INDIANAPOLIS — Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti didn’t allow for much wiggle room. Asked last month about whether it was time to start thinking about life after quarterback Joe Flacco, Bisciotti said the organization has “bigger fish to fry” and that time is a “long way off.”
Was he being coy as the Ravens hatch a plan to get into position to select one of the NFL draft’s top quarterbacks in late April?
That’s not typically Bisciotti’s way, and several people familiar with the team’s thinking said this past week that it was unlikely, though not impossible, that the Ravens use their 16th overall pick on a quarterback. If a guy they like drops into their range, the Ravens could be tempted with Flacco having turned 33 in January and struggling to stop downward trends in his performance.
“Each year, we set our board and wherever the quarterbacks fall, that’s where they fall,” general manager Ozzie Newsome said Friday. “That’s why we were able to draft Keith Wenning. That’s why we were able to draft Tyrod Taylor. And it’s no different this year. We’ll set the board and if we get to a position in the draft and the quarterback is the best player available, we’re going to take him.”
This year, though, might offer a rare opportunity for the Ravens who, at the very least, are in the market for a backup with Ryan Mallett set to hit free agency.
Southern California’s Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen, Wyoming’s Josh Allen, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield and Louisville’s Lamar Jackson garnered a ton of attention at the NFL scouting combine as the draft’s top quarterbacks. All are expected to be taken in the first round, and at least four of them could be off the board within the first 10 picks. Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph has an outside chance to go in the late first round.
But the names that might be more pertinent to the Ravens are Washington State’s Luke Falk, Richmond’s Kyle Lauletta, Marshall’s Chase Litton, Western Kentucky’s Mike White and Toledo’s Logan Woodside. All five could be selected in the middle-to-late rounds.
NFL coaches and executives raved over the last week about the depth and quality to this quarterback class, which was on display during Saturday’s combine workouts.
“I think there are numbers,” Jacksonville Jaguars general manager Dave Caldwell said. “There is a lot of value in it. Historically, there may be two or three or four quarterbacks that can play or come in and help a team to where now you are looking at six to 10 guys that can be drafted at some point in time.”
New York Giants general manager Dave Gettleman, who is eyeing a successor to Eli Manning, compared the quarterback class to a “Howard Johnson’s back in the day,” because of the number of different options that are available.
“All shapes and sizes. All flavors,” Gettleman said. “It’s a really interesting, eclectic group.”
Newsome kept his evaluation of the new class of quarterbacks mostly to himself, saying only that there are a number of good players that have an opportunity to have good careers.
When it comes to drafting quarterbacks, the Ravens have mostly chosen to observe from afar. Since taking Flacco in the first round in 2008, the Ravens have made 84 total selections and only two of them were used on quarterbacks: Taylor in the sixth round in 2011 and Wenning in the sixth round in 2014. Neither started a game for the Ravens, though Taylor went on to become the leading man in Buffalo.
Since 2008, the New England Patriots and Cleveland Browns, teams on the opposite end of the NFL spectrum, have each drafted five quarterbacks. The New York Jets have drafted a league-high seven during that span.
Miami Dolphins coach Adam Gase said he’d like to take a quarterback in every draft, but there are some years when it’s not possible. Other teams with established and successful starters don’t prioritize adding a young backup, choosing to use their draft picks on players at other positions who have been a better chance of making the 53-man roster in training camp.
Taking advantage of Flacco’s durability — he’s missed just six games in 10 NFL seasons and they all came after he tore up his left knee in November 2015 — the Ravens in recent years have relied on relatively cheap, veteran backups such as Matt Schaub, Jimmy Clausen and Mallett.
With the quarterback class reputed to be deep and strong, this could be the year when the Ravens and other teams snag a young backup and hope he’ll be the heir apparent to an aging starter. The Ravens, Patriots, Giants, Pittsburgh Steelers, Los Angeles Chargers, Washington Redskins, Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons are all set to enter the season with projected starting quarterbacks who are at least 33 years old.
“With the quarterback position, you’re always looking,” said Chargers general manager Tom Telesco, whose starter, Philip Rivers, is 36. “I don’t care if you have a young quarterback or an old quarterback, but certainly in our case, our starting quarterback is 30-plus. We’ve always been looking to see who that next quarterback is, fully knowing when that guy comes in — whether it’s the draft, trade or free agency — if the player has to sit for one year, two years, three years or longer, then he’ll sit because we’re very happy with the way Philip’s playing.”
Flacco’s contract ties him to the Ravens for at least one more season. If he continues to struggle in 2018, the Ravens would almost surely be in the quarterback market next offseason. This year, though, presents an opportunity for them to get a head start.
Given the talent and depth in the class, it would almost feels like a missed opportunity if they don’t.
“From an age perspective, I think [Flacco’s] fine. I don't think there's been any noticeable deterioration. I'm not sure everybody's excited with the way he's played since the Super Bowl year, but I don't think it's an age-related topic,” NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said on a conference call last week. “You start getting into the league for 10 or 12 years and you're in your 30s, at some point, you've got to start drafting a potential backup. I think the Ravens have to be in the quarterback market, either with a third- or fourth-round potential player … or they've got to be looking to sign a veteran free agent just as insurance, or both.”