Eisenberg: Aching Ravens Fans Needed Exciting, Transformational Pick Like Lamar Jackson


The Under Armour Performance Center buzzed with excitement Friday. Two newly-minted first-round draft picks were on the premises, being introduced to local and national media types. The rest of the football world was still talking about "Ozzie's Midnight Raid," the drama that unfolded here the night before.

It felt like one of those electric days from the heady years when the Ravens routinely made the playoffs and took deep January runs -- days that have arisen with less frequency as the Ravens slipped into mediocrity, going 40-40 with one playoff appearance in the past five years.

The thousands of empty seats that became the norm for games at M&T Bank Stadium in 2017 were a signal that the franchise was indeed drifting, and in some minds, too accepting of a status quo that had grown stale.

A host of reasons contributed to those seats being empty, with player protests and the playoff drought prominent among them. But no reason was more important, in my mind, than how the Ravens have played for several years, not just that they weren't winning enough.

I'm saying, of course, that they just weren't exciting enough, as indicated by their lowly offensive statistics as well as the irrefutable fact that their roster no longer featured the kinds of luminous stars fans couldn't wait to watch -- guys who brought excitement to the field on Sundays.

Instead, the Ravens have fielded a succession of unheralded teams that have worked hard and competed but didn't win enough to overcome the fact that they didn't generate a lot of buzz. Their offenses struggled. Their defenses were pretty good. Their kicker was terrific. Did I mention that their offenses struggled?

But with one bold move at the end of the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft Thursday night, the Ravens changed that narrative.

Yes, their selection of quarterback Lamar Jackson with the No. 32 overall pick was that transformative.

Not only did it instantly imbue the fan base with curiosity and excitement over what the future might hold, but it made the statement – stronger than words ever could – that things will be changing in Baltimore on Jackson's side of the ball.

How? When? None of that is clear yet. But the day is coming.

For now, Jackson will sit behind Joe Flacco and learn from a Super Bowl-winning quarterback. There's no telling how long his apprenticeship will last. Months? Years? Anything is possible.

But the Ravens didn't draft Jackson to sit him forever; they want him to take over at some point. Their analytics suggest he is the most explosive playmaker to come out of college football in several years.

In other words, while I don't know how his Baltimore career will develop, I do know Jackson is exactly the kind of player the Ravens have lacked – a dynamic talent who is unpredictable, exciting, even breathtaking, a player fans will hunger to see.

The organization was aware of the problem, no doubt. At his postseason press session in February, Owner Steve Bisciotti was asked if team officials were concerned about a tepid style of play contributing to fan discontent, and whether such concerns might impact personnel decisions. "Were you in Jupiter?" Bisciotti replied, intimating that the subject had just come up when team officials met at Bisciotti's Florida home.

To be clear, I wouldn't have been in favor of the Ravens making Jackson their only first-round pick simply because they needed to be more exciting. The team has too many pressing needs to use their top pick on a guy who doesn't figure to play much immediately.

But the way things worked out, with Newsome drafting tight end Hayden Hurst – filling an immediate need in the process – and then trading back into the first round to take Jackson, well, that was ideal. The Ravens addressed the present and the future. Given how Flacco loves to throw to tight ends, Hurst could be a key puzzle piece in 2018.

Still, it's impossible not to focus more on the long-range implications of Jackson's addition. A new era is coming, and not a moment too soon. The fans needed it. The organization needed it. Let's see what happens. As former Ravens linebacker Bart Scott once famously said, "Can't wait!"

Check out the stunning action photos of Lamar Jackson playing quarterback at Louisville.

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