan. I am thrilled for their upcoming trip to the Super Bowl, and I hope that Flacco will finally get the credit he deserves. But I also know it is not just about him. (It is not just about Ray Lewis either, by the way, despite what the media wants us to believe.) Football is a team sport, and labeling quarterbacks as “elite” takes away from the achievements of the team.
Flacco has eight playoff wins in five seasons, and he boasts a respectable career QBR of 86.3. His critics will say that he has struggled on the road, which is true, but in this year’s playoffs, the Ravens won two consecutive road playoff games against two of the league’s most “elite” quarterbacks, Manning and Brady. Do these victories cancel out the road losses during the season? Does beating an elite quarterback make you elite? Beating two elite quarterbacks? Can you see where I am going with this?
The whole elite versus not elite discussion is moronic. Kobe Bryant and Lebron James are arguably two of the best NBA players of their generation, maybe of all time. Bryant has five championship rings; James has only one. But Lebron has received three MVPs in nine years, while it took Kobe over a decade to get just one. NBA fans cannot help but squabble over which player is superior or which player is most likely to reach — or even surpass — the achievements of Michael Jordan, but when it comes down to it, no one can definitively say which player is better; just like no one can say with certainty which quarterbacks are elite.
One could argue the number of Super Bowl appearances should determine whether a quarterback is elite (John Elway and Brady are tied with five), or maybe the number of consecutive games with a touchdown pass should be the decisive factor (Aaron Rodgers broke Unitas’ record this year with 48). But these legends achieved such landmarks over long, full careers. When evaluating Flacco, who has only been in the league for five years, it better serves the purpose to compare him with another of his contemporaries.
Enter Matt Ryan. The Falcons gunslinger was in the same 2008 draft class as Flacco, and comparisons have been constantly drawn between the two throughout their young careers. Ryan has a slightly higher career QBR in the regular season, with 90.9, but Flacco’s career QBR for the postseason is 114.7, which blows Ryan’s postseason QBR away. Ryan has 25 more career touchdowns than Flacco, but Flacco is 8-4 in career postseason games to Ryan’s 1-4. Both athletes are talented, but you would be hard-pressed to find a quarterback who can throw a better, more precise deep ball than Flacco.
I’m not saying that Flacco is better than Ryan or Ryan is better than Flacco, but the “elite” label has been thrown around quite a bit when talking about Ryan, while the same people seem determined not to bestow the title on his Ravens counterpart.
Flacco deserves more credit than he gets, but not in the form of some artificial, meaningless label. Joe Flacco is an exceptional quarterback because he is a team quarterback. He plays well within the Ravens’ system and comes through in big games when the pressure is at its peak.
If the Ravens win the Super Bowl, there will still be critics who say that they won because of the Ravens’ defense or kicker Justin Tucker or Lewis or even destiny. While all these factors (save destiny, maybe) would contribute to a Ravens Super Bowl win, Flacco will be among those most deserving of credit.
Humble, talented and passionate on and off the field, “elite” doesn’t even begin to describe Joe Flacco.
Laura Wagner is a sophomore in the College. GAME OF CHANGE appears every Tuesday.