The Ravens have high praise for two of the top quarterbacks in this year's draft, stoking the flames that a signal-caller could be in play at pick No. 16.
USC's Sam Darnold, UCLA's Josh Rosen and Wyoming's Josh Allen are all widely expected to be gone in the first five picks.
But two top-tier quarterbacks with the potential to last until the middle of the first round are Louisville's Lamar Jackson and Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield and* *– the reigning Heisman Trophy winners the past two years, respectively.
"Both are productive players and both well-deserved of the praise they've had thus far and going forward," Director of College Scouting Joe Hortiz said.
General Manager Ozzie Newsome already made it clear at the NFL Scouting Combine that the Ravens view Jackson as a quarterback, not a receiver, as some suggested he should play at the NFL level. On Wednesday, Hortiz was asked for his take on Jackson and Mayfield.
"Well for one, they're different QBs, but one thing they both excel at is playing off schedule – being able to create," Hortiz said.
Current starter Joe Flacco is a traditional pocket passer who is more likely to check the ball down when something isn't open rather than create. Flacco can surprise opponents with his speed, but scrambling is not a big part of his game.
Running is a huge part of Jackson's style, and even Michael Vick said he’s “a spitting image of me.” After watching Jackson shred Florida State in 2016, Vick tweeted that Jackson was five times better than he was at Virginia Tech.
Jackson had more rushing attempts (655) in his three seasons than he had passing completions (619). Jackson ran for 4,132 yards and averaged 6.3 yards per carry. He scored 50 touchdowns on the ground.
Jackson was also successful when throwing the ball. He topped 3,500 passing yards each of his final two seasons and threw 69 touchdowns to 27 interceptions over his career. He had a quarterback rating of 142.9, though his 57.0 career completion percentage isn't ideal.
"Lamar, obviously, set the college landscape on fire his freshman year," Hortiz said. "He's just a dynamic athlete, unbelievable speed when he gets out in the open as a runner, but he's got a really strong arm, with the ability to drive the ball into tight windows."
Of the two quarterbacks, Jackson has a more realistic chance of lasting until pick No. 16 because his atypical style may not suit every team or scheme.
"He's done a good job transitioning into [Bobby] Petrino's offense, and I think Bobby has done a good job down there altering his offense to fit Lamar," Hortiz said. "He's the type of guy you can build around."
Mayfield's play on the field over his four seasons (one at Texas Tech) was impeccable.
He completed 68.5 percent of his passes and had a career quarterback rating of 175.4. He threw 83 touchdowns to 14 interceptions the last two years and averaged 4,097 passing yards per year at Oklahoma.
Mayfield isn't nearly as dangerous when running the ball (2.7 yards per carry average), but his ability to buy time to throw is special (and he also ran for 21 career touchdowns).
"He's an athletic kid as well. Not quite as fast as Lamar, but very accurate," Hortiz said. "He does a good job of anticipating throws and really spreads the ball around well and drives that offense."
Confident and at times brash, Mayfield's persona may not be every team's cup of tea, but Hortiz likes his story.
"Talk about a guy who has persevered through his career," Hortiz said. "Walking on at Texas Tech, not being given a scholarship after his freshman year, transferring, sitting out, playing rec football and baseball and all of that."
Even with Flacco under center in 2018, the Ravens have said they're comfortable with taking a quarterback in any round – even the first – if it makes the most sense. They also said the addition of Robert Griffin III does not impact their willingness to draft a quarterback who could be an immediate backup and perhaps more down the road.
"Pick the best player for us, and there are a lot of things that go into that" Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "Could be a quarterback, could be a defensive tackle."