The Cincinnati Bengals passed on Lamar Jackson in the draft this year. Lucky for Baltimore. Which AFC North team would be better for Jackson, though?
Unsurprisingly, the news coming out of Ravens training camp on rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson has been stellar. The Ravens traded back into the first round to snag Jackson at pick 32 and groom him as the future franchise QB. Jackson’s draft day tumble to 32 wasn’t a complete shock, but many teams that could’ve used a talented QB passed on one of the best in the class.
He was my second-best QB and was first for analysts like Football Gameplan’s Emory Hunt. One of those teams – the Bengals – would have been a nearly perfect landing spot for Jackson. Would it have been an even better landing spot than Baltimore?
Jackson’s skill set is undoubtedly an atypical one. At Louisville, he amazed with both his arm and his legs, en route to a Heisman trophy. Though he didn’t run the 40-yard dash at the combine, his explosiveness is evident. Jackson has 4.4 speed, the likes of which we haven’t seen since Michael Vick. This uncanny dual-threat ability makes Jackson incredibly valuable behind center, but only in the right system.
Baltimore certainly seems like a reliable place to land. The Ravens’ culture, under John Harbaugh, is ideal for growth for young players. Behind Joe Flacco, a Super Bowl winning quarterback, Jackson can learn the ropes of the position while not getting put into games prematurely. Most importantly, the Ravens have an offensive coordinator in Marty Mornhinweg that can cater an offense around Jackson’s unique skills.
Mornhinweg’s skill as a coach seems clear, although he has been in ugly situations before. As the head coach of the Lions, he won a putrid five games in two years. More recently, as the OC for the Jets, Mornhinweg was part of a joke outfit under Rex Ryan that couldn’t move the ball at all. However, Mornhinweg is responsible for the second coming of Michael Vick in Philadelphia. His schemes allowed Vick to use his innate skill and flourish in a loose, spread-out offense. Given the parallels between Vick and Jackson, Baltimore’s offense may be perfect for Jackson, too.
I’m not convinced, though, that Cincinnati still isn’t a better hypothetical landing spot for Jackson. At pick 21 in the draft this year, the team could have selected Jackson. Their prime target in Frank Ragnow had just come off the board, so taking a potential franchise QB would have made sense versus a safe choice like Billy Price. (To be clear, I do think the Price selection was solid). The Bengals, like the Ravens, have developed a reputation for producing young talent under Marvin Lewis. Also, like the Ravens, Jackson could have developed behind a solid quarterback in Andy Dalton before taking over.
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The linchpin in this hypothetical, though, is new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor. Lazor may be a better offensive mind for Jackson’s game specifically, which is why I think Cincinnati would have been perfect for Jackson. Lazor has bounced around like Mornhinweg but has been relatively successful at every stop. In fact, he was the quarterback’s coach for one year in Philadelphia, giving him some of the credit for Vick’s resurgence. Lazor also overlapped with Vick in Atlanta, when he was an offensive assistant. Lazor is obviously familiar with Vick’s skills, so he could’ve used that knowledge towards Jackson.
The other thing that entices me about Lazor’s background is his time in college. At Virginia, Lazor was the offensive coordinator under new coach Mike London. In the three years he was there (2010-2012), Virginia saw offensive growth. In 2010, the team hit a 5 year high in points per game, and in 2011, a 6 year high in rush yards per game. Most notably, the Cavaliers passed for a school-record number of yards per game under Lazor’s tenure. He clearly has great success at the college level, an important asset for a coordinator who would need to institute some spread offense concepts to cater to Jackson. Furthermore, Lazor’s clear skill with quarterbacks, especially those that can run, would have been a perfect match for Jackson.
Unfortunately, we will never know what Jackson could have been with the Bengals. The Bengals passed on him with pick 21, a move that was certainly reasonable, but it may prove to have been a mistake. Jackson seems to be flourishing in Baltimore now, and he should continue to grow in the coming years. The infrastructure that the Bengals have, though, would have been perfect for Lamar Jackson. Hopefully, they can make it work for the current roster.