When it was over, after they had made three draft-day trades, moving back twice and then moving up once, and secured the pass-catching tight end they coveted and their potential quarterback of the future, the Ravens’ top decision-makers made little effort to hide their enthusiasm.
“It was masterful the way it came down in the draft room tonight,” general manager Ozzie Newsome said. “It was unbelievable.”
Said head coach John Harbaugh: “It was a masterpiece.”
In Newsome’s first draft in 1996, he picked offensive lineman Jonathan Ogden and middle linebacker Ray Lewis in the first round, setting the foundation for the organization for years. In his final draft before he steps aside after the conclusion of the 2018 season, Newsome made one of his boldest moves to date.
After trading back twice in Thursday’s first round of the NFL draft, the Ravens settled at No. 25 and selected South Carolina’s Hayden Hurst, regarded as the top tight end in the draft. And just when it looked as if their night was over, the Ravens acquired the Philadelphia Eagles’ 32nd pick and used it to select Louisville’s Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Lamar Jackson.
“It was a whirlwind, wondering if I would get picked or I would have to go home,” said Jackson, who was at the draft in Dallas. “But the Ravens picked me up and I’m just ready to get to Baltimore.”
The selection of Hurst was hardly surprising, given the team’s need for a tight end that can stretch the field. Picking Jackson, however, was relatively surprising after the Ravens twice bypassed an opportunity to take him earlier in the first round.
Though Jackson had been connected to the Ravens throughout the pre-draft process and took a top-30 visit to the team, it was less than three months ago that team owner Steve Bisciotti was dismissive of a question about the urgency of finding Joe Flacco’s successor, saying the team had “bigger fish to fry” and was a ways away from having that concern.
The decision to take Jackson, which came on the 10-year anniversary of when the Ravens took Flacco in the first round of the 2008 draft, could eventually change the face of the team’s offense and facilitate Flacco’s departure from the organization, perhaps as early as next year.
“You can't make a lot of assumptions on that,” said coach John Harbaugh when asked about Flacco’s future. “You take it one year at a time in this league. We have a great quarterback in Joe Flacco. Now we have another great QB. We probably have three great QBs."
The Ravens’ quarterback room now includes Flacco, a former Super Bowl Most Valuable Player; Robert Griffin III, a former NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year; Jackson, a former Heisman Trophy winner; and Josh Woodrum, who spent much of last season on the Ravens’ practice squad.
Flacco, whose numbers have declined since 2014 and who has dealt with significant knee and back injuries, will be under fire more than at any point in his career. He has more guaranteed money left on his contract after 2018, so he’ll begin the season with plenty of questions about his future in Baltimore.
“We’re trying to win this year,” said Newsome who acknowledged that Harbaugh had contacted Flacco to inform him of the team’s plans to draft Jackson. “In order for us to win this year, we need Joe Flacco.”
Jackson, 21, was a human highlight reel in college and he was regarded as one of the top athletes in the draft. There are plenty of evaluators that question whether he’ll be able to succeed in the NFL, given that he struggled at times as a passer with his decision-making and accuracy. However, it’s hard to dispute his numbers and pure talent.
In three seasons at Louisville, Jackson threw for 9,043 yards, 69 touchdown passes and 27 interceptions in 38 games. The fleet-footed quarterback rushed for 4,132 yards and 50 touchdowns. In his Heisman-winning sophomore season in 2016, Jackson accounted for 51 touchdowns and over 5,000 yards of total offense. He’s the only player to rush for at least 1,500 yards and pass for at least 3,500 in a season in Football Bowl Subdivision history and he did that in both his sophomore and junior seasons.
Jackson politely cut off a question about whether he was motivated by the questions about whether his skills would translate to the NFL.
“You don't even have to finish the questions. There is a chip on my shoulder, both shoulders, yes sir,” he said. “It's just motivation. I'm not mad, it's just motivation to go into the season ready to play."
To get back into the first round and acquire the Eagles’ 32nd pick, the Ravens traded their second-rounder (52nd overall), a fourth-rounder (125th overall) and a 2019 second-round pick. They also got back a fourth-rounder at 132nd overall.
Ravens assistant general manager Eric DeCosta said the two trades that the Ravens engineered earlier in the draft allowed them to make the move up to get Jackson.
Initially possessing the 16th overall pick, the Ravens sent that selection and their fifth-rounder to the Buffalo Bills for the 22nd pick in the first round and the 65th overall selection, the first pick in the third round. They then traded the 22nd pick and the second of their two sixth-round selections to the Tennessee Titans for the 25th overall pick in the first round and the 125th pick in the fourth round. That fourth-rounder was sent to the Eagles in the deal for the 32nd pick.
When they were on the clock at No. 25, the Ravens had their choice of Hurst, Alabama wide receiver Calvin Ridley and Iowa center James Daniels. They went with the tight end, a fitting choice in Newsome’s final draft.
“They said they needed a guy, as far as a tight end, to stretch the field vertically,” Hurst said on a conference call. “I think that suits me perfectly. I want to come in and compete, get in the group of tight ends and see what I can do.”
Hurst, a former minor league baseball player in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, played three seasons at South Carolina, catching 100 balls for 1,281 yards and three touchdown receptions in 31 games. He averaged nearly 13 yards per reception.
Hurst is a solid blocker as well, but his best assets are his strong and reliable hands and his ability to get open down the field.
“He just doesn’t drop the ball,” said Joe Hortiz, the Ravens director of college scouting.
He should be a nice complement to roster holdovers Nick Boyle and Maxx Williams, who are both solid blockers and more underneath pass-catching options. Hurst also could help fill the void left by Benjamin Watson’s free-agent departure.
The only blemish on Hurst was his age. He turns 25 before the start of his rookie season, but the Ravens found that easy to overlook. He now becomes another potential target for Flacco after the Ravens added veteran receivers Michael Crabtree, John Brown and Willie Snead.
The addition of a quarterback of the future and a tight end in a frantic first day leaves the Ravens with more defined needs over the final two days of the draft. They still figure to take a wide receiver and prioritize solidifying the offensive line. A middle-round running back could be on their wish list as well. Defensively, the Ravens’ biggest needs are at inside linebacker and interior pass rusher.
They’ll have six more picks to work with, although none in Friday night’s second round. They have the 65th and 83rd selections in the third round, picks No. 118 and No. 132 in the fourth, pick No. 190 in the sixth and No. 238 in the seventh.
“We think the third and fourth rounds are really loaded with players,” DeCosta said.