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Lamar Jackson is a great fit for Ravens, and should replace Joe Flacco sooner than later

Louisville’s Lamar Jackson, the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner, was a first-round selection by the Baltimore Ravens. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

The Baltimore Ravens surprised everyone when they traded back into the first round and selected Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson with the 32nd overall pick Thursday night, giving them one of the most dynamic playmakers in college football.

Jackson, the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner, became 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 he did that twice, in 2016 and 2017. He set a school record with 119 touchdowns in three years, throwing for 69 and adding 50 more on the ground. According to Sports Info Solutions, Jackson also averaged 4.1 yards per carry after contact in 2017, the 12th-best rate among all players with at least 100 carries in 2017. Among quarterbacks, only Arizona’s Khalil Tate was better (4.3 yards per carry after contact).

But Jackson isn’t merely a run-first quarterback — according to the game charters at Pro Football Focus, Jackson gained 73.2 percent of his career rushing yards on designed runs as opposed to improvisational scrambles.

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The biggest concern is his accuracy, as he completed 57 percent of his throws for his career. But he got better each season and ended the 2017 campaign completing over 59 percent of his throws. PFF also found he had the second-highest percentage of passes in which he got to a second or third read in this year’s draft class, and the fourth-highest accuracy percentage among the 10 quarterbacks analyzed using advanced charting.

Plus, his accuracy on passes within 14 yards of the line of scrimmage — a staple of Ravens Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg’s west coast scheme — was significantly higher at 68 percent. Mornhinweg, who served in the same role with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2010, was credited with tailoring Philadelphia’s west coast scheme to take advantage of Michael Vick’s mobility, and the quarterback responded with a Pro Bowl season and even earned the AP’s comeback player of the year award.

Lamar Jackson in 2017 Attempts Completions Comp% Yards TD INT Passer rating
0 to 14 yards 269 177 65.8% 2231 15 7 109.8
15+ yards 112 39 34.8% 1179 12 3 99.5

Assistant head coach Greg Roman was the San Fransisco 49ers’ offensive coordinator from 2011 through 2014, when Colin Kaepernick played in an adapted version of the pistol offense he used at Nevada that was in sync with Roman’s concepts. According to Chris B. Brown, author of “The Art of Smart Football,” the Ravens’ playbook will also cater to Jackson’s strengths, making use of concepts like the inverted veer, zone read triple and “bash” QB counter trey.

It appears as though Jackson will have a year or two to learn these advanced schemes before he becomes Baltimore’s starting quarterback. Ravens coach John Harbaugh insisted Joe Flacco remains their starter and dismissed any notion of Jackson taking over any time soon.

“[Jackson’s] a great quarterback. But Joe Flacco is our quarterback,” Harbaugh said. “That’s the thing we got to remember. Lamar is going to have a great chance to develop. This really doesn’t change things in a sense that we’re going to go with Joe, and Joe’s going to roll.”

That might be a mistake. The 33-year-old Flacco threw for 3,141 yards, 18 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, giving him a below-average 80.4 passer rating (league average is 86.9). Among 30 qualified quarterbacks in 2017, Flacco ranked 23rd in ESPN’s Total Quarterback Rating (43.0 QBR), meaning an average team would be expected to win 43 percent of their games (equating to a 7-9 season) with the production provided by Flacco. Pro Football Focus graded him as the 22nd-best passer last season.

Luckily, this could be Flacco’s final season in Baltimore — the Ravens can create $18.5 million in cap space in 2019 by designating him as a post-June 1 cut — which could get Jackson under center sooner than expected.

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