The Ravens won’t have to trim their roster to 53 players until the end of the preseason, but the conclusion of mandatory minicamp offered a better idea of what the coaching staff has to work with in the 2021 season.
This exercise will carry more meaning as we move into the meat of the preseason in August, so my early look at the roster is still based more on track record, contract status, draft standing, and positional need than snapshot observations from a handful of non-contact workouts this spring. For now, I estimate at least 44 players to be safely on the roster, leaving nine spots to fill. We’ll get a much better idea of where players stand starting with the rep distribution in training camp. Not all bubble players are on equal footing, of course, with certain position groups lacking established depth and others enjoying so much talent that the numbers game will likely victimize a few players otherwise deserving of a spot.
Though general manager Eric DeCosta, head coach John Harbaugh, and the rest of the staff and front office are cognizant of the numbers at each position, trying to arbitrarily pinpoint a certain number of tight ends or inside linebackers isn’t the most accurate way of projecting a roster. The Ravens prefer reserves who will excel on special teams, so they’ll look carefully at players’ other attributes in addition to what they bring to their individual position groups when filling out the back of the roster. There’s also the matter of what the rules and limits for the practice squad will be for the 2021 season, something yet to be determined that will surely impact roster decisions.
The numbers in parentheses indicate how many players are currently on the roster at that position. As we move into training camp and the preseason schedule, I’ll provide updated looks complete with 53-man roster projections of who’s in and who’s out.
IN: Lamar Jackson
BUBBLE: Tyler Huntley, Trace McSorley
LONG SHOT: none
Skinny: The Ravens have entered the season carrying three quarterbacks for three straight years, so the No. 2 quarterback battle may prove inconsequential to the roster picture, which would also mean an additional spot evaporating for bubble players. McSorley’s seniority has kept him second in the pecking order during practices, but there’s much to like about Huntley’s skill set.
RUNNING BACKS & FULLBACKS (6)
IN: J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards, Patrick Ricard, Justice Hill
LONG SHOT: Ty’Son Williams, Nate McCrary
Skinny: Unless Williams or McCrary really stand out when the pads come on, Hill has a clear path to the No. 3 tailback job after the Ravens didn’t use any draft capital at the position. However, last year illustrated the need to limit the game-day rotation of backs to just Dobbins and Edwards with Jackson carrying the ball so often himself.
WIDE RECEIVERS (11)
IN: Marquise Brown, Rashod Bateman, Sammy Watkins, Devin Duvernay, Tylan Wallace
BUBBLE: Miles Boykin, James Proche
LONG SHOT: Jaylon Moore, Binjimen Victor, Deon Cain, Devin Gray
Skinny: By drafting Bateman and Wallace and signing Watkins, the Ravens showed their commitment to improving a mediocre passing game from a year ago, but you wonder how many receivers a run-heavy offense can really afford to carry. Boykin and Proche appear to be the most vulnerable of the selections made over the last three drafts.
TIGHT ENDS (8)
IN: Mark Andrews, Nick Boyle
BUBBLE: Ben Mason, Josh Oliver, Eli Wolf, Eric Tomlinson
LONG SHOT: Jake Breeland, Tony Poljan
Skinny: Baltimore has plenty of inventory to evaluate with the athletic Oliver being the most intriguing if he can stay healthy and show some blocking ability. Fifth-round picks are rarely in roster danger as rookies, but Mason feels like a tough fit from a numbers standpoint as a backup fullback and blocking tight end who’s shown limited receiving ability.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (16)
IN: Ronnie Stanley, Bradley Bozeman, Kevin Zeitler, Alejandro Villanueva, Ben Cleveland, Patrick Mekari, Tyre Phillips
BUBBLE: Ben Powers, Trystan Colon, Ben Bredeson, Michael Schofield, Andre Smith
LONG SHOT: Greg Mancz, Adrian Ealy, Foster Sarell
INJURED: Ja’Wuan James
Skinny: The offseason emphasis on adding veteran linemen probably doesn’t speak well for the confidence level in recent mid-round picks like Powers and Bredeson, but the Ravens don’t want to be in the position they were last year relying on so many inexperienced options after losing Marshal Yanda to retirement and Stanley to a season-ending ankle injury. Versatile options like Mekari and Phillips have a clear upper hand on others fighting for reserve spots while experienced veterans like Schofield and Smith will try to prove they still have something left to offer.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (8)
IN: Calais Campbell, Brandon Williams, Derek Wolfe, Justin Madubuike
BUBBLE: Justin Ellis, Broderick Washington, Aaron Crawford
LONG SHOT: Jovan Swann
Skinny: It’s no secret this group needs to get younger with Campbell and Williams well over 30 and unsigned beyond 2021, so this summer will be a good opportunity for Washington and Crawford — a 2020 member of the practice squad — to prove they belong on this year’s roster and can become useful rotational pieces for the future.
INSIDE LINEBACKERS (7)
IN: Patrick Queen, Malik Harrison, Chris Board, L.J. Fort
BUBBLE: Otaro Alaka, Kristian Welch
LONG SHOT: Barrington Wade
Skinny: The top four all figure to have game-day roles, but how that looks in various packages remains to be seen with the Ravens clearly hoping for growth from Queen and Harrison in their second season. Injuries have limited Alaka to just five career games, but the 2019 free agent has flashed potential over each of the last two summers.
OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (7)
IN: Tyus Bowser, Odafe Oweh, Pernell McPhee, Jaylon Ferguson, Daelin Hayes
LONG SHOT: Aaron Adeoye, Chauncey Rivers
Skinny: This still appears to be the position most likely to see a veteran addition, but the fifth-round rookie Hayes had a rock-solid spring to make you believe he is comfortably in the rotation mix for the time being. If the Ravens are to carry more than five edge defenders, it’s more likely to be a veteran outside signing than Adeoye or Rivers.
IN: Marlon Humphrey, Marcus Peters, Jimmy Smith, Tavon Young, Anthony Averett, Shaun Wade
BUBBLE: Khalil Dorsey, Davontae Harris
LONG SHOT: Chris Westry, Iman Marshall
Skinny: There isn’t a deeper position group on the team, but health must remain a consideration with Young, Smith, and Averett no strangers to injuries over the years. Wade would appear to be comfortably on the roster as the first of three fifth-round draft selections made, but Dorsey improved his stock as much as any young player this spring.
IN: Chuck Clark, DeShon Elliott, Brandon Stephens
BUBBLE: Anthony Levine, Jordan Richards, Geno Stone
LONG SHOT: Nigel Warrior, Ar’Darius Washington
Skinny: The special-teams contributions of Levine and Richards are very much valued, but you have to weigh whether they provide enough positional depth at this stage, especially if you’d prefer to keep additional young cornerbacks and safeties in the organization. Stephens, a third-round rookie, offers developing depth at both corner and safety.
IN: Justin Tucker, Sam Koch, Nick Moore
LONG SHOT: Johnny Townsend, Jake Verity
Skinny: The Ravens saw enough in Moore last year to part ways with longtime veteran Morgan Cox this offseason, but Harbaugh and special teams coordinator Chris Horton will be keeping a close eye on their new long snapper for any signs of trouble.