NFL Nation: Christian Thompson

There was a time when the Baltimore Ravens built their teams by almost exclusively taking players from big programs like Miami, Arizona State and Alabama. These days, their starting quarterback is from Delaware and the second-highest paid player on the team is from Nicholls State.

Lardarius Webb
AP Photo/Paul SpinelliLardarius Webb is one example of the Ravens finding success within the ranks of the smaller schools.
The Ravens take pride in finding big-time players from small schools. In this week's draft, no one should be surprised if the Ravens select players from Towson, North Dakota State or Lindenwood. For the record, the Division II Lions of Lindenwood play in Saint Charles, Mo.

In the last two drafts, seven of the 18 players taken by the Ravens have come from programs below the Division I FBS (formerly I-A) level. Defensive tackle Brandon Williams, a 2013 third-round pick from Missouri Southern, could join quarterback Joe Flacco and cornerback Lardarius Webb as another small-school starter for the Ravens. Asa Jackson, a 2012 fifth-round pick out of Cal Poly, has a chance to be the team's third cornerback.

"We believe in it," said Eric DeCosta, the Ravens' assistant general manager. "We look at all players across the board, regardless of level of competition, division or conference, and pick the best players.”

The Ravens have been linked to small-school prospects this year. They had a pre-draft visits with Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and Towson running back Terrance West. There's a chance that the Ravens, who need help on the offensive line and secondary, could take North Dakota State offensive tackle Billy Turner or Lindenwood cornerback Pierre Desir somewhere around the third round.

Ravens officials believe their success with small-school players comes from the fact that they put in the same amount of work as they do with big schools. Their scouts go to the schools and get to know the coaches.

"Obviously, the biggest challenge would be level of competition," DeCosta said. "How does that player play? How is he going to play against better players? Is he going to be able to adjust? All-Star games are a nice way of seeing that play out, so we get the chance to see a d-school guy at the Senior Bowl, you get a chance to see him at the combine to compare against the big-school guys. That's always a big challenge."

The Ravens have missed on small-school prospects, too. David Pittman, a 2006 third-round cornerback out of Northwestern State, started one game, and Christian Thompson, a 2012 fourth-round safety from South Carolina State, didn't last two full seasons.

But the Ravens' success rate with small-school prospects is similar to what they have with players from major programs. In some instances, the Ravens see a faster rate of growth with players from smaller schools.

"At small schools, sometimes they don't have the luxury of having a nice weight room, nutritional programs or support staff," DeCosta said. "We feel like sometimes these guys come into our facility, our building, with our coaches and our doctors and trainers, and get better quickly because they have the advantage of all these new things."
The Baltimore Ravens announced they cut safety Christian Thompson after he served his four-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy.

The Ravens didn't have any use for Thompson because they have depth at the safety spot. Behind starters Matt Elam and James Ihedigbo are Michael Huff, Anthony Levine and Jeromy Miles, who was signed last week after being released by the Cincinnati Bengals.

It's telling that the Ravens parted ways with Thompson because the Ravens typically don't cut draft picks a year after being selected in the first four rounds. He was the 130th pick of the 2012 draft and the sixth safety taken.

Thompson played in seven games last season before going on injured reserve with a knee injury in November. He didn't make a tackle on defense or special teams.

This marks only the second player to be let go from the 2012 draft class (wide receiver Tommy Streeter, a sixth-round pick, was the other).
The NFL announced safety Christian Thompson has been suspended without pay for the Baltimore Ravens' first four games of the 2013 season for violating the league's substance abuse police.

Some are probably asking: Who's Christian Thompson? He's a fourth-round pick from last year. And last season, this wouldn't be a big deal. But, after the Ravens parted ways with both starting safeties, Thompson had been considered one of the top backups for 2013.

The Ravens now only have three experienced safeties for the first quarter of the season: Michael Huff, James Ihedigbo and Omar Brown. Thompson played in seven games last season and didn't record a tackle on defense or special teams before going on injured reserve Nov. 17 with a knee injury.

“We have been aware of this situation for some time,” general manager Ozzie Newsome said in a statement.

Thompson is eligible to participate in all of the preseason games and practices. He can return to the Ravens' active roster after the team's fourth regular season game.
NEW ORLEANS -- Safety Ed Reed and cornerback Cary Williams were the only Baltimore Ravens defenders to start every regular-season game for the AFC champions this season.

The NFC champion San Francisco 49ers had nine defenders start every game.

Overall, the 49ers had 17 players start 16 games during the regular season. Eight Ravens players started 16 games apiece.

Roster health won't grab headlines the way brotherly coaching rivalries will grab them at the Super Bowl this week, but we all know which subject matters more.

The Ravens have gotten healthier lately, welcoming back Terrell Suggs and Ray Lewis to their defensive lineup. But in looking at injured reserve lists for each Super Bowl team, the 49ers come out OK.

Baltimore's IR list features top cornerback Lardarius Webb, inside linebacker Jameel McClain and guard Jah Reid, all starters. It features special-teams contributors LaQuan Williams and Bobby Rainey, plus lesser contributors such as Damien Berry, Emanuel Cook, Christian Thompson, Tommy Streeter and Anthony Levine.

The 49ers' IR list features starting receiver Mario Manningham, No. 2 running back Kendall Hunter, third/fourth receiver Kyle Williams, backup outside linebacker Parys Haralson and backup tight end Demarcus Dobbs.

Defensive lineman Justin Smith's ability to return from a triceps injury suffered in Week 15 has been key for the 49ers. Smith, Suggs and Lewis all returned from arm injuries that threatened to end their seasons.
Let's take a quick look at what the division teams did in the fourth and fifth rounds:

BENGALS: Cincinnati should play a lot more two tight end formations with the addition of Georgia's Orson Charles (fourth round). He can get open in the passing game and help out the running game with aggressive blocking. ... Iowa CB Shaun Prater (fifth round) is a strong worker who lacks ideal height (5 feet 10). He projects to be a nickel back down the road. ...California's Marvin Jones (fifth round) is the second wide receiver taken by Cincinnati (Rutger's Mohamed Sanu was the other). He isn't technically sound but he was impressive at the Senior Bowl. ... Boise State FS George Iloka (fifth round) has a lot of range in pass coverage but he is an inconsistent tackler.

BROWNS: Cleveland addressed the need for speed at receiver with Miami's Travis Benjamin (fourth round). His other contribution could come as a returner. ... Nevada's James-Michael Johnson (fourth round) is listed as an inside linebacker but he could be the eventual replacement for outside linebacker Scott Fujita. ... Colorado's Ryan Miller (fifth round) is a mauling lineman who is extremely tall (6 feet 7) for a guard. He projects to be a right guard.

RAVENS: The Ravens found their potential center of the future in Delaware's Gino Gradkowski (fourth round). He could also compete for the job at left guard, where Jah Reid is currently penciled in as the starter. ... South Carolina State FS Christian Thompson (fourth round) adds depth at safety, where the Ravens lost Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura in free agency. ... Cal Poly CB Asa Jackson (fifth round) shows great burst as a punt returner but he is a raw cornerback prospect.

STEELERS: Pittsburgh's strong draft continued when the team selected nose tackle Alameda Ta'amu from Washington (fourth round). He could be pressed to start right away with Casey Hampton (ACL surgery in January) isn't ready at the start of the season. ... Florida RB Chris Rainey (fifth round) is an undersized explosive playmaker. He lasted this long because of character concerns.

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