If the NFL’s 32 teams could go back and re-select the 2018 draft with what they know now, Lamar Jackson would go a lot higher than No. 32 overall.
That’s no longer in doubt, right? Of the five quarterbacks taken in the first round that year, Jackson is laying down the largest footprint. He is certainly the only one in the running for MVP.
While establishing himself as a unique and dynamic playmaker, Jackson has gone 11-3 as a starter in the regular season, won on the road in Pittsburgh, Seattle and Los Angeles, led a late-season drive to a division title (last season) and helped his team take a 2½-game lead at the bye (this season).
Bottom line, he has already exceeded what many pro personnel wonks expected from him. And what’s best about it, the re-selection of the 2018 draft is just something to talk about, not something that actually happens. Jackson is in Baltimore to stay.
I don’t know how the Ravens saw their near future unfolding after they drafted Jackson. Long range, it was clear he would take over for Joe Flacco at some point – that’s why you draft a quarterback in the first round, to take over at some point. But it wasn’t clear when or how that transfer of power would take place.
Even though Jackson needed more polish when he arrived – and still does – the Ravens were excited about him long before he became the starter. His speed and athleticism were obvious. The coaches quietly marveled at how well he saw the field – an underrated aspect of Jackson’s game.
Still, I’m pretty sure the organization never imagined it would be able to pause so soon, just 18 months after the 2018 draft, and reflect on how profoundly and positively it altered the trajectory of the franchise with that one pick at the end of the first round.
It’s an incredible tale, truly a longs-odds proposition – No. 32 overall is seldom a place in the draft that generates sudden and powerful change. But it did in this case.
Thirty-one other teams could have drafted Jackson and didn’t. The Ravens did, boldly attaching their future to a quarterback whose skills didn’t entirely match the NFL’s accepted norms. Sooner than anyone imagined, they’re experiencing quite a reward for taking the risk.
“We understood his arm talent was a lot better than what people thought nationally, or the critics thought,” Head Coach John Harbaugh said after Sunday’s game. “That’s why we drafted him as a quarterback. We knew he could throw.”
To understand how well things are going, you don’t even have to watch Jackson play (although I highly recommend it). Just take note of what players on both sides say about him after the final whistle each week.
On Sunday, the Ravens’ new cornerback, Marcus Peters, almost seemed lightheaded when asked to sum up Jackson’s stunning performance against the Seattle Seahawks.
“Oh, my gosh. Let’s not even get to that. Unbelievable,” Peters said.
Translation: I don’t really have the words to explain what I just saw.
Seattle defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, meanwhile, whimsically said he’d always wanted to play against Michael Vick and finally had the chance.
“I thought Kyler Murray was fast. He’s on a different level. He’s on a whole different level. He’s in a lane of his own,” Clowney said of Jackson.
Players appreciate talent, especially rare talent. Seattle Head Coach Pete Carroll said his defense spent all week preparing to stop Jackson and simply couldn’t. As they say in baseball, sometimes you just tip your cap.
For years before he was drafted, Jackson heard questions about whether his skillset would work in the NFL. He has already answered those.
A year ago, when he stepped in for Flacco, there were doubts expressed about whether he could win games immediately, as a rookie. He answered those questions with a division title.
Before this season, there were questions about whether his passing and ball security could improve and whether the league had figured him out in the wake of the Ravens’ playoff loss to the Los Angeles Chargers last January. How silly does the latter sound now?
He just keeps soaring higher and higher, carrying the Ravens with him. At this point, there’s no telling how high he might go.