The Ravens have given just about every indication that they will not be using the 16th pick in the 2018 NFL draft to select the eventual replacement for quarterback Joe Flacco, but it’s still OK to wonder whether they should.
This year’s crop of college quarterbacks is talented and deep, which means there will be one available who is high enough on the Ravens board to make that scenario plausible. Whether it’s really possible depends on whether there was anything to read between the lines during the months-long buildup to Thursday night’s first round.
Remember, team owner Steve Bisciotti said in early February that the Ravens have “bigger fish to fry” than worrying about the future beyond Flacco. He even scoffed at the notion that Flacco might be heading into his last season as the unquestioned starting quarterback.
What the owner says is usually gospel, but that was just a few weeks after the disappointing end of the 2017 season and it is possible that time — and a greater appreciation of the quality of the young quarterbacks available — has allowed for a more nuanced view of the horizon.
If the past is prologue, general manager Ozzie Newsome is more likely to go with a top-flight offensive lineman, especially now that the team has bolstered its receiving corps through free agency. But he certainly left open during the Ravens’ pre-draft news conference earlier this month the possibility he could go in an unexpected direction.
“You may be surprised who we pick at 16 this year,’’ Newsome said cryptically, “if we pick at 16.”
Of course, that’s typical Ozzie. He’s never been one to tip his hand, and he clearly enjoys the elaborate game of Spy vs. Spy that NFL general managers play with each other in advance of the draft.
The Ravens have indicated they are interested in drafting a quarterback, but the assumption has been that they will do so in the later rounds. That still seems to be the most likely scenario, but the QB-relevant machinations of the past few weeks are curious enough to keep everyone guessing.
The highlight of the pre-draft news conference was the announcement that the Ravens had agreed to terms with quarterback Robert Griffin III to compete for the backup job, which left the immediate impression that a top college quarterback would not be a priority.
That certainly meshed with Bisciotti’s earlier comments, which included his opinion that Flacco’s age (33) and recent injury history were not of major concern. He seemed confident that Flacco has several good years ahead of him.
What doesn’t fit into that narrative is the fact that talented Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson was recently brought in for one of the Ravens’ 30 allowed pre-draft visits, but it might make sense if it dovetails with the signing of Griffin, whose skills might be better suited than the pro style Flacco's to help mentor Jackson.
Though there is no question that Flacco will be the starting quarterback this year and perhaps beyond, the Ravens need to start preparing for a future without him. If he were lost to injury for an extended period this year, they would be well-served by having an experienced quarterback and also their quarterback-in-waiting ready to work together to salvage the season.
If they choose instead to gamble on a lesser prospect in a later round, they could come back to the draft next year in urgent need of their next franchise quarterback and find the 2019 QB class much less to their liking.
So, if Jackson or one of the other top quarterbacks is the best available player on Newsome’s draft board, the Ravens might have to seriously consider addressing that need sooner rather than later.
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.
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