For the first time in a decade, the Ravens last weekend drafted three players from college football programs that were below the Division I FBS (formerly I-A) level. As Ravens director of player personnel Eric DeCosta put it, the Ravens “had to manufacture some runs this year” because the team’s draft board was similar to those of the NFL’s 31 other teams and 147 of their top 150 players were selected.
But Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome also said the team’s selection of Delaware center/guard Gino Gradkowski, South Carolina State safety Christian Thompson and Cal Poly cornerback Asa Jackson was reflective of the organization placing more of an emphasis on scouting smaller schools for talent.
“We go into the small schools and do the same amount [of work] as we do the big schools. Our quarterback is a small-school guy,” Newsome said. “Our scouts, when they go into the Delaware or Cal Poly or South Carolina State, it’s just like when they go into Ohio State, Maryland or Alabama.”
The Ravens have had success in this regard in the past, and it goes beyond quarterback Joe Flacco, who was a first-round pick out of Delaware, and cornerback Lardarius Webb, a third-rounder from Nicholls State. More than a decade ago, they found Adalius Thomas at Southern Mississippi, Edgerton Hartwell at Western Illinois and Brandon Stokley at independent Louisiana–Lafayette.
Of course, they’ve had their misses -- Cam Quayle, anyone? -- but their success rate in drafting successful small-school prospects is pretty similar to that of their picks from major college programs.
“I think we have great scouts, and they do as good a job as anybody in the league at getting information,” DeCosta said while answer a question about Thompson. “We take a lot of pride in that.”
Thompson transferred from Auburn for “various reasons,” as Ravens coach John Harbaugh put it (he added that he thinks Thompson “has learned from whatever mistakes he has made"). Gradkowski transferred from West Virginia to get more playing time. Flacco and Webb were also transfers after things didn’t work out at Pittsburgh and Southern Mississippi, respectively.
DeCosta, who played football at Colby College, said that Div. I-FBS experience gives prospects an edge over someone like himself who never got a taste of big-time college football.
“There are all different kinds of small-school prospects,” DeCosta said. “The real small-school prospects like me, who went to a small school and played. You have other guys who went to a big school and transfer, so you get a Joe Flacco, who transferred from Pitt, you get a Lardarius Webb from Southern Miss. Christian Thompson, who went from Auburn, [and] Gino from West Virginia.
“So those guys, we call them small-school players because they played small school, but they’ve also played big school. Because of that, they have a little different perspective than say me. If I went to Oklahoma, it’d be totally different. It is a little bit different.”