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Sizing up the 2023 Ravens roster following conclusion of open training camp

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The Ravens must trim their roster to 53 players by Tuesday afternoon, so many decisions will be made even before Saturday night’s preseason finale at Tampa Bay.

In addition to what we’ve seen throughout training camp and the preseason, the current 53-man roster projection weighs track record, contract status, draft standing, and positional need. For now, I estimate 48 players to be comfortably on the roster, leaving five spots to fill. However, the status of injured players complicates matters as anyone wanting to remain eligible for a designation to return from injured reserve must be on the initial 53-man roster before going on IR. This has led to Baltimore making the occasional handshake agreement to open a spot by releasing a vested veteran not subject to waivers and re-signing that individual after the roster-maneuvering dust settles. Players remaining on the physically unable to perform list or non-football injury list through final cuts do not count against the 53-man limit, but they’re required to miss the first four games of the regular season. 

Not all bubble players are on equal footing, of course, with certain position groups lacking depth and others enjoying so much talent that the numbers game will likely victimize a player or two deserving of a roster 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 wide receivers or outside linebackers isn’t the most realistic way of projecting a roster. The Ravens typically favor reserves who will contribute on special teams, so they’ll look carefully at other attributes in addition to what players bring to their respective positions when formulating the back of the roster.

The number in parentheses indicates how many players from each position group are projected to be on the initial 53-man roster on Tuesday.

QUARTERBACKS (2)
IN: Lamar Jackson, Tyler Huntley
WRONG SIDE OF THE BUBBLE: Josh Johnson
LONG SHOT: Anthony Brown
Skinny: In terms of what we’ve seen on the practice field, Huntley has been the superior quarterback to Johnson since the start of training camp, but the coaching staff continues to be complimentary of the latter and hasn’t dismissed his chances of winning the No. 2 job with Johnson turning in a strong performance against Washington. I’m still leaning toward the backup with more athletic upside, but the potential tiebreaker that shouldn’t be overlooked is Huntley’s $2.627 million salary compared to the $1.165 million Johnson is scheduled to earn.

RUNNING BACKS (4)
IN: J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards, Justice Hill, Keaton Mitchell
WRONG SIDE OF THE BUBBLE: Melvin Gordon
LONG SHOT: Owen Wright
Skinny: The undrafted rookie Mitchell has flashed more than enough speed and ability to warrant retaining him for immediate special-teams contributions and long-term upside as Dobbins and Edwards enter contract years. The 30-year-old Gordon has had a perfectly fine summer, but running backs with his attributes at this point of his career are readily available if a need arises at some point later this season.

WIDE RECEIVERS (6)
IN: Odell Beckham Jr., Rashod Bateman, Zay Flowers, Nelson Agholor, Devin Duvernay, Tylan Wallace
WRONG SIDE OF THE BUBBLE: James Proche, Laquon Treadwell
LONG SHOT: Sean Ryan, Tarik Black, Dontay Demus, Shemar Bridges
Skinny: Perhaps the Ravens keeping a sixth wide receiver isn’t a lock, but Wallace has separated from the rest of the roster hopefuls with a good summer and strong special-teams ability to go with an additional year remaining on his rookie contract. While Proche would benefit from a fresh start elsewhere after a difficult summer, Ryan and Black have flashed enough to warrant spots on the practice squad.

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TIGHT ENDS & FULLBACKS (4)
IN: Mark Andrews, Isaiah Likely, Charlie Kolar, Patrick Ricard
WRONG SIDE OF THE BUBBLE: Travis Vokolek
LONG SHOT: Ben Mason
Skinny: Even if Ricard isn’t going to be nearly as involved in Todd Monken’s offense, the four-time Pro Bowl fullback is still way too good at what he does to not find ways to use him. After a big performance against Washington, Vokolek is looking the part of a legitimate NFL tight end, but this offense is already going to be challenged enough to find ways to involve Likely and Kolar in the passing game.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)
IN: Ronnie Stanley, John Simpson, Tyler Linderbaum, Kevin Zeitler, Morgan Moses, Patrick Mekari, Daniel Faalele, Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu, Sam Mustipher
WRONG SIDE OF THE BUBBLE: Ben Cleveland
LONG SHOT: David Sharpe, Tashawn Manning, TyKeem Doss, Jake Guidone, Jaylon Thomas
NON-FOOTBALL INJURY LIST: Andrew Vorhees
Skinny: Simpson appears to have won the left guard job over the rookie Aumavae-Laulu to start the season, so the intrigue in this group could come down to what to do with Cleveland and Mustipher. Frustrating as he might be as a 2021 third-round pick who hasn’t blossomed, Cleveland is still a talented player on which the Ravens may not want to give up just yet. Mustipher is in line to be the primary backup center, but the versatile Mekari has played there extensively in the past, which could be a short-term backup solution for Linderbaum if Baltimore prefers keeping Cleveland. Finding the room to keep 10 offensive linemen wouldn’t be remotely surprising either.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (4)
IN: Michael Pierce, Justin Madubuike, Broderick Washington, Travis Jones
WRONG SIDE OF THE BUBBLE: *Brent Urban, Angelo Blackson
LONG SHOT: Rayshad Nichols, Kaieem Caesar, Trey Botts
Skinny: The bet here is Urban having a handshake agreement to re-sign with the Ravens a day or two after final cuts for a second straight summer, which would allow DeCosta the flexibility to leave second-year cornerback Damarion Williams on the 53-man roster before placing him on injured reserve and keeping him eligible to return from ankle surgery later this fall. Blackson, 30, has had a solid preseason, but carrying more than five defensive linemen feels like a luxury when the nickel package is Baltimore’s true base defense at this point.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (5)
IN: Roquan Smith, Patrick Queen, Trenton Simpson, Malik Harrison, Del’Shawn Phillips
WRONG SIDE OF THE BUBBLE: Josh Ross, Kristian Welch
LONG SHOT: none
Skinny: The Ravens love keeping reserve inside linebackers for special-teams purposes, but the new kickoff rule tamps down some of the value for those players. There’s also the option of using elevations from the practice squad to help in that department as you’d expect at least one of Ross and Welch to clear waivers.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (4)
IN: Odafe Oweh, David Ojabo, Jadeveon Clowney, Tavius Robinson
WRONG SIDE OF THE BUBBLE: Jeremiah Moon, Malik Hamm
LONG SHOT: Kelle Sanders
NON-FOOTBALL INJURY LIST: Tyus Bowser
Skinny: Harbaugh said early last week that it “hasn’t come to that point” of being concerned about Bowser’s “agitated” knee not being ready for Week 1, but he still isn’t practicing and appeared to still be walking with a slight limp during pregame warmups at Washington this past Monday. Considering how meticulous Bowser was about rehabbing from his torn Achilles tendon and ramping up in practice before deeming himself ready to return to game action last November, you have to wonder if the Ravens are bracing to be without their starting Sam linebacker for the first four games, a plan that would likely include shifting Harrison outside as we saw over the first half of last season.

CORNERBACKS (8)
IN: Marlon Humphrey, Rock Ya-Sin, Ronald Darby, Brandon Stephens, Kevon Seymour, Jalyn Armour-Davis, Kyu Kelly, *Damarion Williams
WRONG SIDE OF THE BUBBLE: Arthur Maulet
LONG SHOT: Tae Hayes, Corey Mayfield Jr.
Skinny: The return of Ya-Sin, Armour-Davis, and Maulet to practice on Wednesday was encouraging, but this position group is messy less than a week before final cuts, especially with Humphrey expected to miss the early weeks of the season after undergoing foot surgery. Every player in this group carries some level of concern regarding health, ability, or experience level, which will likely lead DeCosta to want to retain as many options as he can. Williams is likely to go on IR after the initial cut to 53 players, but the Ravens can’t afford to be too patient with other young options like the oft-injured Armour-Davis and the fifth-round rookie Kelly if health concerns persist. Baltimore had designs of Maulet competing for the primary nickel job this summer, but he missed a few weeks with a hamstring injury and Ar’Darius Washington’s excellent preseason may have pushed the 30-year-old to the wrong side of the bubble.

SAFETIES (4)
IN: Marcus Williams, Kyle Hamilton, Geno Stone, Ar’Darius Washington
WRONG SIDE OF THE BUBBLE: Daryl Worley, DeAndre Houston-Carson
LONG SHOT: Jeremy Lucien
Skinny: Washington is primarily a slot corner, but he and Stephens can provide additional depth at safety behind Stone, who is the top backup. Finding a roster spot for Worley or Houston-Carson would be very difficult, but these veterans figure to be priority targets for the practice squad with a solid chance to become part of the game-day plans and 53-man roster at some point during the season.

SPECIALISTS (3)
IN: Justin Tucker, Jordan Stout, Tyler Ott
WRONG SIDE OF THE BUBBLE: none
LONG SHOT: none
NON-FOOTBALL INJURY LIST: Nick Moore
Skinny: There’s nothing to see here other than hoping the specialists get through the final preseason game without injury.

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