The 2018 NFL Draft is far in the rearview mirror, but that doesn’t mean Lamar Jackson has forgotten about the teams that passed on him. Jackson was taken at No. 32 overall by the Ravens, and he had to see four quarterbacks in his class drafted before him.
By the end of that season, he was the only one of those rookies to make a start in the postseason. He’s kept that pace alive in 2019, when his Ravens stand atop a depleted AFC North and look stronger every week. Jackson planted his flag as a potential MVP candidate by becoming the youngest quarterback to beat Bill Belichick (and his 8-0 Patriots) in 15 years.
The former Heisman Trophy winner has had a better start to his career than the four quarterbacks selected ahead of him: Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, and Josh Rosen. If you compare their stats, Jackson has the best record as a starter, the best passer rating, the best TD-INT ratio, and most rushing yards (by a lot).
There’s no questioning that Jackson is a unique talent, one that many teams in the NFL wish they could have at quarterback. Most of them had a chance to draft him, too.
Let’s take a look at the teams that passed on Jackson and see if they would’ve been better off taking him.
- Cleveland Browns: No. Theoretically, they’d be better off with Jackson and without having to face him twice a year. But c’mon, you know the Browns would’ve ruined him. Have you seen Baker Mayfield lately?
3. New York Jets: Yes. The Jets opted for Sam Darnold over Jackson. This season, Darnold has had a slew of odd injuries, including being diagnosed with strep and mono simultaneously, an enlarged spleen, and needing a toenail removed. Jackson has stayed healthy — and doesn’t throw nearly as many baffling red zone interceptions.
4. Cleveland Browns: See No. 1. The Browns destroy everything they touch, and leaving Jackson to get his ACL exploded behind Cleveland’s porous offensive line would be a lesser tragedy.
5. Denver Broncos: Oh, hell yes. Instead, the Broncos settled for the quarterback the Ravens benched for Jackson.
But also no, because there’s no way general manager John Elway looked at Jackson’s 6’2 frame and thought anything other than “there’s someone I can mold into a 600-yard receiver.”
6. Indianapolis Colts: No, even though Andrew Luck opted for early retirement. Jacoby Brissett has done a nice job taking over for Luck and has helped put the Colts in good position to win the AFC South.
7. Buffalo Bills: Probably. The Bills chose to draft quarterback Josh Allen over Jackson. Allen has a winning record as a starter and is poised to get the Bills back in the playoffs. So yes, Buffalo is doing all right with a pretty good running quarterback — but what if it had a great one?
8. Chicago Bears: Lol, yes. The Bears already had Mitchell Trubisky, who’s proving he’s nowhere close to being a franchise quarterback. He’s near the bottom in the NFL in most major categories — as is the Chicago offense and running game. Yeah, Matt Nagy could use Jackson right now.
10. Arizona Cardinals: Yes. Picking Josh Rosen over Jackson proved to be a mistake. While they got Kyler Murray in 2019, imagine how Jackson would fit in Kliff Kingsbury’s freewheeling offense (assuming Jackson wouldn’t have won enough games in 2018 to keep Steve Wilks on the sideline).
11. Miami Dolphins: Tough call, depending on how much faith you have in 2020’s draft class. With Jackson, you wouldn’t have to worry about 2019’s inescapable tank job — although you run the risk of him being sold off for a future first, just like the team’s actual pick here, Minkah Fitzpatrick, was.
12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Yes. Jameis Winston is a free agent in 2020. He’s also not very good as an NFL quarterback — he has more interceptions than anyone else in the league since being drafted in 2015.
13. Washington: Yes. The Alex Smith experiment didn’t work out for unfortunate reasons, but this team needed a young franchise QB even before the former Chiefs’ passer was knocked out of the lineup. Now Dwayne Haskins gets to deal with all this dysfunction instead.
15. Oakland Raiders: No. Derek Carr has bounced back to Pro Bowl form thanks in part to the left tackle the Raiders selected at this spot, Kolton Miller. Carr’s still just 28 years old and under contract through 2022. While it would have been fun to see Jon Gruden figure out the most creative way to waste Jackson’s talent, a game-shifting mobile QB doesn’t really fit with Gruden’s late-90s throwback roster approach.
16. Buffalo Bills. See No. 7. The Bills used this pick to select Tremaine Edmunds, who has become an important cog in their intimidating defensive machine. They’d easily make that choice again.
18. Green Bay Packers: No. Aaron Rodgers still looks great in his mid-30s, even if he took a few games to get acclimated to new head coach Matt LaFleur’s offense. But the Pack fell apart without him in 2017, and stopgaps like Brett Hundley and DeShone Kizer proved to be low-wattage replacements. Jackson would help fill that hole — but he’s also be buried behind a two-time MVP on the Green Bay roster.
19. Dallas Cowboys: No. Dak Prescott is pretty good and occasionally great. He’s about to sign a mega-extension in Texas, and Leighton Vander Esch, who the Cowboys picked at 19th overall, was a Pro Bowler as a rookie. It’s safe to say Jerry Jones is happy with his decision.
20. Detroit Lions: No. Matthew Stafford is having the best season of his career and is, somehow, only 31 years old. In this draft, Detroit took Frank Ragnow, who should have a fruitful career keeping his veteran QB upright from the center of the Lions’ line.
23. New England Patriots: Yes. Bill Belichick would absolutely like to have a do-over, if only to keep Jackson from gashing the Patriots’ defense again. Plus, Tom Brady will need a replacement at some point (his passer rating has declined in each of the past three seasons) and Jarrett Stidham, for all his preseason glory, probably isn’t the answer.
24. Carolina Panthers: Kinda. It all depends on Cam Newton’s health going forward. Newton’s 2019 season ended after just two games, and his future in Carolina is a bit uncertain. While Kyle Allen’s been solid as a backup, Jackson working his way into the lineup in 2019 when Newton went down with injury would have been a revelation for the Panthers.
25. Baltimore Ravens: Yes, teeechnically. Baltimore should have drafted Jackson here instead of potentially letting another team grab him. The Ravens ended up selecting Hayden Hurst. He has 29 catches in 20 career NFL games, is already 26 years old, and has failed to outshine 2018 third-round tight end Mark Andrews.
26. Atlanta Falcons: No. Matt Ryan isn’t the problem in Atlanta. Everything else (minus the wide receiver corps) is.
27. Seattle Seahawks: No. Russell Wilson has never missed a game in his career and he’s finally getting the MVP hype he deserves.
28. Pittsburgh Steelers: Yes. Ben Roethlisberger might have a few good seasons left in him, but 2019 won’t be one of them. The team eventually made its exit strategy for Big Ben clear by selecting Mason Rudolph in the third round of the 2018 draft — and he’s been a capable, if unexciting backup. It would have been fun to see what Jackson could do for the Steelers, who now have to battle him in the AFC North.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars: Yes. Why draft Jackson when you could sign Blake Bortles and Nick Foles for a combined $130 million in consecutive offseasons? Minshew Mania is over, at least for now. They definitely goofed by taking Taven Bryan rather than Jackson.
30. Minnesota Vikings: No. Kirk Cousins got a fully guaranteed $84 million about a month before the 2018 NFL Draft, so taking a first-round quarterback was off the table. Sometimes it looks like a mistake, other times Cousins looks like an MVP. Either way, Jackson wasn’t a real option for the Vikings.
31. New England Patriots: Yes. See No. 23. Isaiah Wynn has been a solid left tackle when healthy and Sony Michel was a postseason workhorse who helped carry the Pats to a Super Bowl win as a rookie, but neither may be as valuable as a viable escape route
32. Baltimore Ravens: Hey, good job! The Ravens traded up from the second round to snag Jackson with the last pick of Day 1. It’s worked out.
As for the three teams that didn’t have a first-round pick:
Philadelphia Eagles: No. The Eagles passed up their chance to get Jackson by trading this pick to the Ravens on draft night and would do it again (only for a bigger ransom). Carson Wentz was briefly an MVP candidate. He might not get there again and has yet to play in the postseason, but he still looks pretty good in Philly.