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Projecting the Ravens’ 53-man roster: How does Tavon Young’s injury change things?

The longer training camp went on, the more it became obvious: Having this many talented cornerbacks in one secondary was both a blessing and a burden for the Ravens.

It would be hard to throw against them, sure. But keeping as many as possible on the 53-man roster? That would be just as difficult for general manager Eric DeCosta.

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On Thursday night, after the Ravens’ 26-13 preseason win over the Green Bay Packers, coach John Harbaugh announced that the roster crunch had been alleviated somewhat, but at the expense of the defense: Starting slot cornerback Tavon Young could miss the season with a neck injury. “It doesn’t look good for Tavon," Harbaugh said.

As the Ravens mull the makeup of their roster ahead of the Aug. 31 deadline, Young’s absence will have ripple effects, especially on defense. With just two preseason games remaining, here’s how the positional breakdown could shake out:

A look at Jonas Shaffer's likely locks on the Ravens' 53-man roster as of Aug. 16, 2019, with two preseason games to go.
A look at Jonas Shaffer's likely locks on the Ravens' 53-man roster as of Aug. 16, 2019, with two preseason games to go. (Jonas Shaffer)
Quarterback

In (3): Lamar Jackson, Robert Griffin III, Trace McSorley

Out (1): Joe Callahan

One year after keeping three quarterbacks on their season-opening roster for the first time since 2009, the Ravens look committed to doing so again. Jackson is the most important player on the roster. Griffin is capable of running the same kind of offense. McSorley has shown progress as a rookie quarterback and has potential as a special teams weapon.

Even if McSorley struggles mightily over the next two weeks, it’s unlikely the Ravens keep just two quarterbacks on their roster. Griffin (fractured hand) is expected to be healthy by Week 1, but no team wants to risk having just one quarterback available for its game-day roster.

Running back

In (3): Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards, Justice Hill

Out (3): Kenneth Dixon, Tyler Ervin, De’Lance Turner

The depth and diversity of the Ravens’ running back stable were apparent Thursday night. While Ingram and Edwards combined to average over 5 yards per carry in limited snaps, the breakout star was Hill, who was quick around the edge and hard-nosed at the goal line. “He really made some runs, didn’t he?” Harbaugh said afterward.

Dixon, meanwhile, returned from a knee hyperextension early in the game to finish with six carries for 14 yards. Given his injury history, he’ll need to show a lot more over the final two weeks to force his way onto the roster. Ervin had just two carries, but there’s still a path to the roster through his work as a punt returner. Turner, who continues to run hard (five carries for 29 yards), projects as a practice squad piece for now.

Ravens running back Justice Hill celebrates after he rushed for a touchdown in the third quarter against the Packers.
Ravens running back Justice Hill celebrates after he rushed for a touchdown in the third quarter against the Packers. (Ulysses Muñoz)
Fullback

In (1): Patrick Ricard

Out (1): Christopher Ezeala

How many players in NFL history have rushed for a first down and recovered a fumble on defense in the same game? Add Ricard to the list, who was 2-for-2 in short-yardage runs Thursday and fell on the ball after a botched handoff early in the third quarter.

Wide receiver

In (6): Miles Boykin, Willie Snead IV, Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, Seth Roberts, Chris Moore (kickoff returner), Jaleel Scott

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Out (5): Antoine Wesley, Michael Floyd, Jaylen Smith, Sean Modster, Joe Horn Jr.

With so many moving parts, there are no easy decisions here. Take Brown, for example: If he doesn’t practice Monday and Tuesday, would the Ravens feel comfortable playing him Thursday against the Philadelphia Eagles? And if Brown doesn’t play Thursday, how much time would he see in the preseason finale, a game meant for auditioning on-the-bubble players? And if Brown doesn’t play in any preseason games at all, would the Ravens really feel comfortable with just five receivers on their roster?

If they want a sixth, they’ll likely have to decide between Scott and Wesley. Scott has been targeted four times in the preseason, catching all but one pass, and on Thursday showed some special teams ability as a gunner. Wesley, meanwhile, flashed his big-play potential with a 38-yard catch. If it comes down to viability, Wesley should be easier to stash on the practice squad.

Among receivers on the outside looking in, only Modster had a reception Thursday, and that went for no gain. Floyd, Smith and Horn still haven’t caught a pass in preseason action.

Ravens wide receiver Marquise Brown high-fives fans before the preseason game against the Green Bay Packers.
Ravens wide receiver Marquise Brown high-fives fans before the preseason game against the Green Bay Packers. (Ulysses Muñoz)
Tight end

In (3): Mark Andrews, Nick Boyle, Hayden Hurst

Out (2): Charles Scarff, Cole Herdman

After the Ravens didn’t draft a tight end or sign a free agent to replace Maxx Williams this offseason, the team’s plans at the position became obvious. With how often they play and rotate, Andrews, Boyle and Hurst might as well be considered co-starters.

The team’s two undrafted free agents impressed in camp, but Scarff seemed to take the lead toward the end. The Ravens will likely keep one tight end on their practice squad, and he could be their pick.

Offensive line

In (8): Ronnie Stanley, Jermaine Eluemunor, Matt Skura, Marshal Yanda, Orlando Brown Jr., James Hurst, Ben Powers, Bradley Bozeman

Out (8): Patrick Mekari, Greg Senat, Marcus Applefield, Isaiah Williams, Darrell Williams, Patrick Vahe, R.J. Prince, Randin Crecelius

It’s not out of the question that the Ravens could open the season with nine rostered linemen. Four starters are obvious: Stanley at left tackle, Skura at center, Yanda at right guard and Orlando Brown Jr. at right tackle. Eluemunor started at left guard for the second straight game Thursday and showed better feet and power.

Elsewhere, James Hurst is a no-brainer as a swing tackle and has starting experience at left guard. Powers, while talented, is still growing into his role, as all rookie linemen do. If Skura struggles or gets hurt, Bozeman is a good insurance policy.

Mekari’s the wild card. After impressing Harbaugh and earning first-team reps toward the end of camp, he entered the game Thursday as the second-string left guard. He’s also played some center, and started at tackle at California. But with Mekari’s low profile and recent injury history (a season-ending leg injury last season and a back injury during mandatory minicamp), the Ravens could probably keep him on their practice squad until he’s ready for a call-up.

Ravens tackle Ronnie Stanley celebrates with wide receiver Willie Snead IV against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Ravens tackle Ronnie Stanley celebrates with wide receiver Willie Snead IV against the Jacksonville Jaguars. (Ulysses Muñoz/Baltimore Sun)
Defensive line

In (6): Brandon Williams, Michael Pierce, Willie Henry, Chris Wormley, Daylon Mack, Zach Sieler

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Out (1): Gerald Willis

The Ravens started their positional trimming by releasing Elijah Qualls on Thursday. Unless the team brings in another defensive tackle, the roster move should free up even more snaps for Willis. With Henry set to hit free agency after this season, the Ravens wouldn’t mind having another three-technique defensive tackle (lined up across from the guard’s outside shoulder) in the pipeline, but Willis hasn’t made much of a roster case.

Sieler could also start to feel the heat, but he’s the only natural backup for Wormley at the five-technique spot (lined up across from the tackle’s outside shoulder). Given how much the Ravens value fresh legs up front, that availability can’t be overlooked.

Edge rusher

In (5): Matthew Judon, Pernell McPhee, Tim Williams, Tyus Bowser, Jaylon Ferguson

Out (2): Shane Ray, Aaron Adeoye

After camp opened with a competition that was too close to call, the depth chart has started to sort itself out. At rush linebacker (weak side), McPhee has established himself as a starter in his return to Baltimore. Behind him are Tim Williams, who impressed throughout camp, and Ferguson, the rookie who’s picked up his play lately.

Judon, the Ravens’ top Sam linebacker (strong side), will headline the pass-rushing corps. Bowser, his likely backup, had a strong preseason opener and must continue to make the most of his snaps, both defensively and on special teams.

Ray hasn’t exactly been a nonfactor in the Ravens’ two preseason games — he had a half-sack against the Jacksonville Jaguars last week and another quarterback hurry Thursday — but he’ll need to make a bigger impact to overcome a spotty camp performance.

Ravens defensive lineman Patrick Ricard and linebacker Tim Williams take down Jaguars quarterback Tanner Lee.
Ravens defensive lineman Patrick Ricard and linebacker Tim Williams take down Jaguars quarterback Tanner Lee. (Ulysses Muñoz/Baltimore Sun)
Inside linebacker

In (3): Patrick Onwuasor, Chris Board, Kenny Young

Out (6): Otaro Alaka, E.J. Ejiya, Silas Stewart, Alvin Jones, Nicholas Grigsby, Donald Payne

The Ravens will need a fourth inside linebacker if Board’s concussion, suffered Thursday, is serious enough to limit him through Week 1. Harbaugh said Board told him after the game he was “fine,” but the Ravens know they must be patient and vigilant with head injuries.

Alaka is the obvious stand-in candidate. After getting knocked out of the game briefly, the undrafted free agent from Texas A&M returned to finish with six tackles including two for a loss, both game highs. The performance wasn’t perfect — at one point, Alaka looked like he was running away from a long Packers run — but it made public the strides he’s taken since camp started.

Cornerback

In (7): Marlon Humphrey, Brandon Carr, Jimmy Smith, Anthony Averett, Iman Marshall, Cyrus Jones (punt returner), Justin Bethel

Out (4): Tavon Young (injured), Maurice Canady, Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Terrell Bonds

Tavon Young’s absence will be acutely felt, especially given the ever-rising caliber of slot receivers in the NFL. But the Ravens are solid enough at cornerback to stomach an injury, however unpleasant it is. Jones, Carr and the team’s safeties have coverage experience inside, and while the Ravens “would rather have Tavon than not have him,” Harbaugh said Thursday, “we are blessed at that position with some depth.”

With Young out, Jones has probably moved off the bubble, even with the kick and punt return battles still undecided. The Gilman product started Thursday and has “looked good” at Young’s position, according to Harbaugh. Canady has experience as a nickel back, too, but there’s seemingly some ground to make up.

Young’s injury should also further secure Bethel’s future in Baltimore. While the free-agent signing struggled often in pass coverage in camp, the Ravens clearly value his special teams skill set.

Ravens cornerback Cyrus Jones catches the ball before the preseason game against the Green Bay Packers.
Ravens cornerback Cyrus Jones catches the ball before the preseason game against the Green Bay Packers. (Ulysses Muñoz)
Safety

In (5): Earl Thomas, Tony Jefferson, Anthony Levine Sr., DeShon Elliott, Chuck Clark

Out (2): Bennett Jackson, Brynden Trawick

With two sure-thing starters, two young and capable backups and a versatile hybrid player in Levine, the Ravens are set at safety.

Trawick, another special teams ace, could find his way onto the roster, but he’ll have to prove more valuable than Bethel. Barring injuries, Jackson won’t play this season in Baltimore, but he’s shown enough to earn a roster spot elsewhere.

Specialist

In (3): Justin Tucker (kicker), Sam Koch (punter), Morgan Cox (long snapper)

Out (2): Matthew Orzech (long snapper), Cameron Nizialek (punter-kicker)

The “Wolfpack” will reunite again for its eighth season together. The Ravens might add another kicker to lighten the preseason load on Tucker, but chances are he won’t be another Kaare Vedvik.

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