New York, NY (WJZ) – Former Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco surpassed Joe Montana on the all-time passing yards list Monday night, moving into 20th place with 40,726 following the New York Jets’ loss to the New England Patriots. He’s less than 200 yards away from moving past Kerry Collins for the 19th spot on that list. With another historical achievement under his belt, we pondered the question: is Flacco a Hall of Fame quarterback?
Whether or not the 35-year-old is “elite” has been hotly debated throughout the entirety of his career, particularly since his 2012 postseason run in which he led the team to a Super Bowl victory and added “Super Bowl MVP” to his pedigree. Now, serving as a backup for the Jets, it would seem his time as a full-time starter in the league has run out, making a Hall of Fame debate slightly easier to conduct. Below, we’ll take a look at the case for and against Flacco and also provide a particularly apt comparison in order to let you draw your own conclusions.
The Case For
Flacco’s 2012 postseason run is one of the best the league has ever seen. Throwing for over 1,100 yards and 11 touchdowns with zero interceptions while averaging nine yards per attempt is astonishing. With a 22/33 for 287 yards and 3 touchdown performance in the Super Bowl, he was deserving of the MVP trophy in that game.
In terms of full career counting stats, Flacco has placed himself in various spots on the all-time leaderboard. As mentioned above, he’s 20th in passing yards ahead of Hall of Famers like Montana, Johnny Unitas, Kurt Warner, Troy Aikman and Steve Young. He’s one of just 22 passers to throw for over 40,000 yards in a career.
He’s 34th in career passing touchdowns with 220 once again ahead of Warner in that department. His 18 career fourth quarter comebacks ties him at 39th on the all-time leaderboard with numerous others.
Baltimoreans are well aware of Flacco’s ability to turn it on come postseason. It seemed when the Ravens made the playoffs, Flacco was at his very best. In 15 career postseason games with Baltimore, Flacco held a 10-5 record, throwing for 3,223 yards, 25 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. His postseason completion percentage stands at 56.6%, which is actually lower than his career average of 61.8%.
Circling back to the Super Bowl MVP, there are only four quarterbacks in league history who have won that award and not made the Hall of Fame: Jim Plunkett (1981), Phil Simms (1987), Doug Williams (1988) and Mark Rypien (1992). The rest of the quarterbacks who aren’t in are either still playing or aren’t yet eligible for Hall of Fame consideration (Eli Manning).
The Case Against
While the 2012 postseason was a magical run, Flacco’s career outside of that has been largely above average to average. He has never been named to a Pro Bowl or All Pro team. His career passer rating of 84.1 ranks 45th all-time. His career yards per attempt figure of 6.7 ranks 143rd all-time among quarterbacks tied with names like Josh McCown, Jake Plummer and Brad Johnson.
And, the statistical categories in which he has moved further up the leaderboard one could argue is at least partially due to the changes that have been made to the game making it more offense and quarterback friendly. Comparing Flacco with guys from the ’70s, ’80s or ’90s in the Hall of Fame isn’t quite the same given that the rules regarding what defenses can legally do to both quarterbacks and receivers are vastly different.
A perfect example is completion percentage. Flacco checks in at number 34 in those rankings with a career completion percentage of 61.8. Pretty good right? Well, Andy Dalton, Case Keenum, Nick Foles, Jared Goff and Marcus Mariota are all ahead of him on the all-time list.
One other counting point against him is Pro Football Reference’s Hall of Fame Monitor. In it’s simplest form, this metric is a predictive formula that looks at a players various stats, awards, and generates a score. Based on PFR’s historical analysis and current data, a score of 80 or above means a player has a good shot. The lower end threshold is 40 though they note “most of these lower scoring Hall of Famers are courtesy of senior committee selections.”
Where does Flacco’s career score on this scale? He falls at a 48.87 which is 49th among quarterbacks, with the average Hall of Fame QB scoring a 101.39. The nearest Hall of Fame QB to Flacco’s score is Jim Kelly at 59.10.
A Similar QB
One of the other fun aspects of the Pro Football Reference site is it gives player comparisons for a career. In Flacco’s case, one in particular stands out. Former New York Giants quarterback and current NFL on CBS analyst Phil Simms.
Simms, as mentioned above, is one of four QBs to not be in the Hall while holding a Super Bowl MVP trophy. In that 1986-87 postseason, he had a similarly impressive run. Over three games, he completed 65 percent of his passes for 494 yards and eight touchdowns while averaging 8.5 yards per attempt. Of course, the 494 yards pales in comparison to Flacco’s over 1,100 in his Super Bowl run but again, different era of the NFL.
In 1986, the league’s best passing attack was the Miami Dolphins at 298.7 yards per game while the league average was the Indianapolis Colts at 200.6. Compare that with 2012 when the top passing offense was the New Orleans Saints at 312.3 yards per game and the average unit was the Carolina Panthers at 230.2.
Both Simms and Flacco made it through their postseasons with zero interceptions. Though Simms ranks lower in all-time stats across the board than Flacco, again, passing games were different.
Most interestingly, Simms was named to the Pro Bowl twice (1985 and 1993). He is a two-time Super Bowl winner, though the second one came after he got injured during the 1990 season and Jeff Hostetler led the Giants to the win.
And, both quarterbacks had the benefit of a generational linebacker on the defensive side of the ball. Simms had Lawrence Taylor and Flacco of course, had Ray Lewis.
Simms’ career numbers also aren’t far off compared to Flacco’s overall stats thus far. In 164 games, Simms compiled a 95-63 record with 33,462 passing yards, 199 touchdowns, and 157 interceptions. He also has a career completion percentage of 55.4. Conversely, in Flacco’s 175 games to date, he holds a 98-76 record, passing for 40,726 yards, 222 touchdowns, 143 interceptions, and a 61.8 completion percentage.
Simms is not yet a Hall of Famer though he is remembered as one of the better quarterbacks in recent history. Flacco may be destined for a similar fate. His 2012 playoff run was memorable, one of the best ever, but the question is how much weight that one year can carry. Though it seems the meter is pointing to Flacco just not having what it takes to make it into the Hall of Fame, it’s certainly a debate that many Ravens fans, at least, would enjoy discussing.