After four weeks of training camp, Ravens coaches and officials know what kind of team they have. It’s a group talented enough to push the organization’s preseason winning streak to 19 games. It’s also a group deep enough to push a handful of contributors off the initial 53-man roster.
The Ravens’ final roster trim won’t be easy. After a preseason-opening win over the New Orleans Saints, they got down to 85 players. After a win Saturday over the Carolina Panthers, they pared the team down to 80. Now general manager Eric DeCosta and coach John Harbaugh have just four more practices and Saturday’s preseason finale against the Washington Football Team to help evaluate their roster ahead of Tuesday’s 4 p.m. deadline.
It is never as simple as rounding up the team’s 53 best players. Under NFL rules, players must be on a team’s season-opening roster to be eligible to return from injured reserve. The Ravens will have to weigh rehabilitation timelines, roster needs and salary cap space as they plot a path for their Sept. 13 season opener against the Las Vegas Raiders.
With uncertainty still swirling at the edges of a number of positions, here’s how the Ravens’ 2021 team could look next week:
Quarterback (2): Lamar Jackson, Tyler Huntley
The big question here is what to do with Trace McSorley, whose preseason is over. The Ravens have kept three quarterbacks on their initial roster every year since 2018; McSorley’s back injury and the team’s roster needs have probably doomed that trend. Harbaugh would prefer not to risk losing a dual-threat reserve who grasps the offense, but how much interest will there be leaguewide in signing a quarterback with a middling arm and a lingering injury? Especially one who averaged just 4.8 yards per attempt in the Ravens’ win over the Saints.
Running back (3): J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards, Justice Hill
It’s hard to imagine a running back-needy team passing on someone like Ty’Son Williams, who has 20 carries for 88 yards and seven catches for 38 yards over two impressive preseason games. About the only area where Williams hasn’t contributed is on special teams (five total snaps) — and that could be the deciding factor here.
If Hill’s sprained ankle is minor enough that the Ravens feel he’ll be ready for Week 1, he could boost coordinator Chris Horton’s coverage units, especially as a punt team gunner. Whoever the Ravens’ third-string running back is, it’s fair to assume he won’t get a high volume of snaps on offense.
Wide receiver (7): Sammy Watkins, Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, Rashod Bateman, Devin Duvernay, James Proche II, Tylan Wallace, Miles Boykin
There’s still time for this banged-up group to recover before Week 1 — only Duvernay and Wallace have practiced more than once this week — but Bateman and Boykin’s timetables loom large. Bateman will return from his groin injury “sometime in September,” according to Harbaugh, a 30-day window that might prove overly optimistic. As for Boykin, Harbaugh said Tuesday that he had no “definitive” updates on the 2019 third-round pick, who injured his hamstring early in training camp and has lagged behind Brown and Deon Cain in his conditioning and rehab work.
Bateman’s roster spot is secure; the Ravens just have to determine whether he’s better off on the active roster or on IR, which would free up a roster spot and sideline the rookie until at least Week 4. Boykin’s future is less clear. He struggled in camp, but he’s a strong blocker in the run game, contributes on special teams and profiles as a red-zone target. With Watkins’ injury history and Bateman’s ongoing recovery, the Ravens also need depth at outside receiver.
Tight end/fullback (4): Mark Andrews, Nick Boyle, Patrick Ricard, Josh Oliver
Harbaugh’s hopeful that Boyle could be ready for Week 1, but if his knee rehab drags on into September, an IR designation would open a spot for another player — though not necessarily a blocker like Boyle. Oliver (team-high 11 catches for 72 yards) is the clear favorite to join Andrews and Boyle at tight end. Eric Tomlinson, a dependable blocker, is another option.
Fifth-round pick Ben Mason has been active on special teams in the preseason, but he hasn’t stood out in camp as a receiver. The Ravens might be able to sneak him onto their practice squad; teams don’t often look for fullbacks at the roster deadline.
Offensive tackle (3): Ronnie Stanley, Alejandro Villanueva, Tyre Phillips
The Ravens envisioned Phillips as a guard when they drafted him last year, and that’s probably still his best position. Between Phillips and Patrick Mekari, the team has two linemen who could do a passable job at swing tackle. But DeCosta should be looking for outside help.
Interior offensive line (5): Kevin Zeitler, Bradley Bozeman, Ben Cleveland, Patrick Mekari, Ben Powers
The uncertainty at left guard has ripple effects on the Ravens’ roster construction, but for now, there’s only so much mystery here about who’ll stick around. Mekari’s versatility makes him a valuable reserve. Powers bounced back against the Panthers and is still a candidate to start Week 1.
If the Ravens keep a sixth interior lineman — NFL roster rules encourage teams to activate eight offensive linemen on game day — Trystan Colon could get the nod. He has experience at center; played more as an undrafted rookie last year than Ben Bredeson, a 2020 fourth-round pick; and has held his own in camp.
Defensive line (6): Calais Campbell, Brandon Williams, Derek Wolfe, Justin Madubuike, Broderick Washington, Justin Ellis
Along with inside linebacker, this might be the easiest position to predict. Washington has had a strong camp and preseason; the only question is whether he’ll avoid an NFL suspension for a March incident in which he pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor destruction-of-property charge. Ellis, meanwhile, has outperformed and outlasted Aaron Crawford in the battle to back up Williams.
Outside linebacker (6): Tyus Bowser, Pernell McPhee, Justin Houston, Odafe Oweh, Daelin Hayes, Jaylon Ferguson
The Ravens have been plenty consistent in their recent roster construction here: Five is enough. This year might be an exception. Bowser’s a sure-thing starter. McPhee, despite his quiet camp, is a trusty veteran and versatile piece. Houston is the group’s most accomplished pass rusher. Oweh and Hayes have played like foundational pieces.
The only mystery surrounds Ferguson, who’s lifted his game in the preseason, living up to the praise coaches heaped on him this summer. Given the mileage on 32-year-olds McPhee and Houston and the longer season ahead — not to mention Hayes’ history of shoulder injuries — the Ravens might see a six-player edge-rusher group as a worthy investment.
Inside linebacker (4): Patrick Queen, Malik Harrison, Chris Board, Kristian Welch
L.J. Fort’s season-ending ACL injury should clear Welch’s path to a season-opening roster spot. He appeared in 10 games as an undrafted rookie last year, almost exclusively on special teams, and there’s no one else pushing him.
Cornerback (6): Marlon Humphrey, Marcus Peters, Tavon Young, Jimmy Smith, Anthony Averett, Shaun Wade
Despite Humphrey’s muscle strain and Smith’s low-ankle sprain, the Ravens’ top five seems set here. Injury fears could lead team officials to keep seven cornerbacks — just look at whom they signed off the street for big games late last season — but the Ravens have stopped at six in recent years.
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If Wade makes the roster, it’ll be because of his long-term potential. He hasn’t been the sixth-best cornerback in camp; Chris Westry has outperformed him in one-on-ones and team drills, and Nigel Warrior had a solid game Saturday against Carolina. But Wade showed immense potential at Ohio State as a slot cornerback, where Tavon Young’s injury history leaves the Ravens on unstable ground, and the front office is loath to part with fifth-round picks.
The 6-foot-4 Westry has a frame that the Ravens have embraced and other teams might shy away from. He also played in just two games over two injury-marred seasons with the Dallas Cowboys. The Ravens haven’t been shy about playing Westry in the preseason, but he hasn’t flashed as often as he has in camp. Saturday’s game could be the most important audition of his career.
Safety (4): Chuck Clark, DeShon Elliott, Brandon Stephens, Geno Stone
Anthony Levine Sr., still a special teams stalwart and respected locker room voice, figures to have a spot on the roster for his 10th season in Baltimore. But as a vested veteran, he’s not subject to the waiver wire until the trade deadline passes, meaning the Ravens could release and then re-sign him as part of a corresponding move with an IR-bound player.
Stone is the slight favorite to edge undrafted rookie Ar’Darius Washington for a roster spot — he’s bigger, has more experience and picked off two passes against New Orleans — but those odds could flip this weekend.
Specialists (3): Justin Tucker, Sam Koch, Nick Moore
The Ravens don’t have space for rookie kicker Jake Verity. That doesn’t mean they won’t take a draft pick for him.