Nearly a year removed the 2018 NFL Draft, ESPN’S Mel Kiper has gone back to re-grade how every team did with a year of hindsight.
Kiper’s original grade of a B- for the Ravens has now been upgraded to a A-.
We saw the positives and negatives from rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson, who took over for Joe Flacco late in the year and led Baltimore back to the playoffs. He’s an elite athlete and runner, and there were times when he befuddled defensive coordinators. He hit some big throws as John Harbaugh & Co. changed their offense to play to the rookie’s strengths. But Jackson has to improve as a passer -- he completed just 58.2 percent of his throws -- to reach his ceiling because he took far too many hits. He can’t keep running 20 times a game if he wants to stay on the field.
Baltimore’s coaching staff has acknowledged that Jackson must take fewer hits going forward but without handicapping his natural ability as an extraordinary athlete. While Jackson certainly needs to improve as a passer, his 58.2 completion percentage does not account for the drops from his targets. Wide receiver Michael Crabtree led the entire league in dropped passes, though a good portion of his drops came with Flacco at the helm. Jackson showed the ability to make any pass on the field albeit not on a consistent basis quite yet.
The good news is that he’ll get a full offseason as the unquestioned No. 1 QB because Baltimore traded Flacco. If you get your starting quarterback -- and feel good about him -- that’s a successful draft. And don’t discount the Ravens trading into the end of the first round to get that fifth-year option on Jackson’s contract. That’s huge for a team that has felt the effects of the salary cap this offseason.
The team is unquestionably committed to Jackson and his development going forward, stating multiple times about the need to surround him with playmakers who will help share the load on offense. Jackson has already been seen offsite training and practicing his throwing motion, an encouraging sign for the 22-year-old.
The two rookies from Oklahoma -- tight end Mark Andrews and right tackle Orlando Brown -- are going to be starters, and the team feels good about first-rounder Hayden Hurst, though he disappointed in Year 1. Linebacker Kenny Young could see the field much more with C.J. Mosley gone. Baltimore also got contributions from undrafted rookies Chris Board (linebacker) and Gus Edwards (running back), though Edwards’ spot on the depth chart isn’t secure going forward.
Andrews was possibly the biggest surprise of the bunch. As the fourth tight end off the board and the second taken by the Ravens, he finished the season as the best rookie tight end with 34 receptions for 552 yards and three touchdowns. Andrews destroyed the franchise record for yards by a rookie tight end (286) which was previously held by former second-round pick Maxx Williams. Andrews outperformed first-round pick Hurst by a wide margin. Hurst looked set to make an instant impact with his performance in the preseason, though a foot injury caused him to miss the first four games of the season and surely hindered his performance the rest of the way.
Brown has entrenched himself as the team’s starting right tackle and looks every bit the part of a franchise bookend to pair with Ronnie Stanley. Young flashed major potential at the weakside linebacker position, especially in Mosley’s absence in Week 3 against the Denver Broncos when he recorded 10 tackles. Board was a solid special teams player and could potentially see an increased role on defense. Edwards emerged as a hidden gem when Jackson took over at quarterback. His straight-forward and powerful running style fit perfectly with Jackson’s outside speed, keeping defenses on their toes. Edwards finished with 718 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 137 attempts. With Mark Ingram being signed in free agency, Edwards will see a largely reduced number of carries unless he earns more.
Because of how good the rookie classes looked in Indianapolis, Cleveland and Denver, this Ravens draft -- GM Ozzie Newsome’s last -- went a little under the radar. There are some really good pieces here, though.
This was certainly a strong swan song for Newsome as he leaves the team with multiple starters from the 2018 NFL Draft and several players who could develop into a starting role as well. New General Manager Eric DeCosta has large shoes to fill.