The Story Behind Ravens Drafting Lamar Jackson


The Ravens' decision to trade back into the first round and grab quarterback Lamar Jackson could one day go down as one of the biggest moments in team history. Here's how it all went down.

When the Ravens selected tight end Hayden Hurst with pick No. 25 in the first round, most people, including those inside the draft room, thought they were done for the night. Some left the room.

Senior Vice President of Public & Community Relations Kevin Byrne asked the top decision-makers if they were ready to go talk about Hurst with the Baltimore media.

Assistant General Manager Eric DeCosta looked over at General Manager Ozzie Newsome and asked if they could talk about some things first. They put off the press conference until the end of the round.

"Listen, what do you think? Should we try to trade back in?" DeCosta said.

"Ozzie looked at me, and he goes, 'Yeah, if we can.'"

The Ravens had already eyed up the Philadelphia Eagles as a potential trade partner. They didn't have many picks in this year's draft, and the Ravens have a relationship with several members of their front office who used to be in Baltimore. They hammered out the framework of a possible trade.

"Even though I knew we'd have to pay a price to do it, we felt like we had basically recouped the price from all the picks we had gotten, whether they were picks this year or next year," DeCosta said.

Newsome and DeCosta hadn't really told anybody else in the room about the possible trade. They figured Jackson might get picked and it would all be moot anyway.

The Jacksonville Jaguars and New England Patriots were two teams rumored to be interested in first-round quarterbacks. The Jags took Florida State defensive tackle Taven Bryan. The Patriots selected Georgia running back Sony Michel.

Jackson made it to 32. The Ravens and Eagles got back in touch, agreed on the deal, and Newsome called the league to make it official. Meanwhile, DeCosta called Jackson to let him know he was going to be a first-round pick after all.

"He was very, very relieved and happy," DeCosta said.

As soon as the Ravens got word they were on the clock, DeCosta handed the phone to Newsome.

"Ozzie said, 'Lamar, you're a Raven," DeCosta said. "It was awesome. It was a really powerful thing."

So how long had the idea of drafting Jackson been in the works?

Baltimore had already done a lot of homework on him and came to the conclusion that if they were able to grab him late in the first round, they would pull the trigger.

"He was a player that some people in this building were tremendously excited about," DeCosta said. "Lamar just brings a lot of dynamic qualities that we're excited to see."

DeCosta reiterated his strong belief in Joe Flacco, saying he's one of the best picks the Ravens have ever made. Flacco led them to Super Bowl XLVII, and the Ravens feel he can return to that level, especially with the help they've added this offseason.

But Baltimore has also seen a shift in the NFL toward more mobile quarterbacks, and it's alluring. DeCosta said the Ravens' experience with super athletic Tyrod Taylor, who backed up Flacco from 2011-2014, also shaped their thinking.

"We saw Tyrod really develop and emerge into being a starting quarterback in this league and play pretty well," DeCosta said.

"Ten or 15 years ago there was Michael Vick and everybody else. But there's really been a proliferation of these types of quarterbacks over the last five or 10 years. The game has changed, offenses have changed, the way offenses attack you has changed."

A big question with Jackson was whether his unique playing style will translate to the NFL. Baltimore has coaches who have seen it work, and could give a more valuable assessment.

Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg and Quarterbacks Coach James Urban helped Vick have his best season in 2010 in Philadelphia. Urban also coached Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, who moves around the pocket and scrambles. Assistant Head Coach Greg Roman worked with Colin Kaepernick in San Francisco.

The Ravens also fell in love with what everybody loves about Jackson – his undeniable playmaking ability. DeCosta said the first time he ever saw Jackson play was "one of those wow moments."

"You feel like you're watching a special athlete, you're watching a guy who transcends college football with what he can do," DeCosta said. "His dynamic qualities to make plays as a passer, as a runner, taking Louisville and making them a really, really strong football program.

"In the end, I think you have to have players on your team that have freak qualities."

The Ravens have long been built around players like that, including Hall of Fame tackle Jonathan Ogden, running back Jamal Lewis, defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, cornerback Chris McAlister, linebacker Terrell Suggs, wide receiver Anquan Boldin and Flacco.

"I think Lamar Jackson has some very unusual qualities about him that make him different from most players in the league," DeCosta said.

The final box for the Ravens to check was Jackson's personal makeup. In the weeks before the draft, they invited him to Baltimore as one of their official 30 visits and got a good feel for him.

"As we spent more time with him, things that stand out with him: competitiveness, humility, drive, all those factors that we believe in in players," DeCosta said. "He was a guy that we thought was a great combination of intangibles and physical ability."

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