ON A blustery morning last month, representatives from more than 20 NFL teams descended on Delaware's campus to watch senior quarterback Joe Flacco drop back, then zip dig and 9-routes all over the field. Since then the Ravens, Falcons, Seahawks and Panthers have worked Flacco out, and those four teams are among the likeliest to draft him later this month. Once projected as a late-round pick, Flacco could be the first Division I-AA passer since Alcorn State's Steve McNair in 1995 to be chosen in the first round; he almost certainly won't last past the second.
No 2008 quarterback prospect has done more to boost his NFL stock over the past two months than Flacco, whose accurate right arm (he connected on 63.5% of his attempts for 4,263 yards and 23 TDs for the 2007 I-AA runners-up) and Roethlisbergian size (6'6", 237 pounds) had the NFL drooling. Then in the Senior Bowl in January, Flacco completed just 2 of 7 for 22 yards and an interception—but scouts appreciated that he remained poised. "One of the best lessons I was taught when I started coaching was, don't ever ding a guy at the Senior Bowl," says Jaguars quarterbacks coach Mike Shula. "He can only help himself for coming."
At the combine in February, Flacco put the Senior Bowl behind him. His tight spirals on deep balls and accuracy on sideline routes confirmed that he had the strongest arm in the draft, and he showed surprising mobility as well, finishing second among passers in the 20-yard shuttle and blazing through the three-cone drill faster than any other QB in the last three years. "Mechanically he's very smooth," says Shula. "He's ahead of a lot of the quarterbacks who are coming out."
Flacco's confidence has only grown in the process. "Last year at this time I was just hoping to be talked about a little bit," says Flacco, who transferred from Pitt in 2005 after coach Walt Harris left for Stanford. "Now my expectations have gotten higher and higher. The more [teams] meet me, the more they see me throw in person, the more they like me. All they're doing is validating how good I really am."