Freeman-Flacco debate comes down to potential vs. results

Working on the set of "The Top 100: Players of 2011 Reactions" on Sunday night, I can tell you there were some lively discussions before the show regarding players 90 through 81. The most colorful of those centered around, and continues to center around, Josh Freeman being ranked higher than Joe Flacco.

Bear in mind that the players, not NFL Network analysts or a blue-ribbon panel, voted on their peers. Apparently, NFL players feel Freeman (No. 86) is a hair better than Flacco (90). Could that be possible? Sure.

Is it right? Let's take a closer look.

One of the comments Brian Baldinger and Charles Davis -- both in studio for Sunday's reaction show -- made was that Flacco had led his team to the playoffs in his first three seasons in the league. That's never been done in the modern era by any quarterback, which is a pretty tough fun fact to overlook.

Yes, Flacco has been blessed with a nice defense and a better supporting cast. Still, you can't hold that against him, nor can you deny the fact that Baltimore went 5-11 the year before he showed up.

This is not to say Freeman doesn't belong in the discussion. Both Baldy and Davis agree he's a top 100 player, as do I. He's shown the ability to bring his team back in tight games and maintained an astounding risk-reward ratio with 25 touchdown passes and just six picks in 2010. Throw in that he's nearly impossible to bring down, much like Ben Roethlisberger, but far more mobile, and you have a beast of a player. Some feel he put the Bucs on his back in leading the team to 10 wins.

For all that, Freeman does not have a trip to the playoffs on his résumé, something Flacco has done in each of his first three seasons. That's not all Flacco has accomplished. His career passer rating is a healthy 87.9 with a robust 60-to-34 touchdown-interception ratio. He's been remarkably consistent, from his back-to-back 3,600-yard seasons to the fact that he's played 48 out of a possible 48 regular-season games, and started all of them.

While Freeman was exciting in his rookie season in 2009 and led an awful Bucs team to several comeback victories, the fact remains that he struggled plenty. Throwing 18 picks in only nine starts is testament to that. So, in some minds, the question remains if Freeman is what we saw in 2010, or is there still a lot of 2009 in him?

That remains to be seen. But there can be no question about his leadership, likeability and upside. He's shown a complete willingness to call out his team, has that magnetic "it" factor that Jay Cutler can't seem to buy on eBay, and, frankly, is much more athletically gifted than Flacco (or just about any other quarterback in the league.)

For now, though, it's about the best players as we sit today. Flacco has a few more skins on the wall. Let's see how 2011 plays out.

Elliot Harrison is the research analyst for NFL RedZone on NFL Network.

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