FOXBORO, Mass. — Before Lamar Jackson became a Baltimore Raven, he took a trip to Gillette Stadium.
The New England Patriots hosted the superstar quarterback for an official visit ahead of the 2018 NFL Draft, in which they owned the 23rd and 31st overall picks.
Asked Wednesday for his memories from that introduction, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick called it a “great visit.”
“We spent a lot of time with him,” said Belichick, whose team will host Jackson and the Ravens this Sunday. “Really interesting guy.”
What does Jackson remember from his Patriots visit? Seeing a different side of Belichick.
“I saw Coach Belichick smile,” the QB told reporters in Baltimore. “Usually I see him and he (has a) straight face. When I saw him smile, I was like ‘Dang, you’ve got humor.’ I told him that. He was like, ‘Yeah.’ I’m like, ‘I wasn’t expecting you to be smiling.’ “
Had Belichick chosen to draft Jackson, it could have solidified the Patriots’ succession plan from Tom Brady — who was entering his age-41 season at the time — while also adding a fascinating offensive weapon for the twilight years of Brady’s Patriots tenure. Instead, the Patriots passed on him not once, but twice, taking offensive tackle Isaiah Wynn at No. 23 and running back Sony Michel at No. 31. Baltimore grabbed Jackson with the 32nd and final pick of the first round.
The merits of that decision can be — and certainly have been — debated, as Michel helped bring the Patriots a Super Bowl in 2018 but was traded before the end of his rookie contract. Jackson, meanwhile, was the NFL’s Most Valuable Player in his first full season as a starter and continues to be one of the league’s most difficult players to defend.
Jackson’s elite rushing ability separates him from many of his NFL contemporaries, but Belichick said he also has seen the Ravens signal-caller make great strides as a pocket passer over his five pro seasons. Jackson is in the final year of his rookie contract after he and the Ravens failed to reach an extension agreement before the season.
“Without a doubt,” Belichick said. “He’s an MVP type of candidate. I think he’s more than answered (the questions about his passing ability). But we?ll see what his contract is. That will answer them.”
The Jackson-led Ravens dominated the Patriots when the teams met in 2019, rolling to a 37-20 win over a previously undefeated New England squad. The Patriots responded with a rain-soaked upset the following season, winning 23-17 in a Foxboro monsoon.
Both teams sit at 1-1 entering Sunday’s Week 3 matchup at Gillette Stadium.