Ravens Dive Deeper Into Small-School Pool


General Manager Ozzie Newsome is known for being a tad biased towards his Alabama alma mater.

But this year the Ravens took more prospects from Missouri Southern State and Colorado State-Pueblo than the national champion football powerhouse.

As the hunt to find top talent around the country has grown more competitive, and the NFL Draft magnified in importance, the Ravens have had to dive deeper into the small-school pool.

Last year they selected three players from the FCS (Football College Subdivision) level. This year they drafted two players from the FCS and two from an even lower tier, Division II.

The Ravens haven't shown a reluctance to pull the trigger on less-recruited talent after scouring the country looking for gems. And they trust their evaluations.

"For a long time we didn't draft any small school guys, or a very, very few," Ravens Assistant General Manager Eric DeCosta said. "In the last couple of years we have drafted more. I think one of the reasons is because we really draft best available player."

The Ravens took Missouri Southern State defensive tackle Brandon Williams with pick No. 94 overall in the third round. He's the highest draft pick ever from the school, and just the fourth in its history. Williams was the first Division II player to come off the board in 2013 and the fourth below Division I (FBS).

Baltimore continued to go down the small-school path in later rounds too.

They took Harvard fullback Kyle Juszczyk (FCS) in the fourth round, then Colorado State-Pueblo center Ryan Jensen (Division II) in the sixth round. They picked up Elon wide receiver Aaron Mellette in the seventh round.

Last year, the Ravens made FCS selections center in Gino Gradkowski (Delaware), safety Christian Thompson (South Carolina State) and cornerback Asa Jackson (Cal Poly). They struck gold with FCS cornerback Lardarius Webb (Nicholls State) in 2009.

Webb made a quick adjustment to the NFL, and even started four games as a rookie before injuring his knee. This year's crop of small-school talent will look to make the same impact.

After being selected, the prospects said they aren't worried about a larger leap to the NFL level than a prospect from a bigger program, such as fourth rounder John Simon of Ohio State, for example.

"I always knew I could play at that talent and level," Williams said. "I just had to prove to the NFL that I could do it. I always believe in myself every step of the way."

"To me it's going to be an equal transition for any receiver drafted," Mellette said.

DeCosta said the Ravens have had to be more aggressive and thorough in their scouting to maintain their edge in the NFL. Baltimore has long been known as one of the best in the league in player evaluation, but if all teams get the same information on all the players, it would level the playing field.

"I think scouting, in general, has gotten better across the league. It has forced us to adapt," DeCosta said.

"We've had to increase the pool of players. Where we would probably have always just drafted Pac-10, Big 10 and SEC guys, we have looked at these smaller school guys, because players will come as we've seen, from every area, every division, every part of the country. We've challenged our scouts to get more information, and to investigate every possible player to give us an advantage. I think our scouts have done a good job of doing that."

Part of the reason the Ravens are able to dig so deep is that they invest a lot into their scouting department, something Newsome thanked Owner Steve Bisciotti for allowing. The Ravens have 18 talent evaluators in their player personnel department, including seven area scouts.

"We've been lucky over the last three or four years that we haven't lost any [scouts]," Newsome said. "We have good, young guys coming up that are ready to get out on the road. Also, our coverage is getting better, because of the staff that we have starting with our young guys all the way up to [Director of College Scouting] Joe [Hortiz] and Eric."

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