The Ravens have less than a week before they need to reduce their roster to 53 players, and with no preseason games, players on the roster bubble have only their practice performance to make a case for their inclusion.
That has been one of the many challenges of this training camp like no other, but ultimately, the cruel math still applies. The Ravens must slash their roster from 80 to 53 players this week. One consolation prize: This year, teams are allowed to carry 16 practice squad players, up from 10 in previous years. (The new CBA had enlarged that to 12, and it was further expanded to 16 because of the pandemic.)
The 53-man roster often includes a surprise or two; in 2017, two players who weren’t with the team at all in August — Tony Bergstom and Luke Bowanko — were on the initial 53-man roster Sept. 2. And this year’s roster already features one surprise after Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas was released for what the team deemed “personal conduct that adversely affected the Baltimore Ravens.”
Here is a best guess of what the 53-man roster might look like when it is set Saturday, Sept. 5, at 4 p.m.:
QUARTERBACK (3): Lamar Jackson, Robert Griffin III, Tyler Huntley
The Ravens keep three quarterbacks for the third straight year, with the pandemic factoring in the decision, as they can ill afford to have one of just two quarterbacks sidelined by a late-week positive COVID test. Huntley extends the Ravens streak to 17 consecutive years that the team has kept an undrafted rookie on the initial 53-man roster.
Huntley edges out Trace McSorley by demonstrating a better ability to run the Ravens’ offense and more consistent play. Plus, the Ravens seem to have abandoned last year’s idea of McSorley as a possible special-teams factor. Head coach John Harbaugh acknowledged that they kept McSorley on the 53-man roster last year in part because they were worried about losing him if he were exposed to waivers. With Huntley in the fold, that’s no longer a concern.
RUNNING BACK (4): Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards, Justice Hill, J.K. Dobbins
Dobbins has been one of the most impressive players in training camp, and it won’t be long before the second-round draft pick has a major role in this offense. Hill has missed an extensive portion of training camp with an injury, but his roster spot should be secure and when healthy he also will be a candidate on special teams. Kenjon Barner was signed as a kick return candidate, but a leg injury has hurt his chances.
TIGHT END (3): Mark Andrews, Nick Boyle, Patrick Ricard
Andrews has been the most outstanding player in training camp and looks primed to build on his Pro Bowl season of 2019. The Ravens used more three tight-end sets that any team in the league last year, so after trading Hayden Hurst to the Atlanta Falcons, they figured to add another tight end to the mix.
Enter Ricard, the former two-way player who has been working almost exclusively on offense this year. He can serve as a lead blocker/fullback/battering ram tight end, which doesn’t leave room for Charles Scarff, who had a promising camp, or Jarell Adams. Undrafted rookie Eli Wolf was a trendy pick to make the team but missed some time with an injury and will probably land on the practice squad.
WIDE RECEIVER (6): Willie Snead, Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin, Chris Moore, Devin Duvernay, James Proche
No position is more scrutinized every August, in part because the Ravens have struggled to find impact players, and in part because with the limited scope of training camp, receivers often have the best chance to stand out.
Marquise Brown’s surgically-repaired foot seems to be fully healed, and he looks as fast as always despite adding 20 pounds of strength this offseason. Boykin has been more confident and assertive in his second year. Proche, a sixth-round rookie, had perhaps the best catch of training camp, a fully-extended dive that didn’t even count because the play had been ruled a sack, but he showed consistently strong hands to go with well-regarded punt return ability.
Moore has been sidelined much of August by a broken finger, but he remains one of the Ravens’ top special teams players, which is why they re-signed him this past offseason.
Jaleel Scott’s 6-foot-5 frame is hard to ignore, but many plays have been just beyond his reach this summer, and that appears to be the same for a roster spot.
OFFENSIVE LINE (9): Ronnie Stanley, Bradley Bozeman, Matt Skura, D.J. Fluker, Orlando Brown Jr., Patrick Mekari, Ben Bredeson, Tyre Phillips, Will Holden
Fluker remains the front-runner to replace Marshal Yanda at right guard, and the Ravens remain optimistic that Skura will be ready to go in Week 1 after his impressive recovery from a major knee injury last November. If not, Patrick Mekari can step in as he did last year.
The Ravens like rookie draft picks Bredeson and Phillips, whose transition from college tackle to NFL guard has been going well. With Andre Smith opting out and James Hurst released, the Ravens need a swing tackle who can spell either Stanley or Brown in the case of injury. Fluker has starting experience as an NFL tackle, and so does Holden, who started several games with the Arizona Cardinals from 2017-2018.
The most notable omission here is Ben Powers, a fourth-round draft pick a year ago. The Ravens don’t usually give up so quickly on mid-round picks, but they’ve got other young interior linemen, and Powers didn’t help his case with several bad snaps when working at center.
DEFENSIVE LINE (6): Calais Campbell, Brandon Williams, Derek Wolfe, Justin Madubuike, Broderick Washington, Justin Ellis
The addition of Campbell and Wolfe has rebuilt this unit, and rookies Madubuike and Washington have strong mentors in the room. Madubuike has been impressive, but an injury in the final training camp stadium scrimmage could affect how much he can contribute early in the season. That also gives the Ravens more reason to keep Ellis, who appeared in six games for the Ravens last year.
OUTSIDE LINEBACKER (5): Matthew Judon, Tyus Bowser, Jihad Ward, Pernell McPhee, Jaylon Ferguson
The Ravens didn’t draft any edge rushers, and none of the undrafted rookies made a strong enough push to take one of these roster spots, so this group looks just as it did at the end of last season.
Bowser had a strong training camp and is hoping to use this contract year to launch himself toward a lucrative free-agency payday, just as Za’Darius Smith did two years ago. The Ravens will be looking for Ferguson to take a step forward in his second season.
McPhee, 31, has been dogged by injuries since initially leaving the Ravens after the 2014 season. He is back after missing nine games last year with a torn triceps muscle, but the Ravens don’t want to overextend him. He and Ward both can contribute along the defensive line as well.
INSIDE LINEBACKER (5): L.J. Fort, Patrick Queen, Malik Harrison, Chris Board, Otaro Alaka
This group is rebuilt with the addition of rookies Queen and Harrison, with first-round pick Queen looking to be a Week 1 starter alongside Fort. Harrison is growing more and more comfortable in the Ravens’ defense, and defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale praised Harrison’s play in the final training camp stadium scrimmage. Board has been one of the Ravens’ top special teams players, and the Ravens like the physical play of Alaka, who made the team as an undrafted rookie last year but then was put on injured reserve in late September without playing a snap.
CORNERBACK (5): Marlon Humphrey, Marcus Peters, Jimmy Smith, Tavon Young, Anthony Averett
The Ravens’ deep secondary group lost second-year cornerback Iman Marshall to a season-ending knee injury, and both Marcus Peters and Anthony Averett have been slowed in camp by injuries. Humphrey has continued to look the Pro Bowl part, and Young has been one of the defensive standouts in training camp after missing all of last season with a neck injury.
The Ravens often keep an extra defensive back for special teams play. Brynden Trawick and Darious Williams both were surprises when they made the Ravens roster as undrafted rookies. Josh Nurse was a leading candidate to do that this year, as he showed flashes this summer and has good size at 6-foot-3, but an injury in training camp slowed his progress.
SAFETY (4): Chuck Clark, DeShon Elliott, Anthony Levine, Geno Stone
With the release of Thomas, the Ravens are betting on Elliott, who has missed 26 of 32 games during his two NFL seasons with injuries. If healthy, Elliott has the physicality and ball skills to be an impact safety. Levine remains the Ravens’ de facto special teams captain who can double as a safety or a dime linebacker, and the Ravens like the upside of Stone, their seventh-round draft pick this spring.
It’s not a deep group, but Jimmy Smith could play safety at times, and the Ravens will be closely watching the waiver wire. Nigel Warrior, an undrafted rookie from Tennessee, made a couple of big plays in training camp but is destined for the practice squad.
SPECIALISTS (3): Justin Tucker, Sam Koch, Morgan Cox
Nothing to see here, except the most efficient, effective, successful specialist trio in the league. Koch, the longest-tenured Raven, has played in all 224 regular-season games since he was drafted in 2006. If all goes according to plan, Koch will break Terrell Suggs’ franchise record for games played in Week 6.
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