At the close of the first round of the draft Thursday night, the most exciting player in college football over the last two years ended up in what appears to be a very encouraging situation, as the Ravens traded with the Eagles to take Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson with the 32nd pick.
Among the five quarterbacks drafted in the first round, experts generally rated Jackson as the biggest risk, or at least the one who most lacked immediate NFL readiness. There’s a legitimacy to that criticism, of course, since Louisville’s offense under Jackson—the all-time school leader in rushing yards—was about as close to backyard football as a team can get, and that kind of individualistic dominance is almost impossible to replicate in the pros.
But the comments about Jackson were also colored by the usual stigma of the black dual-threat quarterbacks, which even after the success of Cam Newton, Russell Wilson, and, most recently, Deshaun Watson, still holds a lot of influence among the NFL’s generally conservative decision-makers. But the success of those teams proves that, if a coach isn’t stubborn with his game plan and doesn’t force the QB to be something he’s not, Jackson’s style of play isn’t inherently worse than a more traditional pocket passer.
With this in mind, Ravens coach John Harbaugh gave the most reassuring quote he could have given about Jackson:
“The big thing is he’s a quarterback, and that’s the first thing to remember,” Harbaugh said. “He’s a quarterback through and through, and he’s a playmaker. When you look at stats and you evaluate him, he does all the things that any quarterback does.”
Considering that multiple teams reportedly asked Jackson—who caught zero passes while at Louisville—to work out at wide receiver, Harbaugh’s words qualify as a smart statement. And besides the fact that they already were eager enough about the former Heisman winner to trade up for him, the Ravens also seem to know exactly who they picked—a competent QB and a brilliant runner rolled into one.
But Jackson will also get time to develop, according to the team. Harbaugh gave the statement “Joe Flacco is our quarterback,” word for word, and even if the longtime Baltimore QB turned in a career-worst season in 2017, there’s no rush to put Jackson on the field for Week 1. (The Ravens also have Robert Griffin III on the roster, for whatever he’s worth at least as a mentor who’s had similar experiences to Jackson). It won’t be immediate, and Jackson’s success is far from guaranteed. But he at least seems to have fallen into one of the best possible situations there could be.