Having completed their fourth straight perfect preseason with a 90-man roster, the Ravens must now begin an even more difficult task: Build the 53-man roster most capable of defending the team’s AFC North title.
Some decisions will be easier than others. A trade helped clarify one position’s outlook. An injury has perhaps muddled another. But with Saturday’s 4 p.m. deadline for cuts fast approaching, here’s how Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta and coach John Harbaugh could configure the team’s season-opening roster.
In (3): Lamar Jackson, Robert Griffin III, Trace McSorley
Out (1): Joe Callahan
According to Harbaugh, McSorley had already “earned the right” to be in the Ravens’ plans before Thursday’s game. His solid showing against the Washington Redskins made him even more unlikely to clear waivers. If the Ravens think he’s their backup quarterback of the future, it’ll be hard to cut him. If the Ravens think he can emerge into a special teams weapon with more in-season specialization, it’ll be even harder to cut him.
In (3): Mark Ingram II, Gus Edwards, Justice Hill
Out (3): Kenneth Dixon, Tyler Ervin, De’Lance Turner
Dixon made a strong case for a season-opening roster spot Thursday, rushing 13 times for 66 yards (5.1 yards per carry) and showing good burst and wiggle. But the Ravens probably won’t be as receptive as other teams. Ingram, Edwards and Hill complement one another well, and Dixon is a nonfactor on special teams. His injury history is concerning, too
Ervin almost had the game’s biggest play — a potentially roster-changing play — but he couldn’t break free on a first-quarter kickoff return. He finished with two carries and one catch, as well as two unspectacular punt returns. At this point, freeing up a roster spot by keeping Cyrus Jones (Gilman) at punt returner is the more likely move.
Turner had 18 carries for 62 yards, including a long of 22, and caught all four targets for 32 yards. It’s the kind of workmanlike effort that should make the second-year back a top contender for the Ravens’ practice squad.
In (1): Patrick Ricard
Out (1): Christopher Ezeala
With the amount of plays Ricard made at defensive tackle this preseason, maybe it’s time to start referring to him as a defensive lineman first. Make no mistake, though: He’ll play an important role in the Ravens offense this season, a “medieval,” drop-the-hammer run blocker who can also convert in short-yardage situations.
In (6): Miles Boykin, Willie Snead IV, Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, Chris Moore, Seth Roberts, Jaleel Scott
Out (5): Michael Floyd, Antoine Wesley, Jaylen Smith, Sean Modster, Joe Horn Jr.
Assuming Roberts was healthy enough to play Thursday, his absence should be treated like that of any expected Ravens contributor. The free-agent signing showed he belonged in the receiving corps early in training camp before suffering an undisclosed injury, and his return to practice Saturday was a good sign he’ll be ready to go come Week 1.
After his strong game Thursday, Scott finished the preseason leading the Ravens in receptions (11), receiving yards (146) and touchdown catches (two). He also contributed on special teams, working as a gunner when needed. Given Scott’s remarkable progress since last summer, when quarterbacks rarely bothered to even look his way, it’s hard to imagine the Ravens not bringing him into the fold.
Floyd’s no-go Thursday was a surprise. Unlike Roberts, he probably entered the game on the wrong side of the roster bubble. Wesley struggled in his final two preseason games, but he could be a practice squad candidate. Modster, a slot receiver, had four targets and four catches for 28 yards Thursday, bolstering his chances of making the practice squad.
In (3): Nick Boyle, Mark Andrews, Hayden Hurst
Out (2): Charles Scarff, Cole Herdman
In case it wasn’t obvious that the Ravens will depend on their tight ends a lot this season, the decision to have only Scarff and Herdman active Thursday should’ve made it clear. Scarff, a Delaware product, seems to be the favorite to stick around on the practice squad, though Herdman has acquitted himself well, too.
In (8): Ronnie Stanley, Ben Powers, Matt Skura, Marshal Yanda, Orlando Brown Jr., James Hurst, Bradley Bozeman, Patrick Mekari
Out (7): Greg Senat, R.J. Prince, Marcus Applefield, Isaiah Williams, Patrick Vahe, Darrell Williams, Randin Crecelius
The Ravens’ trade of Jermaine Eluemunor made the roster math here a lot easier. If the team could have kept only eight linemen, Eluemunor among them, Mekari seemed like the odd man out. But his across-the-line versatility is impressive, even if he still has much to improve upon. With his ability to play guard, center and even tackle, as he did Thursday, the California graduate is the favorite to keep alive the Ravens’ 15-year streak of having an undrafted free agent on their season-opening roster.
Senat was a potential beneficiary of Eluemunor’s exit, but penalties marred his start Thursday. He opened the preseason with a holding penalty that negated a touchdown pass against the Jacksonville Jaguars. After missing the past two games because of injury, Senat was flagged twice more in Thursday’s finale. Another two holding penalties wiped out a combined 31 yards of offense. The development of the former Wagner basketball player was always going to take time, and it’ll likely have to happen on a practice squad this season.
In (5): Brandon Williams, Michael Pierce, Chris Wormley, Willie Henry Jr., Daylon Mack
Out (2): Zach Sieler, Gerald Willis
With Ricard’s emergence as a legitimate two-way player, the Ravens don’t need more than five linemen here. Sieler is said to have great strength, but he struggled to make an impact after the first week or so of camp. In the pass-happy NFL, defenses like the Ravens’ have come to rely less on lineups with three down linemen. They can probably get away with having just one five-technique end in Wormley.
At tackle, Willis had one nice run stop in the fourth quarter Thursday, but the touted undrafted free agent ended August with a mostly anonymous three-week stretch. Willis’ impressive production at Miami last year might be enough to tempt a team into signing him, but the Ravens would no doubt prefer to keep him in Baltimore.
In (5): Matthew Judon, Pernell McPhee, Tyus Bowser, Tim Williams, Jaylon Ferguson
Out (2): Shane Ray, Aaron Adeoye
What was expected to be a down-to-the-wire competition ended up being something of a runaway. McPhee is expected to start opposite Judon. Ferguson needs time to develop, and as a third-round draft pick, he’ll get it.
Williams and Bowser had all but locked up roster spots entering Thursday’s game, and little changed after kickoff. The bulk of Ray’s playing time came in the second half, and the former first-round pick’s impact on the game was minimal.
In (3): Patrick Onwuasor, Chris Board, Kenny Young
Out (5): Otaro Alaka, Alvin Jones, Donald Payne, E.J. Ejiya, Silas Stewart
Despite limping off the field in the second half Thursday and missing a few snaps, Alaka tied for the team high with five tackles. The undrafted free agent told reporters afterward that he’s been battling an ankle injury for the past few weeks.
That might’ve helped his roster chances: A healthy Alaka would be more productive, of course. But the nagging injury might’ve also hurt his odds. Given his recent health and lack of pedigree, the Ravens can probably feel confident he’ll clear waivers and end up on their practice squad.
In (7): Marlon Humphrey, Jimmy Smith, Brandon Carr, Anthony Averett, Cyrus Jones, Justin Bethel, Maurice Canady
Out (2): Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Terrell Bonds
Injured reserve (2): Tavon Young, Iman Marshall
Given the uncertainty over Young’s neck injury, this is the most volatile of the Ravens’ positions. If the Ravens believe their slot cornerback will be available at some point this season, they must keep him on their season-opening roster. For an injured-reserve player to be designated to return, they first have to make the 53-man squad. Young can’t just be stashed away.
Bethel’s value as a special teams standout has been apparent throughout the preseason, and the Ravens signed him to a two-year deal for a reason. With Marshall likely sidelined for the season, Canady could be back on the right side of the roster bubble. He’s behind Jones at slot cornerback, but he has experience and versatility.
In (6): Earl Thomas III, Tony Jefferson, Anthony Levine Sr., Chuck Clark, DeShon Elliott, Brynden Trawick
Out (2): Bennett Jackson, Fish Smithson
Trawick has been largely overlooked since the Ravens re-signed him in early August, but his five tackles Thursday tied Alaka for the most on the team. He also added an interception and a tackle for loss and continued to rack up snaps on special teams, where his play earned him a Pro Bowl appearance two years ago. Because Trawick’s a vested veteran, if he’s released, he doesn’t have to go through waivers until after Week 8, an important wrinkle in the Ravens’ potential roster flexibility.
Jackson should find a home on an NFL roster this season. Smithson, an East Baltimore native and recent signing, left Thursday’s game in the second half with an apparent injury.
In (3): Justin Tucker (kicker), Sam Koch (punter), Morgan Cox (long snapper)
Out (3): Elliott Fry (kicker), Cameron Nizialek (punter), Matthew Orzech (long snapper)
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The Ravens need as much time to decide who’s starting here as they do at quarterback. Until Tucker, Koch or Cox gives DeCosta a reason to look elsewhere, the Ravens’ “Wolfpack” will reign.