Perhaps never in NFL history has a small school quarterback had as "big" an upside as 6-foot-7, 235-pound Joe Flacco of Delaware. Not since 1995, when the old Houston Oilers drafted Steve McNair third overall from Alcorn State, has a quarterback from a Division 1-AA school been a first-round pick.
At TEST Sports Clubs in Martinsville, N.J., another former Blue Hen quarterback, ex-Giant Scott Brunner, has been working with the rifle-armed Flacco, whom he predicts will be chosen among the top three quarterbacks, possibly as early as the top half of the second round.
"When you see him up against the other guys, there's no comparison as far as his velocity that he gets on the ball," Brunner said from Wall Street, where he's now a stockbroker.
At the NFL Combine in Indianapolis in February, Flacco stole the show among the quarterbacks. His arm strength was as advertised, but his agility was surprising, especially for someone his size. Never has anyone as tall as Flacco been a starting NFL quarterback.
To say Brunner was surprised at the way Flacco outshined the other quarterbacks at January's Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., would be an understatement. Brunner says that compared to USC's John David Booty, Michigan's Chad Henne, Kentucky's Andre Woodson, Tennessee's Eric Ainge and Hawaii's Colt Brennan, well, there was no comparison.
"I was even shocked," said Brunner, who accompanied Flacco to Mobile. "There were the comments in the stands and on the sideline, 'Yeah, there's really only one NFL arm on the field out there.' His was it. It was pretty much that clear."
Henne was the second-most impressive quarterback at the combine, but it wasn't even close, says Brunner, who calls Flacco the quarterback with far more upside of the two.
"With Flacco, you know that there's a lot more there than you saw within his college career," he said.
After being Tyler Palko's backup at Pittsburgh and transferring to Delaware, Flacco threw for nearly 3,000 yards and 18 touchdowns as a junior. As a senior, he helped lead the Blue Hens to an 8-3 mark and the FCS Championship Game, where they lost to Appalachian State.
His senior year, Flacco threw for more than 3,000 yards with 18 touchdowns and only five interceptions, including 434 yards and four touchdowns against Division 1-A opponent Navy.
"He kind of really leaped up on, I think, a lot of radar screens when Delaware had the late run in the playoffs," said Brunner. He says that also told pro scouts that Flacco is a winner and a leader. As for Flacco's small school pedigree, Brunner says he expects more quarterbacks from lower level programs to make the NFL in the coming years.
"Right now the style of offense at 1-A schools makes your quarterback your second running back, for all intents and purposes," he said. "Everybody's trying to run that spread offense, and you have one running back and a quarterback in the backfield.
"The quarterback needs to be able to run first and if he can throw, that's a great benefit, but they're really looking for the quarterback to be a running back, as opposed to really be a pro kind of quarterback.
"The skills that you need at the pro level, you're not getting at the college level at this time. At the big schools, anyway."
If anyone knows, it's Brunner, who went from Delaware to starting NFL quarterback with the Giants. Drafted on the sixth round in 1980, Brunner had led the Blue Hens to the Division II national title his only year as a college starter.
In 1981, Brunner replaced the injured Phil Simms and led the Giants to the playoffs for the first time since 1958, beating Dallas, 13-10, in overtime in the season finale with a postseason appearance on the line.
After working with other quarterbacks from high school and college, Brunner says he's lucky to have had a chance to tutor Flacco, who Brunner says soaked in his teachings.
"Footwork is always an important part of playing quarterback at the professional level," Brunner said. "And I guess my philosophy anyway, stresses three different areas. It stresses balance and timing, which he's exceptional at. But then it's footwork and ball handling.
"And then ultimately it's about a vision and decision, we call it. Seeing things on the field, and reacting quickly and correctly. And having the football IQ to almost know what's going to happen two or three plays in advance."
Naturally, Brunner couldn't have Flacco execute game plans during private workouts, "But we just tried to get him to understand the basic philosophy and the basic mindset that he's going to have to have when he goes into the league," he said. "So it's going to shorten his learning curve when he gets there, so that he can be ready to play."
After a good, old-fashioned Big Apple quarterback controversy in 1983, Giant Coach Bill Parcells named Brunner the starter over Simms. Not bad for a guy picked 145th in the draft, a lot later than Flacco will go this weekend.
Wherever Flacco is picked, Brunner has enjoyed riding along with him, re-living his own underdog journey to the NFL nearly two decades ago.
"It's the old adage. I wish I knew then what I know now," Brunner said, laughing. "It's fun for me to share some of my knowledge and to actually see the improvement."