Ravens Position Preview: QB
Joe Flacco has always been a bit of a polarizing figure in Baltimore. Was he good enough to win a Super Bowl? Was he worth the contract he was awarded after winning a Super Bowl? Was giving him an extension the right thing to do? There has always been debate about his play, and for good reason, no other QB in the NFL seems to quite have Flacco’s ability to twirl an absolute gem one week and then follow it up with an absolute stinker. Consistent play has not been Flacco’s strong-suit throughout his career. His durability and a big arm have always been his strengths, but even the durability took a dent when the Ravens signal caller went down midway through the 2015 season with a torn ACL. While he did come back to play a full season last year, he didn’t look quite the same.
Now, the Ravens are faced with a real problem: Joe Flacco has yet to take a snap in training camp and won’t see any preseason action because of a mysterious back injury. The Ravens have been quite mum about the nature of the injury and are publicly sticking to the same story that he needs rest and will eventually be ready to start practicing before the start of the regular season. Many Ravens fans are skeptical. That skepticism is only magnified by the fact that Flacco’s back-up, Ryan Mallett, has a career 64.9 passer rating based off his 55% completion percentage, 7 TDs to 10 Ints, and a YPA of 5.4. Those aren’t just bad numbers, they are horrible numbers, even for a back-up. Mallett isn’t helping himself this preseason either. He had a “meltdown” in the first week of training camp, and has been perhaps even worse than his career numbers through 2 preseason games.
So, what options do the Ravens have at QB? It starts with Joe Flacco, but Mallett and Josh Woodrum also deserve discussion, and there are still options in free agency as well. Yes, that means Colin Kaepernick, but he may not be the only option.
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Joe Flacco is entering into his 10th season as the Ravens starting QB. As previously mentioned, Flacco has had his fair share of ups and downs throughout his career. Joe has always been capable of playing at a high level, and with the right supporting cast, I think he is a good NFL QB with upside. However, he needs to have that supporting cast to be successful, and without it he struggles with efficiency and accuracy. Flacco is at his best in an offense that has a strong running game and play action passing. He’s shown proficiency in both the West Coast offense and the more deep striking Air Coryell system that Cam Cameron established in Joe’s early years.
Like most QBs, Flacco struggles when under pressure, so a major question for the offense in 2017 will be the play of the offensive line. While this article is not about the OL, their play will be critical to the success of Flacco and the offense. I do think the Ravens have done a good job of building a respectable receiving corps. It may be the best collection of talent that Flacco has had at his disposal since the 2012 Super Bowl run. Jeremy Maclin, Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman possess speed to stretch defenses and Danny Woodhead is one of the best receiving backs in the NFL. Ben Watson may be getting up there in years, but his last season playing in the NFL he notched over 70 catches. If Flacco is healthy, he should have the weapons around him to put together a solid statistical season.
Of course the operative word in that sentence is “if”. What happens if Flacco misses one or more games? It seems that Ryan Mallett is the next player in line to take over the reins of the Ravens offense if Flacco has to miss time, but should he be? When starting in Flacco’s absence in 2015, Mallett was not awful, leading the Ravens to a win over the Steelers while putting up numbers that were somewhat better than his career averages. The Ravens clearly like that he has some of the same attributes of Flacco; good size and a big arm, but the positive attributes end there. He’s basically all of the bad parts of Flacco without any of the upside. There is little chance the Ravens could field a competitive team with Mallett playing significant snaps, even with a dominant defense.
That brings us to Josh Woodrum, a name that most Ravens fans probably never heard of 2 weeks ago. For those who are not familiar with Woodrum, he was an undrafted free agent in 2016 out of Liberty University. He had a solid collegiate career starting 4 seasons for the Flames, and earning 2nd team All Big South honors 3 times. After initially signing with the Giants, he was picked up and waived by a few teams, even spending some time on the Chicago Bears practice squad last year. The Ravens signed him soon after training camp got underway, and he quickly made an impression in his 1st preseason game as the Ravens waived Dustin Vaughan and promoted Woodrum to QB3 where he once again thrived in preseason game 2.
One thing that has really stood out with Woodrum is his athleticism and pocket presence. He doesn’t hesitate to make decisions and sees the field well. The athleticism at least should not be surprising, as he posted impressive numbers at the NFL Combine, highlighted by a 4.80 40, 117 inch Broad jump, and 6.74 3 cone shuttle. He has an athletic profile that is not very dissimilar to successful NFL QBs Alex Smith, Jay Cutler, Dak Prescott and Derek Carr.
So do the Ravens have a back-up QB controversy between Mallet and Woodrum? It’s hard to judge because the level of competition they have faced in the preseason is very different, but the disparity between how they have both played is so wide it makes for a legitimate question. There are certainly a lot of fans who would like to see Woodrum at least see some snaps with the starters in week 3 of the preseason, and I don’t see what it could hurt. At this point the Ravens should know what they have in Ryan Mallett and it is not impressive. Perhaps Woodrum has enough upside that giving him an opportunity is worthwhile.
The question that has followed the Ravens all preseason since the revelation of Flacco’s health has been whether they should sign free agent QB Colin Kaepernick. From a football perspective, it would have and still does make sense to do so. Kaepernick is a quality starting caliber QB and he has familiarity with Greg Roman, who the Ravens brought in this past offseason to help improve the offense. At the very least he would be a huge upgrade over Mallett and would be a viable starter while Flacco gets healthy. For what it’s worth, Kaepernick has better career stats than Flacco and adds an athletic element that would bring a different dimension to the offense. Looking past any off-field distractions, the Ravens would likely need to create even more cap room to sign Kaepernick unless he signs to a veteran minimum salary. Are the Ravens willing to further mortgage the future salary cap for a back-up QB who may or may not even need to start games for the team? It’s a question that I certainly am not capable of answering, but I do think the Ravens should at least extend an offer for Kaepernick to be the back-up at a salary similar to what they are paying Mallett.
Right now we don’t know if the Ravens will have a problem at QB in the regular season. It’s certainly not a good thing that Joe Flacco has been unable to even take to the practice field, but it would hardly be the first time a QB misses extended time before not missing a beat in the regular season. What worries me and countless other Ravens fans is the nature of back injuries and the fact that the Ravens don’t seem to have a viable back-up in place in case Flacco does miss time. The offense already has enough questions with an offensive line in flux and a number of new offensive skill players. Having a question mark at QB only further underlies the uncertainty surrounding the Ravens offense.