Having grown up in Baltimore as a Ravens fan, I consider myself exceptionally fortunate to have been able to root for a team led by Ozzie Newsome as General Manager. I believe him to be one of the best general managers in NFL history, and he was a huge part of elevating the Ravens as one the model franchises in all of sports.
His record in the first round of the draft is legendary. Sure, we all point to Ray Lewis, Jonathan Ogden, and Ed Reed – all currently wearing Hall of Fame jackets – but let’s not forget guys like Chris McAlister, Peter Boulware, Jamal Lewis, Joe Flacco, Jimmy Smith, etc.
He was always great at keeping his own players in Baltimore on a second contract, and the ones that left typically never repeated their Ravens success elsewhere.
Ozzie also had a knack for the key veteran additions at the perfect time in their career. Think about Derrick Mason, Steve Smith, Bryant McKinnie, and Eric Weddle.
Even the greatest have their faults, and one of Ozzie’s was that he never was able to bring enough legitimate offensive playmakers into the fold. He failed to do it when Kyle Boller was leading the offense (he attempted to trade for Terrell Owens but other than that, his best WR’s were Mark Clayton and Derrick Mason) and he failed even worse with Joe Flacco considering the significant financial investment the Ravens made in him and his future.
If you sit down and think about all the franchise QB’s in the NFL, it’s typically pretty easy to link them with a top, legitimate #1 WR. Matt Ryan had Roddy White and Julio Jones. Matt Stafford and Calvin Johnson. Big Ben has had an embarrassment of riches at his disposal. Andy Dalton and AJ Green. The list goes on and on.
Joe Flacco’s best receivers EVER over his 11 year Ravens career include Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith, Derrick Mason, and Steve Smith.
He defended his Super Bowl MVP in 2013 by opening the season with Torrey Smith, Jacoby Jones, and Brandon Stokley as his top 3 targets.
The best running back he played with this side of Ray Rice was Justin Forsett in 2014.
When Ozzie and the front office tried to get Joe some younger, fresher playmakers, they failed miserably in drafting Breshad Perriman and Max Williams back to back in 2015.
Combine all of this with an offensive line that was decent but nothing special, along with strikingly unimaginative offensive coordinators in Marc Trestman and Marty Mornhinweg, and it’s no wonder that Joe Flacco reached a plateau during his last handful of years as the Ravens quarterback.
Enter Eric DeCosta. He drafts Hollywood Brown in the first round, and backs it up with Miles Boykin in the second. Immediately he brings in arguably the fastest player to ever play offense for the Ravens, and the best jump ball, red zone WR threat they have had in quite some time, certainly since 2008.
He brings in Mark Ingram and adds one of the best defensive playmakers in the NFL in Earl Thomas.
And clearly, say what you want about Lamar Jackson, and there’s certainly good reason for those things to be all positive after a stunning performance on Sunday, but he’s going to be the best playmaker on the field any time he steps between the lines. I won’t take anything away from Ozzie when it comes to Lamar Jackson, but clearly Eric DeCosta was a big part of that decision given that it was already announced that he would be taking over in 2019 when the pick was made.
Yes, it’s only one game, and it’s only the Miami Dolphins. But you’re seeing what John Harbaugh, who I firmly believe is one of the best head coaches in the league, can do with above average talent and legitimate playmakers. No longer is he trying to fit the ball into narrow windows to find receivers with no separation. No longer is he counting on running backs like Terrence West and Buck Allen to carry the load when the passing game is already struggling.
John Harbaugh now has the talent and athleticism and playmaking ability at his disposal to go along with the exceptional coaching and drive that he’s always instilled in his team over his tenure as Ravens head coach.
Consider that Harbaugh is now 9-3 in season openers as Ravens head coach, and has led the Ravens to a combined 126-13 margin of victory over the past 3 season openers, 2 of which were on the road. Forget about the competition, that is an outrageous stat that speaks to his ability to prepare his team for the season.
It looks to be a fun ride not only in 2019, but in the years to come. Let’s not forget that the Ravens are projected to be potentially top 5 in the NFL in cap space heading into the 2020 offseason. The 2020 draft will be very deep in wide receivers and the Ravens will also have an abundance of picks thanks to a few highway robberies that DeCosta has pulled off recently.
A younger, fresher voice in DeCosta came in at just the right time. Steve Bisciotti and the rest of the leadership team made a tremendous decision to bring back John Harbaugh, giving him a chance to activate his coaching abilities on a much more talented group of guys. I can’t think of many times Harbaugh has lost a big game to a less talented team over his time in Baltimore. If all continues to go well, he may not have many chances to do so in the coming years.
Such is life with offensive playmakers in this 2019 version of the National Football League.
Who would have thought?