The biggest Ravens news in recent weeks has been the rumor that the team is “in” on Louisville QB Lamar Jackson. Jackson, a former Heisman Trophy winner, was one of the more electric players in college football for the past two seasons; he would certainly bring a new brand of football to a city that is clamoring for it. But could this just be a smokescreen? I mean, how likely is it that the Ravens actually draft Joe Flacco’s successor at pick 16? And if they do, will it really be Lamar Jackson?
NFL Network’s Bucky Brooks brought the Ravens interest in Jackson to the attention of the country when he suggested that the team may be looking to trade back, accumulate more picks, and secure the former Louisville Cardinal as the future face-of-the-franchise. He connected dots between the Ravens’ coaching staff, their recent signing of RGIII (who has a similar playing style), and their pre-draft meeting with Jackson before eventually coming to the conclusion that – if he was available at 16 – Baltimore would pounce. While his argument certainly holds its own (especially when put in perspective: every rumor our there is nothing more than a theory), the most likely reality is that Ozzie & Co. are bluffing, hoping that other QB-needy teams will jump ahead of them and consequently force other players down the board.
Common sense would suggest that this will be the case. It’s Ozzie Newsome’s last year as general manager, John Harbaugh is most definitely on the hot-seat, and the fanbase is begging to watch January football again. Together, those factors would make it incredibly shocking to see the team select a signal-caller with their first-round pick. Considering the other holes on the team, such as tight end, wide receiver, interior lineman and EDGE, it is unlikely that the current brass elects to plan for the future rather than address current needs.
However, the “future” that will undoubtedly be eluded to if the Ravens draft a quarterback is not as far off as some may think. Joe Flacco is another poor season away from being an almost-definite cap-casualty, so bringing in the heir apparent wouldn’t be the biggest mistake. In fact, I personally wouldn’t mind seeing the team draft its future starter at the position – especially if they were able to trade back in the progress. And for that reason, if pick 16 rolls around and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announces that “there has been a trade,” I would almost expect the Ravens’ eventual selection to be a quarterback. Even still, though, I wouldn’t expect the pick to be Lamar Jackson.
Bucky Brooks’ theory relied heavily on the Ravens’ coaching staff and the addition of Robert Griffin III. In a vacuum, his points would suggest that the team runs an offense with a mobile quarterback. But, to disprove this theory one must look no further than the quarterback under center for the past 10 seasons. Joe Flacco is not a mobile quarterback, and though it is certainly feasible for the team to change directions, the identity of the offense – and the franchise as a whole, for that matter – doesn’t fit Lamar Jackson’s style. For years the team has dominated the trenches, running a ground-and-pound offense. Even this past year the Ravens returned to that strategy, making their running game a strength. The direction of the offense seems to fit a pocket-passer much better than a scrambler, and for that reason, I believe the Ravens may have their sights set on Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph.
Rudolph is a big, strong quarterback with an accurate deep-ball that could entice Baltimore as he may remind him of their current QB. His numbers are staggering – he has the most wins in Oklahoma State history – and the tape suggests that they are accurate. The only potential knock on Rudolph is the fear that he could be the product of a specialized system and therefore may not translate well at the NFL level. Even if this is the case, Baltimore’s offense may be a great fit for him.
What’s more, Bucky Brooks’ acknowledgment that the Ravens could be looking to trade back and select a quarterback plays more into the belief that they covet Rudolph, as Lamar Jackson seems to be on everyone’s radar and consequently may not be available at pick 16. If the Ravens traded back to pick 20 with Detroit, however, they could select Rudolph and add, say, pick 117 in the 4th-round to their arsenal. Doing so would allow them to fill their other needs in the middle rounds, which appear loaded with quality depth and terrific value. And (here’s a fun idea), the Ravens could be so inclined to select WR James Washington with their 2nd- or 3rd-round pick, reuniting the former Oklahoma State superstars for years to come.
I believe that the Ravens will take a signal-caller at some point in the 2018 NFL Draft. I also believe that they could take one in the 1st-round. I do not believe, however, that it will be Lamar Jackson. Instead, I believe that Baltimore holds significant interest – an interest that they could act on – in Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph. And if they trade back to draft him, I’d be praising Ozzie’s work one last time.