- The dynamic former Heisman winner saw 31 other players taken ahead of him—cheering each one—but didn’t have to wait until Friday, as the Ravens tabbed the Louisville QB with the final pick of the first round. Joe Flacco’s replacement? Time will tell
- Plus notes on Bradley Chubb and the Broncos, the Martavis Bryant trade and more from a raucous first night of the 2018 draft
John Harbaugh spent four years, from 2011 to ’14, watching Tyrod Taylor mimic Michael Vick and Colin Kaepernick and a host of other dual-threat quarterbacks as a scout-teamer behind starter Joe Flacco. Taylor moved on to Buffalo without starting a single game for the Ravens, but that couldn’t have stopped the Baltimore coach from imagining an offense built around a player like Taylor—or, perhaps, a player with an even more diverse skill set.
Now Harbaugh has his chance. On Thursday night the Ravens traded the No. 52 and No. 125 selections and a 2019 second-rounder to Philadelphia for its No. 32 pick and the rights to draft Jackson, the former Heisman Trophy winner who passed for more than 9,000 yards in three seasons at Louisville, with an additional 4,132 yards rushing.
Jackson was projected by some as a mid-first-round pick, and so he sat in the green room at the draft in Arlington, Texas, flashing a toothy grin (sans braces) with his family by his side, cheering on fellow first-round picks as teams passed on him one by one. The Patriots were a candidate at 23, ditto for Jacksonville at 29. Jackson packed only one suit for the trip—a kelly green Gucci arrangement. “I was just cheering other guys on. They’ve been waiting for this day all their lives just like I have,” Jackson said later. “[At the end of the first round] I was like, ah, I wore my suit for no reason. I’m going to have to come back tomorrow. But when the Baltimore Ravens called, I was like, ah man, thank the lord. Yes sir.”
Jackson went through the pre-draft process his way, refusing to run the 40-yard dash at the combine when it was reported that teams were interested in him playing receiver in the NFL, not quarterback. He thought he might get taken by the Patriots or the Saints, yet both teams passed, and the Ravens had drafted tight end Hayden Hurst with the 25th pick. “Other players didn’t run the 40 too, it wasn’t just me,” Jackson said, “but they came out with the wide receiver thing, and I was like, I gotta let this guy know I’m a QB. That’s all it was. It wasn’t really me saying no … it wasn’t me trying to be cocky or anything like that. It was me trying to prove a point, I’m a QB. That’s all.”
Jackson had his faith rewarded, with a caveat: Joe Flacco remains the starter in Baltimore, and though he appears to have regressed since a charmed 2012 run to the Super Bowl, he’s expected to remain the starter in the near future. That gives Jackson time to get up to speed, and Harbaugh an opportunity to design an offense around one of the most dynamic athletes to enter the NFL as a quarterback since Michael Vick.
The Broncos Never Thought They’d Land Chubb
Denver’s fortunes turned on a dime Thursday; general manager John Elway had a working deal in place to trade back from No. 5 to 12 with the Bills. But Cleveland threw a monkey wrench into those plans by selecting cornerback Denzel Ward out of Ohio State with the No. 4 pick, leaving N.C. State edge defender Bradley Chubb on the board at No. 5. Asked how many mock drafts his war room had drawn up with Chubb still on the board, Elway said “Zero. We didn’t think he’d be there.” But Chubb was available, and the Broncos made the pick, pairing a player many believed to be the best defender available with arguably the best pass rusher in football, Von Miller. Shane Ray, the fourth-year player whose option is up this week, looks like the odd man out.
Josh Rosen slides, and Arizona Rises to Get Him
They said Rosen would likely slide for “character issues” (translation: his off-field interests and opinions strayed from myopic NFL ideals), and though he ended up being the fourth quarterback off the board, the Cardinals felt the need to trade up to No. 10 overall for the UCLA passer. Rosen pairs up with new Cardinals coordinator Mike McCoy and joins a room with veterans Sam Bradford and Mike Glennon, who inspired so much confidence that Arizona was willing to part with third- and fifth-round picks to move ahead five spots.
It’s a coup for Cardinals GM Steve Keim, who couldn’t have gone into Thursday imagining a player some expected to go in the first five picks would be without a dance partner at 10.
Raiders deal for Martavis Bryant
In the midst of the first-round doings, Oakland sent the No. 79 pick to the Steelers for wideout Martavis Bryant. What does it mean? For the Raiders, it means former Packers receiver Jordy Nelson moves to the slot, his more natural spot, and the Raiders get a complement to Amari Cooper who could very well be the No. 1 receiver before all is said and done. Bryant gets a fresh start with a brand-new locker room, while the Steelers jettison a player who trashed a fellow wide receiver on Twitter in October and was reportedly seeking a trade in midseason. Was the third-round compensation fair? On one hand, the Raiders get a 50-80 catch per year player for a pick that more often than not yields duds. On the other hand, the market for Bryant had to be weakened by his behavior, and the common knowledge was that any team would be doing Kevin Colbert a favor by taking Bryant of their hands.
No Worries: The Cowboys Tab Vander Esch
Late word from Mike Mayock put Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch’s future into some doubt when the NFL Network analyst said there were teams worried about the state of his neck.
Said Mayock: “He wears that neck brace for a reason. He’s got a cervical issue, and teams around the league right now are having the conversation about how bad or good is it really and at what level should we draft him?” The Cowboys, apparently satisfied with the rangy inside linebacker’s health, signaled the beginning of the end of an era for a defense that has been led by Sean Lee (when healthy) for a decade. Lee’s contract is up after 2019 and in the nickel-oriented NFL, he’ll likely spend the rest of his time in Dallas as a rotational presence.
• Skeet shooting and river rafting were all part of Boise State LB Leighton Vander Esch’s upbringing. The NFL prospect introduces SI to the small Idaho mountain town where he was formed. You can now watch anytime, anywhere on SI TV.
Quotes of Day 1
“There were nine mistakes made ahead of me. I will make sure over the next decade or so they know they made a mistake.” — Cardinals No. 10 pick Josh Rosen
“People call you and they want the second pick of the draft for a bag of donuts, a hot pretzel and a hot dog. Leave me alone. I don’t have time to screw around.” — Giants general manager Dave Gettleman
“With the 28th pick, the Pittsburgh Steelers select Terrell Edmunds.” — Ryan Shazier, who walked to the podium five months after suffering a devastating spinal injury in a game.
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