No average Joe, Flacco joins Ravens' flock

OWINGS MILLS -- In a dramatic maneuver after balking at costly haggling demands to trade up for elite prospect Matt Ryan, the Baltimore Ravens dropped back in the first round to land strong-armed Delaware quarterback Joe Flacco. Now, it's Flacco who has been anointed as a quarterback-needy organization's next signal-caller of the future.

At 6-foot-6, 235 pounds with a cannon of an arm, Flacco was targeted as an attractive fallback option once Ryan went to the Atlanta Falcons third overall.

Acquiring Flacco set off a raucous celebration in the Ravens' draft room, including team owner Steve Bisciotti.

"We decided it was time to pull the trigger on the quarterback that we felt was the guy to lead our football team into the future," general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "This is more exciting than scoring a touchdown."

Since former starter Kyle Boller and former Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith remain unproven, Flacco will get an immediate shot at competing for the starting job despite the negative history of inserting Boller as a raw rookie.

"We said all along that the quarterback job is going to be an open competition," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "Whoever gives us the best chance to win, I think is going to be our quarterback."

Although Flacco has a small-school background as a Division I-AA All-American who transferred from Pitt after failing to beat out incumbent Tyler Palko, the Audubon, N.J. native doesn't lack for confidence or motivation.

"It feels incredible," Flacco said during a conference call from his New Jersey home. "To have them tell me they're going to pick me, it was a pretty damn good feeling.

"I can't wait to get down there and work hard and prove to them that they made the right decision that they moved up to get me. I think I definitely have something to prove, and I'm going to use that to my advantage like I have in the past."

The St. Louis Rams wanted the Ravens first-round pick, second-round pick and fourth-round pick for their second overall selection. Baltimore traded twice to nab Flacco with the 18th overall pick as the highest-drafted quarterback in team history.

The Ravens traded their eighth overall pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars to move back to 26th overall in exchange for the Jaguars' two third-round picks (71st and 89th overall) as well as their fourth-rounder (125th).

Then, Baltimore traded two picks (89th overall) and a sixth-rounder (173rd overall) to move up from No. 26 to No. 18 to grab Flacco.

Troy University cornerback Leodis McKelvin apparently didn't have a high enough grade to warrant addressing that pressing secondary need at No. 8. And USC defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis went seventh overall to the New Orleans Saints after a trade with the New England Patriots.

"What you have to remember is that if we don't get a trade, we were prepared to pick at eight," Newsome said. "We had a player that we wanted and we would've felt very good about it."

Newsome acknowledged concern that one of the other teams in the bottom half of the first round might try to move up to get Flacco. It's believed the New York Jets were plotting a move for Flacco, prompting the Ravens to act.

Although it's unclear if Flacco was actually the Ravens' 18th-rated player and it seems a bit high to pick him, Newsome declined to say.

"To get the phone call from them and see the area code and know who was calling, it was really exciting," Flacco said. "I didn't really know why they were calling so early because I thought they had the 26th pick, so I wasn't really too sure what was going on, and they told me they were going to trade up and pick me. It was so quick, the excitement just overtook me right away."

Obtaining Flacco rendered any alternative scenarios obsolete as Baltimore wound up with a quarterback who completed 63.2 percent of his career passes for 7,046 yards, 41 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.

Flacco led the Blue Hens to the national championship game last year, and possessed other qualities that spurred the Ravens to rank him ahead of Michigan's Chad Henne and Louisville's Brian Brohm after conducting visits and private workouts with all three quarterbacks in addition to meeting with Ryan.

"He's big, which is important," Ravens director of college scouting Eric DeCosta said. "He's got a rocket arm. He's highly accurate.

"We love the kid. He's very smart. He passed every test. We grinded on these quarterbacks until the very end. Joe was the guy that separated himself from the other guys."

The biggest criticism regarding Flacco is his small-school background, where he excelled against the Naval Academy and others last season as he passed for 4,263 yards, 23 touchdowns and five interceptions.

"In my mind, Joe is a guy with tremendous physical skill as a pure passer," said DeCosta, referencing other NFL quarterbacks from the Division I-AA ranks like Tony Romo (Eastern Illinois) and Kurt Warner (Northern Iowa). "I think he's going to make the jump and do very well."

Flacco is the first Division I-AA quarterback to go in the first round since Steve McNair in 1995 out of Alcorn State. McNair's abrupt retirement swings the door open for Flacco.

Due to geographical proximity and area scout Joe Douglas' recommendation, the Ravens have been aware of Flacco's promise for a long time.

"It's not easy, guys, to go into a school like Delaware and put a high grade on a quarterback, believe me," DeCosta said. "In August, Joe called me and said, 'Delaware has a quarterback who's legit.' This was way before anybody had ever heard of Joe Flacco, so I think Joe Douglas did an outstanding job of putting Joe Flacco on the map for the Baltimore Ravens."

DeCosta said that footwork is something Flacco could use some improvement, but was pleasantly surprised by his speed and quickness.

When asked for a scouting report on himself, Flacco replied: "I think I'm a strong kid who can hang in the pocket and throw the ball accurately with people around him. I definitely am a low-key guy. I'm not a rah-rah guy. I think I'm pretty straightforward and honest and I want to gain the respect from my teammates."

Plus, Flacco can throw the football 75 yards on the fly. He impressed offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and quarterbacks coach Hue Jackson with his ability to assimilate information and take coaching during a private workout on the Delaware campus.

"Joe is very coachable," DeCosta said. "I've been around a lot of quarterbacks in my career, where you try to change something with them and they're not really receptive initially until they basically fail. When Cam and Hue worked with Joe, within five minutes they were asking him to do some different things and he did.

"The improvement was unbelievable. What really impressed me was his ability to change some things and really improve quickly."

Although Flacco has a low-key personality and prefers to lead by example, the Ravens are comfortable with the presence he'll bring to the huddle.

"He's a very competitive guy, he's a leader," Harbaugh said. "When you talk to his teammates, his coaches and anybody on that campus, they'll vouch for that. We're satisfied that he's got the personality to be a real good quarterback."

NOTE: The Ravens' spring football festival brought 11,497 fans to M&T Bank Stadium as 20 players attended, including Pro Bowl running back Willis McGahee.

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.


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