February 3rd, 2013 was one of the greatest days in the Baltimore Ravens’ history. The Ravens, in the Super Bowl for the first time in over a decade, held off a furious rally by Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers in an epic clash of two powerhouses.
But the past five years haven’t been too kind to either team. The Ravens have missed the playoffs in four of the past five seasons, including one awful 5-11 campaign. Three of those seasons were determined by losses in the final weeks, often in spectacular fashion. San Francisco destructed in the seasons after the Super Bowl loss. The Niners hit rock bottom with 14 losses in 2016, but found their franchise quarterback in Jimmy Garoppolo, a bright young coach in Kyle Shanahan, and are one of the NFL’s ascending franchises. But the Ravens have stayed in .500 range and lack the spark to make their future bright.
That was why the 2018 NFL Draft, general manager Ozzie Newsome’s final draft, was so important. The need for a new era prodded Baltimore to make bold selections that could help in both the short and long term, and none was more bold than the 32nd overall pick of the draft, former Louisville quarterback and Heisman trophy winner Lamar Jackson. Jackson’s selection is the dawn of a new era in Baltimore, and one that could lead the Ravens back to the promised land.
The history of Ravens football can be divided into four eras:
Era One: Ascension (1996-2000)- The quick ascension of the relocated Browns team into one of the greatest defenses of all-time, culminating with a Super Bowl champion in the 2000 season.
Era Two: Instability (2001-2007)- With a revolving door at quarterback and a massive exodus following the Super Bowl XXV victory, the Ravens made the playoffs multiple times but never reached the AFC Conference finals.
Era Three: Contention (2008-2012)- In Year 1 under coach John Harbaugh and quarterback Joe Flacco, the Ravens reached the conference finals. Baltimore reached the playoffs each of the next five seasons, including two division titles, and won their second Super Bowl in 2012.
Era Four: Mediocrity (2013-2017)- Flacco was rewarded with a massive contract but the championship squad dismantled. The quarterback-centered team won a playoff game in 2014 but the era was characterized by crushing season-ending defeats in December.
After the Ravens blew a Week 17 lead to the Bengals that would’ve gotten them the fifth seed in the playoffs, it became clear that Era Four’s days were numbered. Though Flacco rebounded from a rough first half of the season to lead the team back to contention, there was no clear direction for the team, as the roster was old and filled with holes. The impending retirement of general manager Ozzie Newsome, the team’s GM since its inception, put the Ravens’ future in further uncertainty and made it clear that change was on the horizon.
In Newsome’s final draft as general manager, he was as active as ever, trading back twice before picking tight end Hayden Hurst and then moving up into the final pick of the first round to take quarterback Lamar Jackson. The pick was unexpected and gutsy but was exactly what the Ravens needed. It is one that could seal Newsome’s legacy as one of the great minds of football history and reward Baltimore with a franchise quarterback for years.
The electric Jackson brings a new dynamic into Baltimore. In stark contrast with Flacco, who has had trouble even sliding in games, Jackson is such a dangerous and athletic runner that he has hurdled entire defenders. In addition to his athletic prowess, the former Louisville star has a strong arm that projects him as not only a college football touchdown machine, but a suitable NFL starter as well. In Jackson’s rookie minicamp this past weekend, coach John Harbaugh lauded Jackson’s accuracy and noted that the team was “in the laboratory” building a plan to integrate Jackson into the offense. He has drawn comparisons to Michael Vick, a former top overall pick and a human highlight reel, and those comparisons should make Ravens fans drool. For a player who was available at the end of the first round, Jackson was a steal and athletic freak who has the potential to change the quarterback position.
Scouts have questioned Lamar Jackson’s ability to transition to the pro game, as many run-first quarterbacks have found limited success in the NFL. But if anyone with a Vick-esque running game is going to succeed in the NFL, it is Jackson. His new offensive coordinator, Marty Mornhinweg, worked with Vick and Donovan McNabb, so he has experience incorporating mobile quarterbacks into an offense. Jackson could learn a thing or two from the Ravens’ other quarterback, Robert Griffin III, who was a Rookie of the Year as a run-first quarterback. Unlike some other quarterbacks in this year’s draft, Jackson also has the luxury of time to develop, as Flacco is the starter for this upcoming season and is competent enough to keep the Ravens in playoff contention.
Since the Ravens are a team in playoff contention even without Jackson, it is fair to question whether Baltimore should’ve opted for a player in a position of need that can play Week 1 and make an immediate difference. Offensive line, pass rush, and receiver are all positions that could’ve been addressed in the first round.
But at this point in the first round, the chances of the pick panning out were low, evidenced by the recent first round flameouts drafted by Baltimore (Breshad Perriman, Matt Elam). On the other hand, Lamar Jackson was the best player available, a top-15 talent who slid a dozen picks and gave the Ravens the opportunity they needed to embark on a new era.
Jackson may not pan out; after all, the Ravens have only had one franchise quarterback (Flacco) in their history and a poor track record of developing quarterbacks. Jackson’s size, playing style and the fact that his mom is his agent are question marks. And first round quarterbacks are far from a sure thing to excel.
That doesn’t change the fact that Newsome made an excellent pick. The risk the Ravens assumed by drafting Jackson was the same as any other pick, yet the ceiling of the pick is sky high. Jackson will add excitement to Baltimore in a way that the city has never seen and offer the franchise a reprise from the lingering and increasingly mediocre Flacco era. At the very least, the Ravens will be fun to watch the next couple years, and that is something this ground-and-pound franchise has never been able to say before.
In his post-draft interview, Lamar Jackson told reporters that the Ravens are “going to get a Super Bowl out of me.” Whether or not he makes good on his promise, Jackson brings something to Charm City that it hasn’t truly had in years- a new hope.