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Five Things We Learned from the Ravens' 2018 NFL draft

1) The Ravens legitimately reckoned with their future.

Lamar Jackson is a classic high-risk, high-reward player. He was the most exciting player in college football the past two years and widely regarded as the best all-around athlete in the draft, even though he declined to run the 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine.

But for Jackson to make good on his vast potential, the Ravens will have to tailor their system around his skills rather than jam him into the mold Joe Flacco has forged over the past 10 years. And they’ll have to do it while still trying to win with Flacco as their starter.

It’s a tall order for any team, much less one that’s struggled to field an effective offense the last three years.

That said, the Ravens deserve credit for taking a big swing instead of pretending everything was rosy with Flacco and the future of the offense. It wasn’t clear they would make such a bold move after Steve Bisciotti said they had “bigger fish to fry” than finding their next quarterback.

Not only did they trade back into the first round to take a quarterback, they took the most unique player at the position in a spot where he could turn out to be an all-time value. Cynics might dismiss it as a public-relations move, designed to excite a fan base that has grown bored with the Ravens’ style of football.

But is that such a bad thing? The Ravens needed a jolt to their system, and general manager Ozzie Newsome willingly fired up the paddles.

Jackson’s presence will make this a fascinating, perhaps uncomfortable, season for a team straddling its past and future. But that’s better than the same old, same old.

2) The Ravens did not love the 2018 wide receiver class.

Many mock drafts had Newsome picking a wide receiver at No. 16 overall, hardly surprising given the depressing production of the team’s pass catchers in 2017.

As the draft played out, they had their choice of Calvin Ridley or DJ Moore at No. 16 and again at No. 22. Instead, they traded down both times.

They still could have taken Ridley, a star from Newsome’s beloved Alabama, at No. 25. They opted for tight end Hayden Hurst.

The message is obvious — they did not believe wholeheartedly in either Moore or Ridley.

The case against them is real. Ridley is polished and ready to play, but many scouts believe he’ll top out as a good No. 2 receiver. Moore is strong, fast and plays with ferocity, but he has a ways to go with his route running.

If Hurst is the dual-threat tight end the Ravens believe him to be, they did a reasonable thing. But if he’s merely pretty good and either Moore or Ridley produces a single 1,000-yard season, the Ravens will eat a ton of criticism.

On Day 2, the Ravens held on to the No. 65 pick for a long time before trading down. Assistant general manager Eric DeCosta said they were disappointed several players did not fall to them at the spot. He did not specify, but we can probably deduce that Oklahoma State receiver James Washington was one of those.

The Pittsburgh Steelers took the fleet, highly productive Washington at No. 60, and you just know that’s a recipe for Baltimore heartache. Every receiver the Steelers touch seemingly turns to gold, and Ravens fans always believe said player should have been snapped up by Newsome.

3) The Ravens were smart not to be dissuaded by Orlando Brown Jr.’s workouts.

Brown, the son of a beloved former Raven and a two-time All-American at Oklahoma, cost himself significant money with his performance at the combine.

His tests went from bad — a 5.85-second 40 time and 19.5-inch vertical jump — to worse — 14 reps on the 225-pound bench press, last among all offensive linemen. Analysts made fun of his flabby physique.

Some called it the worst combine outing in history, and Brown plummeted from a possible first-round pick to a punchline.

The Ravens ignored the noise and recognized that with the 83rd overall pick, they could snag their right tackle of the future. They saw the forest instead of dwelling on the trees.

Brown was a consistently excellent player at a big-time program. He’s a giant man with a mean streak who doesn’t let defenders get around him easily. Will he need to work himself into optimal shape to deal with NFL athletes? Sure.

But you could see the affection in Newsome’s eyes as he discussed “Lil Zeus” on Friday night. He believes Brown is deeply invested in doing what he can to leave his own Ravens legacy. You combine that with his college track record and the team’s need at tackle, and it’s an appealing package in the third round.

4) The quarterbacks weren’t quite the commodities we thought they’d be.

We still saw four quarterbacks drafted in the top 10, and Jackson made it five in the first round, tied for the second most ever.

But the talk going in was that six quarterbacks could go in the first round and another tier could draw significant interest in the second and third rounds. With teams such as the New England Patriots, Steelers, New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Chargers looking to set up future contingencies behind their superstar veterans, the possibility for intrigue seemed high.

Instead, the Ravens selected Jackson at No. 32 and we waited another 44 picks before the Steelers took Mason Rudolph of Oklahoma State in the third round. Many mock drafts had Rudolph going at the end of the first round, so that shows the relative deflation at the most scrutinized position in the sport.

Touted developmental prospects such as Kyle Lauletta of Richmond and Luke Falk of Washington State (a favorite of former Ravens quarterback Trent Dilfer) sat on the board until the fourth and sixth rounds, respectively.

There isn’t necessarily a grand lesson in this. We spend so much time thinking and talking about quarterbacks that sometimes we get ahead of ourselves.

The Steelers handled the situation perfectly, waiting until the third round to take a player who throws an excellent deep ball and could be an eventual replacement for Ben Roethlisberger. Rudolph is not as exciting as Jackson and never will be. But the Steelers didn’t need the same shot of life as the Ravens.

5) No matter what you think of the individual picks, it was fun to watch Newsome operate in his final draft.

No one was all that excited about the Ravens’ starting position. Many analysts saw the talent dropping off a cliff right around the No. 15 spot, and the top players at their positions of need drew mixed reviews.

But when several highly rated defenders fell out of the top 10, Newsome pounced on the opportunity and began a theme of trading back that would carry the Ravens through the draft.

They began the proceedings with eight picks and ended up with 12. Fourth- and fifth-round players are rarely going to blow anyone away, but volume is the name of the game in the middle of the draft. The Ravens have demonstrated that, finding players such as Kyle Juszczyk, Rick Wagner, Willie Henry and Matthew Judon in the fourth and fifth rounds.

Who knows if they’ll pluck a gem from this particular armada of mid- and late-rounders, but as DeCosta said, they gave themselves many swings.

Newsome played his greatest hits in this draft, from the trades to the two tight ends to the Alabama cornerback, Anthony Averett, he snagged in the fourth round.

But his trade to pick up Jackson will go down as the signature move, whether it’s a bust or the dawn of a new football era in Baltimore.

Former Raven Deion Sanders paused his NFL Network interview with Jackson to say he loved Newsome. Ravens colleagues responded with a standing ovation for the man who has mentored all of them, including Bisciotti.

Newsome’s legacy in the league and in Baltimore goes well beyond the results of one draft. But it was still great fun to watch him in his element, wheeling and dealing, on one last weekend in April.

childs.walker@baltsun.com

twitter.com/ChildsWalker

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