Ravens taking first-round quarterback unlikely, but not totally out of the question

NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah caused quite a stir Tuesday when his newest mock draft projected the Ravens using the 16th overall pick on Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma’s Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback.

The selection prompted a range of reactions among Ravens fans, from those who were excited and love the idea to those who hated it to those who felt Jeremiah was just trying to get attention by making an outlandish connection.

Let’s get one thing out of the way: Jeremiah is not the click-bait type. He’s a well-respected evaluator and analyst. He is connected throughout the league and has many friends in the Ravens organization from his time here working as a scout. He obviously projected the Ravens taking Mayfield because he thinks it would be a good fit, because he’s heard that the team is high on the fiery quarterback or because that’s just the general part of the draft that he expects Mayfield to come off the board.

Mock drafts are guesswork this time of year. Teams will fill needs in free agency, which starts a week from today, and that can change their whole list of priorities in the draft, which is still seven weeks away. Prospects will still have pro days and predraft visits. Draft boards will change significantly from now until late April.

In other words, nobody knows much of anything about a team’s intent right now. And that’s especially true of the teams drafting in the middle or late in the first round because of the uncertainty about what all the teams ahead of them will do.

But is it really that crazy that the Ravens would select a quarterback in the first round?

I wrote a story about this Sunday from the NFL scouting combine and the general point of it was that the Ravens could perhaps find Joe Flacco’s immediate backup and potential successor in the middle rounds because evaluators say this quarterback class is extremely strong. I described it as unlikely that the Ravens would take a first-round quarterback.

However, it’s certainly not impossible that they do. Here’s why:

A: Flacco is 33 years old, and in the previous three seasons he’s torn up his left knee and had a herniated disk in his back.

B: Flacco hasn’t put together an above-average season since 2014. The Ravens have had a revolving door of offensive coordinators and offensive skill-position players and a lot of injuries, so the team’s offensive struggles aren’t solely on Flacco. But the Ravens need him to play much better in 2018 if they want to qualify for the playoffs and make some noise when they get there.

C: With Ryan Mallett heading to free agency, the Ravens will need a backup quarterback anyway. Drafting a signal caller this year would allow him to learn under Flacco for a season or two and not have to get rushed onto the field.

D: Flacco’s contract ensures he’ll be with the team for the upcoming season. However, the Ravens could get out of the deal next offseason, albeit with some lingering effects on future salary caps. If Flacco’s struggles continue in 2018, the Ravens would almost certainly be in the first-round quarterback market next year. Drafting a guy they really like now would take some pressure off going forward. Finding a franchise quarterback is one of the most difficult things to do in the NFL, so if you fall in love with a guy, you don’t hesitate to take him.

E: It’s not a draft that offers much high-end talent at the Ravens’ biggest needs. Calvin Ridley is the only wide receiver considered a first-round lock. There are no tight ends considered first-round locks. And the quality of offensive tackles in this draft class is especially poor. The Ravens could be on the clock at 16 and simply feel that a quarterback is their best option.

The Ravens have drafted only two quarterbacks since selecting Flacco in the first round of 2008. Both Tyrod Taylor (2011) and Keith Wenning (2014) were sixth-round picks. Every year, the Ravens go into the draft and pinpoint a couple of quarterbacks they like and a value on where they think they should be picked. Often the quarterback is long gone by the time the Ravens would consider picking them. That includes some first-round guys in the recent past.

By now, everybody knows what the Ravens’ primary needs are. They are desperate to give Flacco help, not significant competition for his starting job. It was a little more than a month ago when owner Steve Bisciotti said the organization had “bigger fish to fry” and that finding a successor for Flacco was a “long way off.”

They want to add more explosive targets at wide receiver and tight end and solidify the offensive line. They’d like to add another running back to their stable. On defense, there is a need for another inside linebacker, and more depth for the secondary is always on the wish list.

This is not a team that appears to be setting up for a rebuild before the 2018 season. This is a team in win-now mode, led by a coach who the owner said he considered replacing in January.

The Ravens don’t figure to miss out on adding a first-round pick who could come in and play immediately. Maybe, that’s an offensive tackle or a wide receiver or an inside linebacker. Maybe, they’ll trade back and maximize their value with more picks in the second and third round, which is where the strength of the draft supposedly lies.

For those reasons, the Ravens drafting a quarterback such as Mayfield or Wyoming’s Josh Allen or Louisville’s Lamar Jackson at 16 seems unlikely. But it’s certainly not out of the question.

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

twitter.com/jeffzrebiecsun

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