AUDUBON, N.J. — On a quiet street outside of Philadelphia, there’s a modest, two-story house where the Flacco family raised six children, most notably a former Baltimore Ravens Super Bowl MVP, and now another NFL draft prospect.
When the front door opens, there’s a face that resembles Joe Flacco. The welcoming voice has the same distinctive South Jersey accent (it’s wudder instead of water). There’s just one noticeable difference. You don’t need to look up.
“People always ask: ‘Where’s the height?,'” Tom Flacco says.
Tom is the kid brother of Joe, and has long been determined to become the next Flacco in the NFL. He’s a decade younger than the former Ravens and Denver Broncos quarterback. He’s also nearly 40 pounds lighter. And what will draw the most criticism from NFL scouts — he’s five inches shorter.
At 6-foot-6, Joe Flacco is the second-tallest passer in the NFL, towering over most everyone in the huddle. At 6-1, Tom Flacco is among the shortest quarterback prospects in this year’s draft, which often leads to an explanation.
Tom isn’t the anomaly. Joe is. Their father, Steve, is 5-10. Their mother, Karen, is 5-6. Tom jokes he would’ve settled for 6-3, which certainly would help his chances of getting drafted.
“We’d hope he would grow a little bit bigger,” Steve Flacco said. “If he were 6-2 or 6-3, we wouldn’t even be worried about it.”
Like Joe, Tom ended up excelling in the NCAA’s Football Championship Subdivision. Unlike Joe, Tom is a borderline late-round pick instead of a first-round one.
Joe and Tom Flacco have the chance to become the 12th pair of quarterback siblings in NFL history. Tom just knows he can’t be the next Joe Flacco, a statuesque pocket-passer who can drive a ball downfield while a linebacker is drilling him. Tom Flacco has directed a spread offense, he can run, too, rushing for 1,406 yards in his college career. Some compare him to Taysom Hill, the athletic backup quarterback/utility player for the New Orleans Saints. One NFL scout suggested to him that he could convert from college quarterback to pro wide receiver as Julian Edelman did.
So, can Tom Flacco be elite too?
To borrow from his big brother, Tom has elite confidence he can play quarterback at the highest level.
“The thing that’s impressive more for me is really his journey,” Joe said. “Mentally being able to stay with it and stay motivated and then actually go out there and carry it to the field.”
Everywhere Tom went, he felt he was the best quarterback on the roster. When others weren’t convinced, he moved on. It took him four years and three schools — from Western Michigan to Rutgers to Towson — before he started his first college game.
At Towson, Tom was named a finalist for the Walter Payton Award that recognizes the top offensive player in the FCS after passing for 6,082 yards and 50 touchdowns in 24 games. Yet he wasn’t invited to the Senior Bowl, East-West Shrine game or the NFL combine.
Tom’s all-star showcase was the Tropical Bowl, which was held at a 6,000-seat stadium in Daytona Beach, Florida, that was used in the movie “The Waterboy.” He threw for 173 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another score, earning Offensive Most Valuable Player honors.
“People ask ‘do you have a chip on your shoulder,’ and I’m like, I don’t know because it’s just been there my whole life,” he said. “It’s not a chip on my shoulder, it’s just how my shoulder is now.”
When Tom was 3, a firefighter came to his preschool to teach the children about safety and then asked if there were any questions.
“Can you hit a baseball off a tee?” Tom asked. Realizing it wasn’t the most on-topic thing to say, Tom tried to save himself by blurting out, “When it’s on fire.”
Tom has always been fixated on sports. In the school yard, he yelled at kids because they didn’t know how to tag up in baseball. He put in his sixth-grade yearbook that he wanted to play in the NFL when he grew up.
Nearly 15 years later, Tom graduated from Rutgers with a 4.0 GPA and a Bachelor of Science degree in labor and employee relations, but never played. In transferring from Western Michigan to Rutgers, Tom envisioned putting up lots of points in the Big Ten. He also intended to get into the business school until he found out it wasn’t going to take all of his credits.
“So, I went with this labor studies or whatever it is,” Tom said. “I’m not even sure what it is.”
For three months, before the coronavirus outbreak, Tom trained at the TEST Football Academy in Central Jersey from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. He did speed work, preparing for the 40-yard dash and the 20-yard shuttle. That was followed by two hours in the weight room. By the end of the day, it was quarterback drills and a meeting with a coach to go over offensive concepts and terminology.
“People ask me what I will do next if I don’t make it,” Tom said. “I’m not thinking about if it doesn’t work out. I am focused on one thing and one thing only, that’s making it in the NFL. I’m too young and this is something that I’ve wanted my whole life, so I’m going to put everything into it.”
When Joe was leading the Ravens to a Super Bowl title, Tom was throwing passes in high school. When Tom landed his first starting job in college, Joe was playing 11 miles down the road in front of crowds of 70,000.
Ask Tom how big of a shadow it cast and he’ll respond: What are you talking about?
“People try to knock me when I play. Oh that’s Joe Flacco’s brother,” Tom Flacco said. “Yeah, what’s your brother do? Is he in the NFL at the top of his career? I take pride in the fact that my brother is Joe.”
Jamison Hensley breaks down what it is going to take for Tom Flacco, the younger brother of Joe, to make it as an NFL QB.
Joe hasn’t passed on tons of advice. There haven’t been any motivational talks or X’s and O’s breakdowns.
Joe has helped by peeling back the NFL curtain. Since he was a teenager, Tom has watched Joe train and throw. Tom knows what life on the biggest stage is all about.
Joe remembers being in awe the first time he took the field for varsity high school, college and the NFL because it was all new. Not so with Tom.
“He always has kind of stepped into those levels with an extra boost of confidence, like, ‘Oh, I’ve seen somebody do this, and it’s just football,'” Joe said. “So I feel like he’s had an advantage in certain ways because of that.”
Tom carries a certain aura that he belongs, and Towson coach Rob Ambrose picked up on it in his first meeting with him. In 2018, Ambrose was in the process of vetting the top quarterback transfer candidates, and he went through the offensive scheme with Tom.
“I want him,” Ambrose remembers telling his offensive coordinator. “He just has a presence, and you feel like things are going to go well as long as this guy is around. It’s not a feeling I get very often.”
Tom is an old soul, and part of that comes from being a 25-year-old college student. On the field, he is mature and sees the game as a coach. Off the field, he listens to music on a vinyl records.
When he got to Towson, he wanted the contact information for every teammate. There was a two-week span in that first summer when Tom beat Ambrose to work every day, and Ambrose woke up as early as 4 a.m. Towson wasn’t practicing at that point, but Tom wanted to master the offense before he took a snap.
If someone isn’t putting in the effort, he heard it from Tom. He has never been afraid to yell at anyone, which is not the same emotion you’ll see from Joe.
“They couldn’t be more diametrically opposed in so many different ways,” Ambrose said. “Joe’s got the best poker face I’ve ever seen in my life, and Tom’s a fire plug.”
Tom knows the reasons he might not get drafted. He’s too small. He comes from a small school. The Flaccos believe these are outdated excuses.
Tony Romo, Jimmy Garoppolo, Carson Wentz and big brother Joe didn’t come from FBS schools. Shorter quarterbacks like Kyler Murray and Baker Mayfield are getting taken No. 1 overall as offenses are evolving into shotgun, college style formats.
Will Flacco be among the 255 players selected in this year’s draft? ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. doesn’t think so.
“I’d say he would have to battle his way into a camp as a priority undrafted free agent and see what happens,” Kiper said.
Flacco has had conversations with a handful of NFL teams, including the Los Angeles Rams. He had workouts scheduled but all got canceled due to the coronavirus.
It’s disappointing because the expectation was Flacco would run the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds (Jalen Hurts‘ time of 4.59 seconds was the fastest for a quarterback at this year’s combine). He would have had a chance to show off his arm and prove he’s more than a running quarterback.
Tom’s father hopes a team will pick Tom in the sixth or seventh round so it doesn’t have to compete with others in trying to sign him after the draft. If Tom gets taken, it will come 12 years after Joe was chosen No. 18 overall by the Ravens.
“It would be awesome, especially for us,” Steve Flacco said. “This is what we live for. It would define success for us.”
The first set of brothers to play quarterback in the NFL was Ed and Joey Sternaman in 1927. The most successful sibling passers were Peyton and Eli Manning. And there hasn’t been brothers playing quarterback in the NFL at the same time since 2016, when Josh and Luke McCown did so.
Could the Flacco brothers be next?
“… I know he can do it,” said Joe, who is a free agent. “I’m excited for him to get the chance and be able to prove to somebody and then I’ve gotta stick around for a little longer so I can get the chance to play against him or maybe he can try to steal my job.”