Ravens heighten quarterback hype by bringing in Lamar Jackson for visit

Lamar Jackson could be available when Baltimore picks at No. 16 in the upcoming draft, but would the Ravens pull the trigger? AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The Baltimore Ravens are bringing in Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson for a pre-draft visit, according to The MMQB.

This will undoubtedly increase speculation that Baltimore is considering drafting a quarterback in the first round. The key question is: Are the Ravens really interested in Jackson or do they simply want others teams to think they are?

It's not out of the question that Baltimore takes a quarterback with its top pick. Joe Flacco has struggled since winning the Super Bowl five years ago, and the Ravens can create $18.5 million in cap space in 2019 by designating him as a post-June 1 cut.

The Ravens' front office has done nothing to quiet the hype that Baltimore will take a quarterback in the first round for the first time in a decade. Assistant general manager Eric DeCosta said the team would pick a quarterback if there's one "really too good to pass up," and general manager Ozzie Newsome hinted the Ravens could "surprise" in the first round.

If Baltimore believes Flacco could be gone after this season, it makes sense to take a quarterback now, giving him a year to watch and learn. And, if the Ravens are eyeing a quarterback with the No. 16 overall pick, Jackson is the best bet among the top five quarterbacks to slide to the middle of the first round.

"Lamar, obviously, set the college landscape on fire his freshman year," Ravens director of college scouting Joe 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. He’s the type of guy you can build around."

The Ravens' visit with the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner could just be gamesmanship. If Baltimore isn't interested in drafting a quarterback in the first round, it would be in the Ravens' best interest to make other teams believe they are.

The more quarterbacks are taken in the top half of the first round -- and four of them (Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Josh Allen and Baker Mayfield) are virtual locks -- the more it pushes highly rated (non-quarterback) prospects to No. 16. Showing interest in Jackson could prod a team wanting a young quarterback like the Los Angeles Chargers (No. 17), New England Patriots (No. 23, New Orleans Saints (No. 27) or Jacksonville Jaguars (No. 29) to jump in front of Baltimore.

Drafting a quarterback in the first round would go against Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti's comments in February. Asked if it was time to start looking at life without Flacco, Bisciotti said, "We've got bigger fish to fry."

At Wednesday's pre-draft news conference, Newsome said the Ravens haven't paid more attention to this year's quarterback class than previous ones.

"I think the quality of the number of guys maybe more than which allows us to make sure we do our homework," Newsome said.

Jackson is a unique talent, becoming the the only player in FBS history to rush for at least 1,500 yards and pass for at least 3,500 yards in a season. And Jackson accomplished this feat twice (in 2016 and 2017).

He went 22-11 as a starting quarterback at Louisville and was a touchdown machine. He reached the end zone 119 times (a school record), running for 50 and throwing for 69.

The biggest concern is his accuracy. He completed 57 percent of his throws for his career.

ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. described Jackson as an "in the area" thrower.

"He’s got to improve his accuracy. That’s a fact," Kiper said. "That 57 percent, you haven’t seen any improvement off of that. The combine, he was still all over the place with those throws, so that’s where you know he’s going to need some time and some work."