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Have the Baltimore Ravens found a competitive advantage by drafting small school prospects?

The Ravens have drafted a large percentage of less heralded small school players over the last several years

Out of the eleven players the Baltimore Ravens selected in the 2016 NFL draft, only three hail from Power Five Conferences. Really, four if Ronnie Stanley from Notre Dame, which is an independent in football, is included.  Three of the other recently drafted rookies played in the American conference, one each from the Mountain West, Conference USA, the independent BYU and the NCAA Division II ranks round out the 2016 class.

The 2016 class is more of the recent norm than an outlier for the Ravens.  In 2015, five of the Ravens nine selections came from schools outside the Power Five.  Between 2012-2014, more than 40% of the teams 27 draft selections played in conferences the are not included in the Power Five.

The Ravens approach to the draft is producing more small school prospects than most other NFL teams.  In 2016, the SEC had 51 players drafted, the Big Ten 47, the Pac-12 32, the ACC 27 and the Big-12 26.  All other Division I conferences, FCS teams, Division II schools and other countries outside the USA groomed a total of 71 drafted players combined.  That means the Power Five produced 183 of the 254 players drafted or 72%.

At the start of the 2015 NFL regular season, 67.9% of all players on active NFL rosters came from the Power Five conferences.  These trends are a stark contrast from the Ravens five year drafting record that shows a near even split between Power Five plus Notre Dame vs Non Power Five, 51% to 49%.

Why are the Ravens drafting more small school players than other teams?  Because these players have worked out pretty well for them.  Joe Flacco from Delaware, Brandon Williams from Missouri Southern and Lardarius Webb from Nicholls State are three of the team's best players.  Crockett Gillmore from Colorado State, Kyle Juszczyk from Harvard, and Zach Orr from North Texas are other key contributors on the roster.  Not playing big time college football has not impeded their professional accomplishments.

Gino Gradkowski, Jah Reid, Asa Jackson and Christian Thompson are examples of small conference products that did not contribute as much as the team hoped when they originally drafted them, but there is no empirical evidence showing small school prospects bust more than power conference players.  Coming from a small school does not seem to limit the ultimate potential of players either.  Four members of the 2015 All-Pro team, Antonio Brown, Mike Tolbert, Khalil Mack and Josh Norman, hail from obscure colleges while Doug Martin, another member of the 22 player honorary unit, played for a non-power conference school.

Fifteen years ago, draft boards were all over the map, many teams did not subscribe to major scouting services or budget very much for their scouting departments.  Back then, the Ravens could simply outwork, out scout and out smart other teams to unearth diamonds in the rough from even the most prestigious college football programs.  Nowadays, all 32 teams take the draft seriously and most draft boards around the league end up relatively similar as a result.

So the Ravens have become dedicated to focusing on smaller school prospects other teams are more likely to overlook.  In a way, it makes sense that these unknown players would be better prepared for the professional game since they have to work extremely hard to be drafted in comparison to five star recruits from powerhouse programs who have been media darlings since they were in high school.

So let's hope that between the 2016 small conference crop of Kamalei Correa, Bronson Kaufusi, Tavon Young, Chris Moore, Kenneth Dixon, Matt Judon and Keenan Reynolds, the Ravens have found a few more unheralded players that will produce for them in a big way.  And that the rest of the NFL does not catch on to the Ravens shrewd strategy.