If their organized team activities and mandatory minicamp revealed anything, it’s that the Ravens have a lot to like about their 90-man roster. But when players report to training camp in Owings Mills in less than a month, the team will be one step closer to deciding who won’t make it to Week 1.
Under the NFL’s new camp schedule, the first wave of cuts, due by Aug. 17, will trim the team from 90 players to 85. The second, on Aug. 24, winnows the roster size to 80. On Aug. 31, three days after the Ravens’ preseason finale, teams must finalize their initial 53-man roster.
Injuries could change the Ravens’ plans. So could free-agent signings and game-changing performances. But here’s how coach John Harbaugh and general manager Eric DeCosta might assemble their 2021 team.
Quarterback (3): Lamar Jackson, Trace McSorley, Tyler Huntley
The Ravens can save a roster spot elsewhere by opening the season with just two quarterbacks, as they did for so long when Joe Flacco was QB1. But Harbaugh has gone with three in recent years, even as Jackson has proved his durability. With McSorley’s special teams trial seemingly over, the backup battle will come down to offensive execution.
Running back (3): J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards, Justice Hill
Hill entered last season fourth on the depth chart, and injuries limited him to just two appearances through October. But even after losing his job as a returner, Hill found a role on special teams, finishing sixth on the Ravens in snaps there. With a healthy training camp, he could also expand his role on offense.
Wide receiver (6): Sammy Watkins, Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, Rashod Bateman, Devin Duvernay, Tylan Wallace, Miles Boykin
This is where it starts to get complicated. Watkins, Brown and Bateman will play a lot this season. Duvernay was one of the NFL’s best returners last season, and his comfort in the offense should grow in Year 2. Wallace is safe, too; the Ravens aren’t cutting a fourth-round pick.
But how many wide receivers can the team reasonably keep? The Ravens had six on last season’s initial roster, including special teams standout Chris Moore. In 2019, they also went with six, including disappointing 2018 fourth-round pick Jaleel Scott. Even with the Ravens seemingly headed toward a more pass-heavy approach in 2021, six receivers is probably the best bet here.
In that case, the last spot could come down to Boykin and James Proche II. Boykin ended last season with just 133 yards over his final 10 games, including the postseason. Proche, after losing his punt return job to Duvernay, didn’t play after Week 14. Both have clean slates under first-year wide receivers coach Tee Martin. But unless Proche can earn a regular role in the slot, Boykin should have the edge. He’s a red-zone threat with good special teams tools and experience.
Tight end/fullback (4): Mark Andrews, Nick Boyle, Patrick Ricard, Josh Oliver
For as much as the Ravens have relied on tight ends and fullbacks under Greg Roman, they haven’t entered a season with four full-timers at the position since his 2019 promotion to offensive coordinator. That year, they had Andrews, Boyle and Hayden Hurst, plus Ricard splitting time on offense and defense to start the season.
With Boyle’s health a question mark, this could be the year the Ravens bring on one more for what general manager Eric DeCosta called a “tight end-centric offense.” If they do, it won’t be an easy decision. Ben Mason, a fifth-round pick and developing tight end, couldn’t show his full range of abilities in offseason workouts. But he was a fullback at Michigan, and the Ravens already have a Pro Bowl player there.
Oliver, maybe the Ravens’ second-most dynamic receiving tight end, impressed in offseason workouts but has to prove his blocking ability. Eli Wolf, Eric Tomlinson and Tony Poljan also could push for a roster spot.
Offensive tackle (3): Ronnie Stanley, Alejandro Villanueva, Tyre Phillips
If Phillips doesn’t win the battle at left guard, he’s an obvious choice for a swing tackle. If the rehabilitating Stanley is unavailable for Week 1, the Ravens might have to get by with some combination of Villanueva, Phillips and Patrick Mekari at tackle. Free-agent signing Ja’Wuan James won’t be available for a while.
Interior offensive line (6): Kevin Zeitler, Bradley Bozeman, Ben Cleveland, Patrick Mekari, Ben Powers, Ben Bredeson
The Ravens have entered the past two seasons with nine offensive linemen, and it’s easy to see why the streak might reach three years. Zeitler and Bozeman are all but penciled in as starters at right guard and center, respectively. Cleveland’s a top contender at left guard. Mekari can play anywhere along the line. Powers has starting experience at guard. And it’s unlikely the Ravens give up on Bredeson, a 2020 fourth-round pick, after just two seasons. Center Trystan Colon could be the odd man out.
Defensive line (6): Calais Campbell, Brandon Williams, Derek Wolfe, Justin Madubuike, Broderick Washington, Justin Ellis
For a sense of just how little drama there is here, consider the cases for the two linemen with the most tenuous roster spots. Washington is a 2020 fifth-round pick who showed a disruptive streak in offseason workouts. Ellis, meanwhile, appeared in 13 games last season, starting three. If the Ravens don’t settle for six linemen, tackle Aaron Crawford and end Chauncey Rivers could play their way onto the roster with strong camps.
Outside linebacker (5): Tyus Bowser, Pernell McPhee, Jaylon Ferguson, Odafe Oweh, Daelin Hayes
The main intrigue here is in whether the Ravens bring in a big-name addition — and what that might mean for the roster math. The team has regularly settled for having five outside linebackers, or at least five players capable of lining up there part-time. Offseason workouts didn’t reveal much about the preseason pecking order, but Hayes outplayed his fifth-round billing. Ferguson still needs to show he’s moved past his sophomore slump.
Inside linebacker (4): Patrick Queen, L.J. Fort, Malik Harrison, Chris Board
The Ravens didn’t mind dressing five inside linebackers late last season, but it could be a tough sell going into Week 1. Kristian Welch and Otaro Alaka played in a combined 15 games last season and saw just eight defensive snaps total. Given how often Queen plays, and safety Chuck Clark’s flexibility as a box defender, the Ravens don’t necessarily need strength in numbers. Fort, Harrison and Board should all help on special teams, too.
Cornerback (6): Marlon Humphrey, Marcus Peters, Tavon Young, Jimmy Smith, Anthony Averett, Shaun Wade
The Ravens’ fiercest training camp competition will be found at their deepest position. Humphrey, Peters, Young and Smith — when healthy, of course — are a formidable top four. After that, jobs are up for grabs.
Averett, who’s entering the final year of his rookie deal, got almost every defensive snap for the Ravens as they closed out the regular season last year, then played sparingly in the postseason once the secondary’s health improved. His health and special teams ability will be critical.
Wade, looking to bounce back from a forgettable, injury-marred 2020 at Ohio State, will have to re-establish himself at nickelback. If the fifth-round pick struggles, the door will be wide open for under-the-radar options like Khalil Dorsey, who saw time in the slot with the first-team defense this offseason.
Also in the mix are Iman Marshall, who’s played in just three games since the Ravens made him a fourth-round pick in 2019; Davontae Harris, a midseason acquisition last year who helped out on special teams; and Chris Westry, a spindly outside corner who’s looked comfortable in practice.
Safety (4): Chuck Clark, DeShon Elliott, Brandon Stephens, Jordan Richards
Special teams ability will help decide which fourth safety the Ravens keep — or whether they decide to keep five. Richards led the team in special teams snaps last season, and Anthony Levine Sr., a longtime leader on the unit, might have come close if not for a nagging abdomen injury.
If Levine can show he hasn’t lost a step at age 34, he’ll find his way onto the Ravens’ roster for a 10th straight year. If he can’t, Nigel Warrior, Geno Stone or Ar’Darius Washington could overtake him.
Specialists (3): Justin Tucker, Sam Koch, Nick Moore
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The only mild surprise here is that Nick Moore is the new Morgan Cox. That’ll take some getting used to.