Trust the process? Lamar Jackson did it his way – and it worked

ARLINGTON, Texas – The never-ending NFL job interview that Lamar Jackson approached his way ultimately landed him where he was always going to end up: As a first-round draft pick.

Granted, Louisville’s Heisman Trophy winner may have squeaked in with the last pick in the first round, but that placement carries weight in a league where highly selected quarterbacks are given every last opportunity to fail. Now the Baltimore Ravens will give Jackson exactly that – a plethora of chances to develop and a heaping amount of patience and investment. That’s why they traded back into the first round for a quarterback, because they firmly believed he can be a quality NFL starter. Or better yet, a star.

So what did Jackson teach us over the last four months? Let us thumb through the realities that supposedly stomp on draft values …

The Ravens snagged QB Lamar Jackson with the last pick of Round 1. (AP)
The Ravens snagged QB Lamar Jackson with the last pick of Round 1. (AP)

Not hiring an agent? Survivable.

Choosing an unknown quarterback guru? Fine.

Won’t consider switching positions? Applause.

Not running the 40-yard dash? Ever? OK. Whatever.

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Despite all those moves – any one of which is typically treated as a red flag in the draft process – Jackson still went in the first round. And the only real argument left for the naysayers is maybe he would have gone a few picks earlier which is entirely unprovable, of course. But the NFL’s old-school critics will stick to grousing under their breath, largely because they just don’t like being told “no” in the draft process.

Regardless of those archaic opinions, Jackson showed something that is incontrovertible now. If a player is supremely talented and worthy of being a top pick, he can push back against the draft process and survive. If he feels like his tape is good enough to show certain aspects of his game, that player can get away with skipping a few of the age-old workout staples. If that player doesn’t want to switch positions and he’s good enough to refuse, it won’t disassemble his value. And most of all, if he’s adamant about staying the course where it concerns how he wants to present his skills to teams, that player may be able to get away with it.

Jackson did. That’s why he still landed first-round pick status Thursday. Well, that and a fifth-year contract option for first-round picks, which also made it a practical certainty that someone was going to deal up and secure the rights to him for a full five years on his first deal.

That part of it was a win for the Ravens. And arguably a loss for Jackson since he could have benefitted far more financially in the long term as the 33rd pick rather than the 32nd. But it’s a tradeoff that he should be happy with because first-round quarterbacks get an extra nod that others don’t. NFL teams won’t admit the psychology of it, but first-round QBs get more patient development than any other draft picks in the NFL.

Jackson still doesn’t see himself as someone who bucked the system. When he was asked about not running the 40-yard dash and whether he feels vindicated for approaching his process in his own way, he once again disagreed that he did so.

“Other players didn’t run the 40, too,” Jackson said. “It wasn’t just me. When they came out with the wide receiver thing, it was like, ‘You just gotta let me [be a] quarterback.’ That’s all it was. It wasn’t really me saying no.”

In reality, that’s exactly what it was saying. Whether Jackson wants to embrace it or not, he did the draft process his own way, while letting teams know that he wasn’t going to give them every single thing they wanted. And he deserves some credit for that – because the NFL’s draft system usually makes all-comers very pliable when it comes to their personal preferences.

Jackson wasn’t pliable. He had talent and banked his process on that. Very much like how he handled himself in college, when he very easily could have been switched to another position.

That didn’t happen in high school. It didn’t happen in college. And in a somewhat obstinate entry into the league (by NFL standards), it didn’t happen at the highest level, either. It certainly isn’t an approach that’s advisable to most draft picks, who either don’t have the talent to dictate terms or the constitution to follow through. But it turns out Jackson isn’t like most other NFL draft picks.

He’s a first-round quarterback who walked across that stage Thursday night his own way, just like every previous step he took to get there.

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