The Ravens' Lamar Jackson NFL Draft story is a perfect blend of sneakiness and risk-taking

Sporting News

In a way, Lamar Jackson was the final gift former Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome gave to the franchise. The 63-year-old retired after the 2018 season, months after he and heir-apparent GM Eric DeCosta used the last pick of the first round to draft the quarterback who's now wrecking the NFL.

And yes, it's Newsome and DeCosta, not an entire department of scouts and talent evaluators, who are primarily responsible for the draft pick that changed the Ravens' future for the better.

In an interview with NBC Sports' Peter King following Baltimore's blowout win over Houston in November, a game in which the second-year QB continued his MVP-caliber season with four passing touchdowns, DeCosta told the story of Jackson's selection on Day 1 of the 2018 NFL Draft. Jackson, 22, was the fifth quarterback taken at the end of a first round that featured four others (Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen and Josh Rosen) going in the top 10. Turns out that's exactly how Newsome and DeCosta hoped the draft would play out.

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"We wanted quantity that day," said DeCosta, whose team entered the draft holding the 16th overall pick and who, along with Newsome, "secretly loved" the QB from Louisville. "With the way the draft fell that year, we saw a way to really improve our offense. We were hoping the phone was gonna ring, starting at 16."

Thanks to the Bills, the phone did ring, and Baltimore in a trade with Buffalo moved back to No. 22. "We get to 22, and all of the players we liked are still there,” DeCosta said. "So we traded again."

The Ravens utilized a deal with the Titans to move back to No. 25, where they selected tight end Hayden Hurst, a player DeCosta said they "loved." Jackson, though, was still available. King asked DeCosta whether he and Newsome were worried another team might swoop in and draft him.

"We were. We were," DeCosta allowed. "But I think you’ve got to stay as clinical in the moment as you can, and really just go with all your best information and the plan. So yeah, you’re always nervous. You accept that you’ll lose some players working this way."

DeCosta told King the league-wide doubt surrounding Jackson's prospects as an NFL QB was helpful. (Looking at you, Bill Polian). The Ravens also felt confident they could land Jackson thanks to their sneaky approach to evaluating him prior to the draft.

"We didn’t even interview Lamar at the Combine because we didn’t want to be associated with him," DeCosta said. "We didn’t want rumors about us and him to start. They didn’t. We were proud of that."

Lamar-Jackson-102019-Getty-FTR.jpg
Lamar-Jackson-102019-Getty-FTR.jpg

As the end of the first round neared, Newsome and DeCosta decided it was time to make a move. They called Howie Roseman, GM of the Super Bowl-champion Eagles and owner of the No. 32 overall pick, who was willing to trade back to No. 52 as long as the Ravens gave up their 2019 second-round pick in addition to their 2018 second-rounder.

To the surprise of everybody but Newsome and DeCosta, the Eagles and Ravens had a deal. Baltimore traded into the last pick of the first round and selected Jackson.

"We didn’t share what we were going to try and do with anybody," DeCosta said. "Drafts are strange like that. It’s just Ozzie and me at the end of the table, the only ones who really know. When you’re trying to make a decision as important as that, you try and keep it as quiet as you can. Because it’s not that you don’t want to share it with people, but the downside — which would be losing the player — is much greater than the upside of sharing the information with somebody that you care about."

Added DeCosta regarding the aftermath of the Jackson selection: “I think it’s probably the first time in my 24 years that you could hear cheering outside the draft room. You could hear the coaches and you could hear the scouts. That was a powerful moment for us."

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It's clear now those emotions were warranted. The Ravens, who earned the AFC's No. 1 seed with a 14-2 record in the regular season, led the NFL with 3,296 rushing yards, the most by a team in a single season in league history. They also led NFL with 206 rushing yards per game, making them the first team since the 1977 Bears to average more than 200 rushing yards per game.

And we all know why.

Jackson broke Michael Vick's single-season NFL rushing record for a quarterback with his 1,206 yards on the ground. He also led the league with 36 touchdown passes. As a result, the Ravens easily led the NFL with 33.2 points per game. They put up 40 or more points in five games.

So, yeah: Good thing Newsome and DeCosta can keep a secret.

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