Ravens and Lions Swap Starting Quarterbacks in ESPN's Reset Draft
What if the NFL hit the reset button and every player was available on the open market? How would a free-agent draft unfold?
That's the hypothetical scenario ESPN presented to its NFL Nation writers, who were tasked with selecting a quarterback, non-quarterback offensive player, defensive player and wild-card pick in a four-round draft. The goal was to build a foundation for a team that would win a Super Bowl within five years.
While it's obviously nothing more than a fun "what if?" exercise, it is interesting to see which players were drafted and which team selected them. The 2020 draft order was used, with traded picks reversed, and a snaking format. That means the Ravens' first selection was at No. 28.
In the real draft in 2018, the Ravens got Lamar Jackson with the final pick in the first round at No. 32 overall, but he was long gone in this make-believe draft. The 2019 NFL MVP was taken by the Detroit Lions with the third-overall pick.
The Cincinnati Bengals drafted Patrick Mahomes No. 1 overall, and the Washington Redskins took Russell Wilson second. Three picks after the Lions took Jackson, offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley was drafted sixth-overall by the Los Angeles Chargers.
"When Jackson – who I thought would go No. 1 or No. 2 – fell to me, it seemed too good to be true," Lions reporter Michael Rothstein wrote.
With the Lions grabbing the Ravens quarterback, Baltimore – whose selections were made by Ravens reporter Jamison Hensley – fittingly drafted Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford at No. 28. Just like in real life, the Ravens were praised for getting great value with their pick.
"Stafford was one of the steals of the draft, as the 32-year-old remains an above-average starter," ESPN's Mike Clay wrote.
Hensley wrote: "As one team official said long ago, you need a strong-armed quarterback to compete in the AFC North. Stafford was too obvious. The only other worthy quarterbacks available were either too young (Tua Tagovailoa) or too risky because of health (Cam Newton)."
Here are the Ravens' other selections:
* Round 2 (37): Julio Jones, WR
* Round 3 (92): J.J. Watt, DE
* Round 4 (101): Stefon Diggs, WR
"The Ravens' mindset is to take a running back [in the second round], but Jones was sitting there at the No. 37 overall pick. As Baltimore showed time and time again in the 2020 NFL draft, you take the best player available," Hensley wrote. "The Ravens have traditionally had vocal leaders on defense, so it made perfect sense to take someone like J.J. Watt. For the wild-card spot, the targets were running back Nick Chubb and kicker Justin Tucker. But both were selected in the five picks before I was on the clock. The top player left at the No. 101 pick, in my opinion, was Diggs."
Clay used a four-tier system to evaluate each team's draft. He placed the Ravens in Tier 2.
"This team will have a short window with Jones and Watt nearing the end of their primes. Will Diggs dig being second in line at WR?" Clay wrote.
In addition to Jackson and Stanley, the other Ravens selected were: OLB Matthew Judon by the Buffalo Bills (Round 4, No. 86) and Tucker by the Green Bay Packers (Round 4, No. 99).
Expectations for Jackson in 2020 and Beyond
With Jackson winning the MVP award in his second season (his first full season as a starter), it goes without saying that expectations for him have skyrocketed entering the 2020 season.
If history is any indication, Jackson may not meet those expectations this season as far as statistics are concerned, but there could be a gold jacket in his future.
CBS Sports' Jeff Kerr looked at the other five players in NFL history who won the MVP award in one of their first two seasons. One is Mahomes, the 2018 MVP. The other four – Jim Brown (1957), Earl Campbell (1979), Dan Marino (1984) and Kurt Warner (1999) – are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Brown is the only player on the list to repeat as MVP, and he's also the only player in NFL history to win the award in each of his first two seasons. Campbell arguably had a better season the year after he won the award, but finished second in the voting.
Mahomes, Marino and Warner all had statistically worse seasons the year after their MVP seasons. However, Mahomes, who missed two games due to a dislocated knee in 2019, led the Chiefs to a victory in the Super Bowl and was named the game's MVP.
Jackson, who joined Tom Brady as the only unanimous MVPs in history, set a single-season rushing record for quarterbacks (1,206 yards) and led the league in touchdown passes (36, to just six interceptions). The 23-year-old also led the league with 43 touchdowns overall.
"Bottom line, those numbers will be tough to surpass in 2020 as Jackson looks to defend his MVP crown," Kerr wrote.
Perhaps, but if Jackson follows Mahomes' trajectory (MVP in his first season as a starter, Super Bowl win in his second), I'm certain Ravens would be happy with less gaudy stats.
Ronnie Stanley and Orlando Brown Jr. Rated No. 3 Offensive Tackle Tandem in NFL
In yesterday's Late for Work, we highlighted that third-year offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr. was named the Ravens' most promising building block by Bleacher Report's Gary Davenport. Brown has been recognized again, this time by Pro Football Focus, which ranked Stanley and Brown as the third-best offensive tackle duo in the NFL.
"Brown's 82.5 pass-blocking grade in 2019 ... is very impressive for a player as young as he is," PFF's Ben Linsey wrote. "It was underlined by a 78.4 pass-blocking grade in true pass sets — plays that are more indicative of an offensive lineman's true pass-blocking performance — which ranked among the top 10 tackles in the NFL."
Stanley was named PFF's 2019 Pass-Blocker of the Year in his fourth season.
"Stanley led the way at the tackle position with a 93.3 pass-blocking grade — the only tackle above 90.0 last season — and his pressure rate of 1.3% was a comfortable first for the position as well," Linsey wrote. "With pass protection like that from Stanley and Brown, opposing edge defenders should once again be in for tough sledding against Baltimore in 2020. At least they're rewarded with the task of tackling Lamar Jackson if they do get past Stanley or Brown."
Overall, the Ravens' offensive line was ranked as the most valuable in the league based on PFF WAR (wins above replacement).
J.K. Dobbins Is a Good Bet for Offensive Rookie of the Year
The Ravens have never had an Offensive Rookie of the Year winner, but Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio thinks running back J.K. Dobbins is a good bet, based on the odds, to be the first.
"I think the steal on there is J.K. Dobbins at +1600," Florio said. "He's playing for a high-profile team that we're going to see a lot. He's going to have an opportunity to generate stats and highlights. Now, Mark Ingram is going to have plenty of touches and yards. But I think Dobbins is going to be electric this year. At +1600, I'm willing to take that chance."
Pundits have credited the Ravens with getting one of the steals of the draft by selecting Ohio State's Dobbins in the second round with the 55th-overall pick.
NFL Network analytics expert Cynthia Frelund predicted Dobbins to be the fifth-most productive rookie running back this season, based on "contextualized play-calling data from each team and factoring in every rookie RB's skill set."
"With the third-most yards after contact in the FBS since 2017 (2,652, per PFF) and the third-most last season alone (1,208), it makes sense that Dobbins had 31 rushes of 15-plus yards in 2019 (most in FBS) and forced 73 missed tackles on rushes," Frelund wrote. "But for Mark Ingram and Lamar Jackson, who combined for 2,224 rushing yards last season, Dobbins' [fantasy football] projection would have been quite a bit higher than No. 30, where he ranks among running backs in my PPR projections."
- NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal identified wide receiver Marquise "Hollywood" Brown as the Ravens' homegrown player who could make an enormous difference this season: "Brown's rookie production was impressive, considering he was a lightweight (157 pounds!) speed threat coming off a foot injury that limited his entire offseason. I was so impressed by Brown's ability to make tricky contested catches despite his size, a hint that he could be a DeSean Jackson-like sidekick for Lamar Jackson for years to come. The duo expects true greatness, and who am I to argue with the young MVP?"