The Ravens drafted their quarterback of the future, but it wasn't the one everyone expected.
After feeling the disappointment of losing out on Boston College's Matt Ryan, the Ravens went on their wildest ride ever in the first round, trading twice before grabbing Delaware's Joe Flacco with the 18th overall pick. With a big frame (6 feet 6, 235 pounds) and an even bigger arm, Flacco will compete for the starting job after becoming the highest-drafted quarterback in the Ravens' 13-year existence. Kyle Boller, the only other quarterback selected by the Ravens in the first round, was taken with the 19th pick in 2003.
The Ravens had long targeted Ryan, but the Atlanta Falcons took the top quarterback in the draft with the No. 3 pick. That led the Ravens to trade back to the end of the first round before moving back to the middle where they selected Flacco, a risky small-school pick who was the clear-cut No. 2 quarterback on the Ravens' draft board.
Once Flacco was chosen, there was "tremendous elation" in the room where the Ravens coaches and scouts were watching television. At the news conference, Newsome essentially delivered the coronation of Flacco, calling him "the guy to lead our football team into the future."
"We love the kid," said Eric DeCosta, the Ravens' director of college scouting. "He passed every test. We grinded on these quarterbacks to the very end, and Joe was the guy who separated himself from the other [second-tier] guys."
An excellent long-range passer, Flacco can make all the throws and has the confidence to deliver them.
Still, drafting Flacco at No. 18 could be one of the biggest gambles in the first round.
Flacco, who led Delaware to the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision title game, is the first Division I-AA quarterback to be drafted in the first round since Steve McNair in 1995. (Interestingly, the Ravens had a more pressing need to take a quarterback this year because McNair abruptly retired nine days before the draft.)
There could be some criticism of the Ravens for taking Flacco too high. After Flacco, the next quarterbacks drafted were Louisville's Brian Brohm (56th overall) and Michigan's Chad Henne (57th).
"I can honestly say we got one of the better players on our board," Newsome said. "It was the right place to take him."
But there will be skepticism because Flacco threw 41 touchdowns and 15 interceptions in two seasons against the likes of Towson and New Hampshire .
"I definitely think I've got something to prove," Flacco told reporters on a conference call, "and I'll use that to motivate me, like I always have."
The Ravens also shrugged off the concern of Flacco playing at a small school, pointing to the fact that he began at Pittsburgh before transferring after two seasons because of a lack of playing time.
The Ravens sent him a playbook to see how quickly he could learn it. During his private workout, they were impressed with how he adapted to the corrections made by the coaches.
"He blew us away with his aptitude," DeCosta said. "He'll have no problem making the adjustment."
Now, the debate will be: When should Flacco start?
The Ravens' two other quarterbacks - Boller and Troy Smith - are equally unproven. Boller has been inconsistent throughout his career, and Smith remains a raw project.
On the NFL Network, Deion Sanders suggested to former Ravens coach Brian Billick that Flacco should play right away.
"You've got to remember, they ran me out of town for doing that with Kyle Boller," Billick responded.
John Harbaugh, who replaced Billick in January, has not ruled out Flacco starting immediately.
"We said all along that the quarterback job is going to be an open competition," Harbaugh said. "Whoever gives us the best chance to win, I think is going to be our quarterback."
Ravens fans will wonder how close the team was to pulling off a trade to move up and draft Ryan.
The Ravens were in talks with St. Louis for the No. 2 overall pick, but they considered the Rams' asking price (picks in the first, second and fourth rounds) too high.
Mike Ryan, Matt's father, said he was under the impression the Ravens were in the picture.
"I got the feeling that it felt pretty close," the elder Ryan said.
After missing out on Ryan, the Ravens traded the eighth overall pick to Jacksonville, moving back to No. 26 for the Jaguars' two third-round picks (71st and 89th overall) and a fourth-rounder (125th).
Because the Ravens heard the New York Jets were going to move up to take Flacco, the Ravens traded two picks - a third-rounder (89th) and a sixth-rounder (173rd) - to jump up from No. 26 to No. 18.
"He's a very competitive guy. He's a leader," Harbaugh said of Flacco. "When you talk to his teammates, his coaches and anybody on that campus, they'll vouch for that. We're satisfied that he's got the personality to be a real good quarterback."
Continuing a surprising draft, the Ravens used their second-round pick on Rutgers' Ray Rice, who was considered one of the top five running backs.
Rice, who rushed for 2,069 yards and 24 touchdowns last season, will be the primary backup to Willis McGahee.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun