OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Emotions ran high as the Ravens concluded the final draft of Ozzie Newsome’s impeccable run as general manager.
Successor Eric DeCosta choked up as he spoke about his mentor, describing how owner Steve Bisciotti switched their chairs in the draft room to signify the changing of the guard.
John Harbaugh shared his belief that this was the franchise’s best draft in his 11 seasons as head coach. Others have wasted no time heaping praise upon Baltimore’s work.
Of course, Newsome himself brought the appropriate context in judging his 23rd and final draft.
“We did address a lot of areas, but ask me two years from now,” Newsome said. “Because now we have to get them in, we have to work with them, we have to develop them. Then, two years from now, we’ll be able to determine what job we did this weekend.”
The Ravens surely checked boxes by drafting tight ends Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews as well as offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr., the most heartwarming pick of the weekend. On the final day, they attempted to address other needs by taking inside linebacker Kenny Young as well as wide receivers Jaleel Scott and Jordan Lasley to develop for the future.
But make no mistake, the fate of the 2018 draft will ultimately be defined by Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson. That’s just reality when you take a quarterback in the first round, regardless of what Newsome might have given up in the trade or how the Ravens were able to secure a fifth-year option with shrewd maneuvering.
Just ask Super Bowl XXXV champion coach Brian Billick about the 2003 draft. The first round may have featured potential Hall of Fame linebacker Terrell Suggs, but quarterback bust Kyle Boller ultimately cost Billick his job four years later.
The Jackson pick isn’t a flier or a low risk as those attempting to soft-pedal the likely ousting of Joe Flacco have suggested. If he doesn’t become the franchise quarterback, the ramifications are substantial, ranging from a missed opportunity to really strengthen the roster to high-profile jobs potentially being lost.
Squandering a first-round pick is significant even when it isn’t a quarterback. Consider the many resources the Ravens have exhausted at the safety position since drafting Matt Elam five years ago. Baltimore is still dealing with the fallout of Breshad Perriman failing to develop into a functional wide receiver three years after being drafted.
Jackson’s selection following his electrifying career at Louisville has reinvigorated much of a disgruntled fan base over the last few days, but recent history suggests the odds are against him panning out. Of the 17 quarterbacks drafted 15th through 45th overall from 2007-16 — a range chosen to satisfy varying opinions of his value — only seven spent more than one full season as a starter and one of those was Geno Smith. Just three — Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton, Oakland’s Derek Carr, and Flacco — are present-day starting quarterbacks with the others either surviving as backups or out of the league entirely.
Those odds are why those now being labeled by some as Flacco apologists balked at using such valuable draft capital on his replacement rather than at another position with a higher success rate to try to help the 33-year-old who led the franchise to a championship five years ago.
Where will the Ravens be in two years?
If the talented Jackson is on his way to becoming a franchise quarterback and helping his team to the playoffs, even detractors of Thursday’s pick will need to give Newsome his due. If he isn’t, there’s no telling what the fallout could be for a team with just one playoff appearance since Super Bowl XLVII.
Of course, this is where the rest of the draft class also comes into play as any quarterback is impacted dramatically by his environment.
Is at least one of the combination of Hurst and Andrews serving as the impact tight end the Ravens have lacked since the early days of Dennis Pitta and Todd Heap before that?
Will Scott or Lasley break the mold of so many failed Day 3 wide receivers to help improve the position’s long-term outlook? That will be a critical need for the young quarterback.
Does an eventual starter and a solid backup or two emerge from the group of Brown, Young, cornerback Anthony Averett, and a quartet of sixth- and seventh-rounders?
Only the answers to these questions will determine whether the current praise for Newsome’s swansong draft is warranted.
It’s understandable for so many to want to pay tribute to the general manager after all he’s accomplished. No one can take away a body of work that includes two Super Bowl championships, 10 playoff appearances in a 15-year period, two homegrown Hall of Famers (with at least one or two more to come), and 18 homegrown Pro Bowl players. Newsome is more than deserving of being a Hall of Fame executive after being a Hall of Fame tight end.
But let’s follow his own advice and pump the brakes on declaring this draft to be his final masterpiece.
That will be determined by whether the master plan to replace Flacco with Jackson succeeds.
Remember many Ravens fans were once miffed that Jonathan Ogden was chosen over Lawrence Phillips while others initially celebrated the likes of Boller, Elam, and Perriman in past first rounds.
We’ll know the truth in two years.