The Ravens arrived in Owings Mills, Md., nearly a month ago to begin training camp, with most roster spots already secure (even if coaches don’t want to admit it), and about 40 players battling for the final few open jobs.
As always seems to happen in the dog days of August, injuries have complicated the roster-building process and a few unheralded players have emerged by “stacking days,” as the coaches like to say, and seizing the opportunity afforded them.
Still, after six more practices and a final preseason game at Washington Aug. 28, the hard business must be done: The Ravens must cut the roster to 53 players by Tuesday, Aug. 31, at 4 p.m. (By Aug. 24, they must trim the roster from 85 to 80.)
Recognizing that there could be a late twist — in 2017, the Ravens made two trades in the final days leading up to the deadline, adding offensive linemen Luke Bowanko and Tony Bergstrom — here is an educated guess at what that 53-man roster will look like, keeping in mind that players must be on the initial 53-man roster in order to be eligible to return from injured reserve:
QUARTERBACK (2): Lamar Jackson, Tyler Huntley
Trace McSorley’s back injury all but ended the competition for the No. 2 quarterback job, and while the Ravens could keep McSorley on the initial 53-man roster and then move him to injured reserve, that would come at the expense of someone else. More likely, the Ravens will hope McSorley can clear waivers and return via the practice squad.
RUNNING BACK (4): J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards, Justice Hill, Patrick Ricard
Hill’s grip on the No. 3 running back job seems to be precarious, with Ty’Son Williams and Nate McCrary both impressing in preseason games. Williams in particular has been physical as a runner, receiver and pass blocker. Hill, who has been slowed by an ankle injury, led the Ravens with special teams tackles last year (9), and that’s a vital role for the No. 3 back.
Then again, this week could change the equation here, and it will be worth watching whether Williams has a significant role on special teams at Washington. He played just three special teams snaps at Carolina.
If they opt to keep Hill, the Ravens will probably hope Williams slips through waivers and can return to the practice squad, but the 20-yard touchdown he scored against the Panthers, which head coach John Harbaugh called “a great football run,” is on tape for 31 other teams to see.
Ricard appears to be recovered from his offseason hip injury, so rookie fifth-round pick Ben Mason is the odd man out. The Ravens don’t like to cut rookie draft picks, but given the team’s other needs, it’s hard to justify keeping a second fullback, even considering how much the Ravens want to run the ball.
WIDE RECEIVER (6): Sammy Watkins, Marquise Brown, Rashod Bateman, Devin Duvernay, James Proche, Tylan Wallace
Bateman, sidelined after undergoing groin surgery, will probably move to injured reserve, but by putting him on the initial 53-man roster, he is eligible to return as soon as Week 4. Proche was the team’s most productive receiver in training camp, and one of the few fully healthy ones, though his disappearance in two preseason games (a total of three catches for 14 yards) is concerning.
The Ravens love the way Miles Boykin’s downfield blocking helps this team’s running attack, and his size (6-foot-4, 220 pounds) stands out in this group, but he’s been sidelined since the first week of training camp. The Ravens traded up to draft him in the third round three years ago. They might still find a way to keep him, but for now he’s on the outside looking in.
TIGHT END (3): Mark Andrews, Nick Boyle, Josh Oliver
Boyle has yet to practice because of a procedure this summer on his surgically repaired knee, and he is still a candidate to start the season on the Physically Unable To Perform (PUP) list. But that would keep him sidelined until at least Week 6, and the more likely scenario is he begins on the 53-man roster and works his way back before that. If Boyle is deemed not ready, Eric Tomlinson can grab the blocking tight end role.
Oliver, acquired in a trade from the Jacksonville Jaguars this past spring after two injury-marred seasons, has shown the size and athleticism to be a viable target in the passing game, something the Ravens lacked with tight ends not named Mark Andrews last season.
OFFENSIVE LINE (9): Ronnie Stanley, Alejandro Villanueva, Kevin Zeitler, Bradley Bozeman, Ben Cleveland, Tyre Phillips, Ben Powers, Patrick Mekari, Trystan Colon
The widely anticipated left guard competition among Phillips, Powers and the rookie third-round pick Cleveland has been interrupted by injuries. Cleveland has missed about a week with a concussion, while Phillips missed the Carolina game with an ankle injury. Powers has struggled at times, but at least he’s been available, and with health issues along the line, that might be enough to win a roster spot.
Mekari is the Ravens’ plug-anywhere utility man, and Colon is the natural backup at center to Bozeman. But this group is perilously thin at tackle, a concern given that Stanley is coming off a season-ending injury and has yet to practice fully and Villanueva turns 33 in September. If there’s a late addition to the roster, it could come at tackle, and then one of the interior linemen would have to go.
DEFENSIVE LINE (6): Calais Campbell, Brandon Williams, Derek Wolfe, Justin Madubuike, Justin Ellis, Broderick Washington
The Ravens could opt to keep just five down linemen, in which case Justin Ellis probably has his bubble burst, but the starting trio is all on the high side of 30 years old and the Ravens usually don’t short themselves in the defensive interior.
Madubuike is a rising star, and he and Washington are good young complements who will make an impact when called upon and could anchor this line in future years.
INSIDE LINEBACKER (4): Patrick Queen, Malik Harrison, Chris Board, Kristian Welch
L.J. Fort suffered a torn ACL in the game against Carolina, costing the Ravens a key special teamer as well as a key reserve in this group, which is short on depth. Queen and Harrison have looked terrific this summer and are primed to play side by side for at least a few years.
Board has been a core special teams player, and Fort’s injury probably moves Kristian Welch to the good side of the roster bubble. Welch, who began last year on the practice squad as an undrafted rookie out of Iowa, ultimately was promoted to the active roster and appeared in 10 games, primarily on special teams.
Otaro Alaka is also in the mix, but his knee injury has lingered. He has played in five games in two years, and after coming off the PUP list early in training camp and doing limited work, he’s been sidelined once again for the past week or so.
OUTSIDE LINEBACKER (6): Justin Houston, Pernell McPhee, Tyus Bowser, Jaylon Ferguson, Odafe Oweh, Daelin Hayes
The signing of Houston pushed Ferguson squarely onto the roster bubble, but the Ravens aren’t likely to give up on the third-year former third-round pick, especially given that Houston and McPhee are both 32 years old and the Ravens would prefer to use them in situational pass-rushing roles.
The Ravens would like to see Ferguson assert himself more, which he has done at times this training camp. Oweh, the Ravens’ second first-round pick this year, looks like he will be a major factor. Hayes, a rookie fifth-round draft pick, might have a hard time seeing the field on game days if everyone is healthy, but there’s a lot to like there, too. He had two tackles, a quarterback hit and nearly blocked a punt at Carolina.
CORNERBACK (7): Marlon Humphrey, Marcus Peters, Jimmy Smith, Tavon Young, Anthony Averett, Chris Westry, Shaun Wade
This unit once again began the summer as one of the deepest on the team, with seemingly few routes to the roster for long-shots, but then Jimmy Smith, Khalil Dorsey and Iman Marshall suffered injuries and Davontae Harris was released. Chris Westry took advantage of the opportunity, becoming one of training camp’s pleasant surprises. His length at 6-foot-4 stands out, and he has been used on the No. 1 special teams units recently, a good sign for any player on the roster bubble.
Averett could probably start on a lot of NFL teams and has had a strong training camp, while Smith should return soon from an ankle injury that looked much more serious than it proved to be. Rookie fifth-round pick Shaun Wade has had a quiet camp, but since the Ravens are highly loyal to rookie draft picks, he edges out Nigel Warrior, who has worked hard this spring to transition from safety to cornerback and had a strong game at Carolina.
SAFETY (3): Chuck Clark, DeShon Elliott, Brandon Stephens
The Ravens have to do a little roster gymnastics with Rashod Bateman, putting him on the initial 53-man roster before moving him to injured reserve. That means they will have to cut a player that they intend to bring back a day later, and they want that to be a vested veteran who doesn’t have to pass through waivers.
Anthony Levine is the longtime de facto captain of the special teams unit who would probably be agreeable to this plan, so even though he isn’t on the initial 53-man roster, he’s back on the team not long after. The Ravens also like Jordan Richards as a special teams ace, but it’s hard to find a spot for him.
Ditto for second-year safety Geno Stone, who had a pair of interceptions against the New Orleans Saints in the preseason opener, and undrafted rookie Ar’Darius Washington, who has shown a nose for the ball. The Ravens will hope he clears waivers and can return via the practice squad.
SPECIALISTS (3): Justin Tucker, Sam Koch, Nick Moore
There has been zero intrigue with this group once the Ravens announced in the spring that they would be moving on from longtime long-snapper Morgan Cox. Moore, who was on the practice squad all of last year, has stepped in seamlessly, even wearing Cox’s former No. 46.
Undrafted rookie kicker Jake Verity has opened eyes with a strong preseason, and given the Ravens penchant for grooming kickers, it’s likely he will get an opportunity elsewhere after learning from the best in the business all summer.
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