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The draft did not have as many quality prospects this year, says Ravens Director of Player Personnel Eric DeCosta.
Thus, Baltimore went deeper, changing up its draft strategy.
“We did do some things differently this year,” DeCosta said in the live chat with fans. “One of those was to troll the small schools looking for players.”
Baltimore drafted small-school prospects with three consecutive picks last weekend, and DeCosta believes the team found three “really quality” players.
It started with guard/center Gino Gradkowski (Delaware) in the fourth round, then safety Christian Thompson (South Carolina State) in the fifth and cornerback Asa Jackson (Cal Poly) later in the fifth.
“We go into the small schools and do the same amount [of work] as we do the big schools,” Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome said. “Our scouts, when they go into Delaware or Cal Poly or South Carolina State, it’s just like when they go into Ohio State, Maryland or Alabama.”
There’s a theme to a number of the small-school prospects Baltimore has selected in recent years.
Many have transferred from larger programs, showing they had the athletic talent to be recruited to a bigger school, but left for varying reasons (usually playing time). It also means they have experienced a higher level of competition.
Flacco left Pittsburgh after Tyler Palko was made the starter. Webb started at Southern Mississippi before transferring to Nicholls State.
Gradkowski started out at West Virginia, and left when a new coaching staff came in and he was second on the depth chart. Thompson started out at SEC power Auburn, where he spent one season as a reserve. Jackson is the exception. He started and ended with Cal Poly.
“We call them small-school players because they played small school, but they’ve also played big school,” DeCosta said. “Because of that, they have a little different perspective than say me [who played at Colby College]. If I went to Oklahoma, it’d be totally different.”
The Ravens’ six area scouts spend about nine months digging up information, from the time spring practices begin, throughout the season and afterwards. Their regional scouts have been doing it for so long that they have developed trusted contacts.
In Thompson’s case, Baltimore had an inside source of sorts. Director of College Scouting Joe Hortiz went to Auburn and was an undergraduate assistant coach there for three years (1995-1997).
“I think we have great scouts, and they do as good a job as anybody in the league at getting information,” DeCosta said. “We take a lot of pride in that.
“We have great connections there [at Auburn] and also [with Northeast area scout] Andy Weidl. There is no better information guy than Andy Weidl. We were able to get a lot of information.”