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Projecting the Ravens 53-man roster as full practices begin: Who makes the cut?

Ravens head coach John Harbaugh talks about adjusting to new NFL rules that are changing daily.

The Ravens will go into their first full practices of 2020 with enviable talent and depth at most positions. Fans in almost every other NFL city would kill for a roster on which the third tight end is a leading source of intrigue. That’s a first-world football problem.

But that doesn’t mean John Harbaugh and his staff face an easy task as they prepare to name starters and fill out the last few spots on the team’s 53-man roster. They have less than three weeks to make those decisions without any preseason games to serve as auditions for draft picks and undrafted free agents. Practices will be harder hitting and carry more weight than they would in a typical year.

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With that in mind, here’s a look at how the Ravens might trim their roster from 80 to 53 by the first weekend in September:

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

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On his latest Zoom call with reporters, Harbaugh said the Ravens will likely carry three quarterbacks again in 2020. They did it last year because they weren’t sure they could sneak McSorley through waivers. This year, most teams will probably carry an extra quarterback because of health concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Jackson and Griffin are locked into the top two spots. The big question is whether McSorley will fend off a challenge from undrafted free agent Tyler Huntley, who made first-team All-Pac-12 as a senior at Utah and brings similar run-pass versatility to an offense that prizes such skill.

The condensed practice window will give McSorley an edge, because the former Penn State star spent all of last year learning Greg Roman’s offense and building chemistry with teammates.

Running back (4): Mark Ingram II, Gus Edwards, J.K. Dobbins, Justice Hill

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The intrigue here centers not on roster battles but on how Harbaugh and Roman will apportion carries among four talented players. Ingram remains the best all-around back and likely starter. Edwards has proven he’ll produce as a power-running alternative. Dobbins projects as a future starter after the Ravens used a second-round pick on him. Hill is too fast and versatile to be left rusting on the bench. As Harbaugh and Roman have said repeatedly, it’s an appealing dilemma for the most productive running offense in NFL history. It’s possible the Ravens could trade from strength as we saw them do with their tight-end group in the offseason. But for now, they’ll move forward with their much-discussed surplus.

Recent addition Kenjon Barner could become a factor if rookie James Proche can’t lock down the punt-returner job, but even if he makes the team, Barner probably wouldn’t see much, if any, work in the backfield.

Tight end/fullback (4): Mark Andrews, Nick Boyle, Patrick Ricard, Charles Scarff

Andrews, Boyle and Ricard will reprise their featured roles from 2019. But with Hayden Hurst now in Atlanta, it will be fascinating to see whether the Ravens lean on multiple-tight-end sets as heavily as they did last season. They don’t have an obvious candidate to soak up Hurst’s snaps and targets.

Undrafted free agent Jacob Breeland was regarded as a serious candidate to make the roster, but he’s on the reserve/non-football injury list as he continues to recover from a torn ACL suffered last fall. Fellow undrafted rookie Eli Wolf brings an intriguing size/speed combination but might not have enough time to master Roman’s offense. The Ravens signed veteran Jerell Adams to compete for the third spot, but he’s caught just 24 passes in three NFL seasons. Which leaves the 6-foot-5, 249-pound Scarff as the best all-around option for now. He learned the offense as a member of the team’s practice squad last season, and he’s competent as both a pass catcher and blocker.

That said, this might be the position where the Ravens are most likely to look for outside help as the Sept. 13 season opener nears.

Wide receiver (6): Marquise Brown, Willie Snead IV, Miles Boykin, Devin Duvernay, James Proche, Chris Moore

The top four receivers seem locked in with Duvernay expected to add a sure-handed vertical threat out of the slot. Fellow rookie Proche could also contribute as a receiver given his excellent hands, but his quickest path to playing time might be as the team’s punt returner. Special teams coordinator Chris Horton said the former SMU star can also handle kickoffs.

Moore hasn’t achieved his desired breakout as a receiver, but the Ravens nonetheless brought him back in the offseason because of his special-teams excellence. We know how much Harbaugh prizes that overlooked phase of the game, so Moore will have a leg up on Jaleel Scott, who won a roster spot last season but never pushed his way into the receiver rotation. Antoine Wesley, who spent last season on the team’s practice squad, would have to perform spectacularly over the next two weeks to enter the conversation.

Offensive line (9): Ronnie Stanley, Orlando Brown Jr., Bradley Bozeman, Matt Skura, D.J. Fluker, Patrick Mekari, Ben Powers, Ben Bredeson, Tyre Phillips

Again, there are fewer questions about the make-up of this group than about how they’ll be used. Roster competition diminished when veteran tackle Andre Smith opted out of the season because of COVID-19 concerns. But Smith’s decision left greater uncertainty about which lineman will fill James Hurst’s shoes as the first back-up to Brown and Stanley. Is Phillips ready for that responsibility as a rookie or might it fall to Fluker, who’s a leading candidate to start at guard?

With Skura seemingly on track to play after his rapid recovery from a terrible knee injury, the greatest competition will center on the guard spot vacated by perennial Pro Bowl selection Marshal Yanda. That job could go to the mammoth Fluker or Powers, who held his own in limited time last year. But we can’t count out the polished rookie, Bredeson, or Mekari, who filled in admirably at center last year. If you’re looking for a dark horse, the Ravens like undrafted free agent Trystan Colon-Castillo, who started at center for three seasons at Missouri.

Defensive line (5): Brandon Williams, Calais Campbell, Derek Wolfe, Justin Madubuike, Broderick Washington

The loser in this numbers game is veteran Justin Ellis, who’d be the most natural back-up to Williams at nose tackle. The Ravens re-signed Ellis after he helped cover for an injured Michael Pierce last season. And they probably need some support for Williams, who isn’t an every-snap player. Do they believe the powerful Washington is ready to cover that role, with help from Campbell and Wolfe, both of whom can slide inside? Given the team’s past preferences for defensive-line depth, no one should be surprised if Ellis ends up in the final 53. It’s just not easy to find a spot for him given the needs at other positions.

Outside linebacker (5): Matthew Judon, Jaylon Ferguson, Tyus Bowser, Pernell McPhee, Jihad Ward

Despite the considerable anxiety over this group’s unremarkable production, there isn’t much intrigue here. The Ravens hope Ferguson will take a significant step forward in his second season, and the veteran McPhee showed he can still help in 2019, though he broke down under a full-time workload. Ward is important to the team’s overall make-up because he can slide inside. The Ravens would love a young pass rusher such as Aaron Adeoye or undrafted rookie Chauncey Rivers to step forward, but that seems unlikely in a constricted practice window.

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Inside linebacker (4): Patrick Queen, Malik Harrison, L.J. Fort, Chris Board

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Queen and Harrison are expected to play a lot despite their inexperience. Fort is close to a lock because of his experience, versatility and special-teams contributions. Board and Otaro Alaka are both solid candidates to make the final 53, but the Ravens haven’t kept more than four inside linebackers since 2015, so the odds are against both sticking. Coaches might see more upside in the 6-foot-3, 239-pound Alaka, who’s built to offer stout resistance against the run. But history has taught us to look to special teams when judging such battles, and Board is an essential player there. He gets the slight nod.

Cornerback (5): Marlon Humphrey, Marcus Peters, Tavon Young, Jimmy Smith, Anthony Averett

We know how much the Ravens prize secondary depth given their past injury woes at these positions. But they’re so loaded in the defensive backfield that they might have to make a difficult decision between Averett and Iman Marshall, a fourth-round pick in 2019. In an ideal world, they’d probably like to keep both players and forego a third quarterback, but the pandemic will make such luxuries less feasible. If Averett and Marshall are pitted for one spot, the nod goes to Averett, who’s faster and more battle-tested.

Safety (5): Earl Thomas III, Chuck Clark, DeShon Elliott, Anthony Levine Sr., Geno Stone

Thomas and Clark will play almost every snap if they’re healthy. Injuries have kept Elliott off the field, but his athletic tools and aggressive style still make him intriguing. Levine remains an essential special-teams performer, and his versatility allows the Ravens to feel more comfortable keeping just four inside linebackers. Stone was an excellent value pick who could become the team’s next special-teams star. The odd man out here is an older special-teams stalwart, Jordan Richards.

Specialists (3): Justin Tucker, Sam Koch, Morgan Cox

The “Wolfpack” howls on.

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