This first round really was about Ozzie Newsome and Lamar Jackson Thursday night. But when a player gets drafted in this manner, there’s always the guy behind the scenes, too.
It’s so fitting that Newsome, the Hall of Fame tight end, addressed that position with his first pick, Hayden Hurst, who has a great story of his own. It also could be part of Newsome’s legacy in his final year running the Ravens’ draft that he got back into Round 1 for a second pick.
In 1996, it was Jonathan Ogden with the fourth pick — the pick that was supposed to be Lawrence Phillips, they said. Ozzie knew better. Then he doubled back at the end of Round 1 that year for Lewis, the far bigger name among fans, at No. 26.
Funny how that echoes the Ravens’ 2018 first round. Hurst might never become the Ogden of tight ends, mind you, but he should fill the strong-and-silent role well, just as the Hall of Fame blocker once did. And at the end of the round? The noisemaker in Jackson. Not noise like how we now know the chatty Lewis to be … but the way he made noise as a player. Jackson is that type of performer.
Again, let’s not be foolish here. We’re not projecting two Hall of Famers in Hurst in Jackson. Unfair to say the least. But might it be a brilliant duo when it’s all said and done? Oh, yes.
And let’s give credit where it’s due. We wrote Thursday night about offensive coordinator Marty Morhinweg’s “unique” view of Jackson’s skill set. But we also made a few calls late Thursday night and early Friday morning and found out that there was another Ravens coach who really took a shine to the Heisman Trophy winner’s talent.
James Urban, the Ravens’ quarterback coach, was in the same position under Mornhinweg and Andy Reid with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2009 when the team signed the controversial Michael Vick. The Ravens are now getting their own version of Vick — different but similar — in Jackson. (Remember when we compared every athletic quarterback to Vick in the early 2000s and then quickly realized how stupid that was? Well, we might have curbed that for the past decade or so, but Jackson really is perhaps the closest facsimile we’ve seen to Vick since.)
Urban, we’re told, was one of the driving forces behind the Ravens taking Jackson. People in Jackson’s camp for weeks now have been thinking that Baltimore was the team that made the most sense for his landing spot. It felt right to more than one person, including Jackson, whom we were told felt most comfortable with the Ravens’ staff throughout the pre-draft process.
At Jackson’s pro day, Urban spent time talking to Jackson and several people close to him and the Louisville program, taking note of some of the mechanical changes the QB had made. Urban kept in touch throughout the run-up to Thursday. He talked to Jackson about his time working with Vick. Urban laid out some ideas of how they could use Jackson similarly — and differently. This is not apples to apples, mind you, but it’s not apples to kumquats either. That would be how you might compare Jackson and Joe Flacco, style-wise.
You might remember how Vick was sprinkled into the Eagles’ lineup back in 2009. Donovan McNabb was the starter, Kevin Kolb was the next QB off the bench, and Vick was the change-of-pace quarterback who was feeling his way back into playing after spending the previous few years in prison.
It was a little dicey at first. Vick didn’t see action until the third game — and when he did it was a play here, a series there — and then it was back to McNabb after he missed two games with injury. That went on most of the season, with Vick completing 6-of-13 passes for 86 yards and a TD and running 24 times for 95 yards and two scores. His one regular-season start came in Week 14 against the San Francisco 49ers … as a running back.
But by the end of the Eagles’ first-round playoff loss to the Dallas Cowboys that year, when Vick was mopping up for an ineffective McNabb, it felt like the tide was about to crest. And our instincts were right: McNabb was traded on Mother’s Day, and Vick would open 2010 as the Eagles’ starter — kicking off the thrilling run that year that few who watched his performance could forget.
Doesn’t it feel like history is repeating itself here? The Ravens have slogged along with the one-note Flacco for years, ranking 31st in yards per play last season and dead last in both yards per pass attempt and 20-yard plays from scrimmage (a mere 37). This from the quarterback who once long-bombed his way to a 4-0 playoff run and a Super Bowl title.
It’s not all Flacco’s fault, of course. But we’ve seen the best from him, just as we had from McNabb. Flacco has had his time, right where McNabb was in his career in 2008 and 2009, and we shouldn’t overlook what they both were for a long time. Reid and McNabb were tied to the hip just like John Harbaugh and Flacco have been. Those separations take time.
But everyone knew what Vick was rediscovering back then during that warmup season, biding his time. It feels very similar to how Jackson will spend his rookie season. If he’s smart, he’ll be in Urban’s hip pocket from now through training camp. He’ll watch how Flacco goes about his business as the starter — Joe’s a pro’s pro — and see how he navigates the Ravens’ tough early-season schedule with six of the first nine games coming against 2017 playoff teams and five of those games before the bye coming on the road.
Jackson might even be sprinkled in the way Vick was: a play here, a series there, and so on. Why would you keep that kind of thoroughbred in the stable? Imagine the read-option game with Jackson and the rolling ball of knives in Alex Collins, or perhaps deep throws to speedball John Brown.
And if Jackson, like Vick did, has to wait until Week 3 to get into action, it would come at home against the Denver Broncos with Von Miller and their first-round pick, Bradley Chubb. Ask Chubb what it was like to chase down Jackson these past three years in college. All Jackson did against Chubb and the Wolfpack was throw for 812 yards, five TDs and one pick and rush for 270 yards and four scores.
Would it be that wild an idea to see Jackson rolled out there every week as an appetizer? Make no mistake: He’s a quarterback. Jackson made that clear throughout the draft process, and Harbaugh doubled down on that point late Thursday night.
"[Jackson's] a great quarterback. But Joe Flacco is our quarterback," Harbaugh said. "That's the thing we've got to remember. Lamar is going to have a great chance to develop. When you get to this stage in a quarterback's career, you've seen done in New England and you've seen done in a lot of places. This doesn't really change things in a sense that we're going to go with Joe and he's going to roll."
But this all could set up for Jackson getting his feet wet in 2018 and prepping to be the starter in 2019. Flacco’s albatross of a contract offers a realistic out if he struggles and Jackson starts tailgating him, eager to fly right by.
The Ravens’ future is a bright white light right now — too out of focus, a bit squinty, but we can't look away. It’s hard to know exactly how it’s all going to unfold. We know Newsome will have moved onward next year, but we don’t know the status of Harbaugh, whose teams have missed the playoffs the past three years and four of the past five heading into 2018. And we don’t know how it all really will shake out with Jackson, who remains a work in progress.
But if it does become something special, and there's ample evidence it can, we can’t forget Urban’s role in all this. Yes, there will be many people helping Jackson get to where he needs to go to become a star, and this could be Newsome’s legacy pick. But it sounds like Jackson’s new QB coach really banged on the table for the team to trade back up and land a potential star in the making.