Predicting the Last 5 In, Last 5 out for Baltimore Ravens' Final 53-Man Roster
You can be sure that the Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome and head coach John Harbaugh will be making the short walk between their adjacent offices plenty of times between now and the end of the preseason. The goal will be to whittle down their current 90-man roster to 53 players who form a good blend of talent, veteran experience, leadership, youthful potential and reliable depth.
The majority of that final roster will be easy to choose. After all, it’s hardly going to take the brain trust a long time to figure out that Joe Flacco is making the 53-man squad.
But Newsome and Harbaugh will have plenty of tough choices to make when it comes to picking those final spots, and it is those difficult decisions that will be dissected here (complete with my own thoughts on how it all shakes out).
We’ll start with the last five players to make the roster in this hypothetical exercise, starting with Justin Forsett (the "safest" of the five) and ending with Albert McClellan (the last player to make the roster). Then we will close with the guys who will just miss the cut (ending with the toughest cut, A.Q. Shipley).
Picking the final roster is like making a giant puzzle. Each roster spot is dependent on the other players who make the team, so the last slide is my way-too-early projection for the final 53-man roster to give you an idea of how the positional distribution affected the last five in and last five out.
5th Last In: Justin Forsett
Justin Forsett is a perfect example of how being one of the last guys in can be more about competition at your position than a measure of your talent or skill.
He has looked excellent in Ravens practices so far, even earning a large chunk of the first-team reps and impressing ESPN.com’s Jamison Hensley:
The running back who drew the most attention was Justin Forsett. The veteran journeyman is extremely small, but extremely fast. He displayed good hands in catching passes out of the backfield and turned upfield in a hurry.
Unfortunately for him, three good running backs are ahead of him on the totem pole (Ray Rice, Bernard Pierce and Lorenzo Taliaferro). That depth puts his roster spot in jeopardy.
With Coach Harbaugh calling the shots, the Ravens have never carried more than three running backs on the roster (although they have kept two fullbacks twice, in 2008 and 2013).
There are, however, a few factors that could make Baltimore deviate from that trend.
The Ravens had no depth at the position last year, and injuries to Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce (plus porous offensive line play) killed the rushing attack.
Rice looks like he’s in good shape, but it is unclear how well he’ll bounce back. Pierce is still recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, and Taliaferro is a rookie.
With Rice’s possible suspension looming, it would make sense for the Ravens to keep some extra depth at the position—especially a back like Forsett who has experience in Gary Kubiak’s offense.
4th Last In: James Hurst
The battle for the backup lineman spots is going to be intense, as evidenced from the multiple linemen who appear in this slideshow.
Coach Harbaugh is certainly going to wait and see how everyone performs in the preseason with the pads on, but ultimately his decisions will come down to how much value he places on experience.
At this juncture, young linemen appear to be key pieces in the O-line rotation. Ricky Wagner is currently slated to be a starter, and Gino Gradkowski (third year), Ryan Jensen (second year) and John Urschel (rookie) would seem to have a leg up on their competition for backup spots because they are recent draft picks who have shown promise (with the exception of Urschel, who hasn’t had the chance yet).
Depending on how many linemen the Ravens carry, there may only be one more spot up for grabs. In this scenario, it will come down to James Hurst, Jah Reid, Will Rackley and A.Q. Shipley.
Consequently, the choice is between youthful upside and the comfort in knowing what you’re going to get from a vet.
Hurst is a very talented tackle who received plenty of interest as an undrafted free agent, so he makes the cut over the rest. But we’ll see a couple of his competitors in the “last out” section, showing you how close it really is.
3rd Last In: Michael Campanaro
For this roster, the Ravens only carry five wide receivers, and Michael Campanaro is lucky No. 5. This is among the hardest choices I had to make within a position, and there’s a good chance Newsome might keep six wideouts instead.
This choice came down to Campanaro versus Deonte Thompson. Thompson’s shortcomings will be covered in more detail later, but the rookie gets the nod because of his unique skill set.
Four WR spots are going to Torrey Smith, Steve Smith Sr., Jacoby Jones and Marlon Brown. That’s a nice and relatively deep rotation of quality pass-catchers, and this depth (combined with depth at tight end) means that receiver No. 5 is unlikely to see the field very much unless there’s an injury.
Thompson is more ready to come in and contribute in a pinch, but Campanaro gives the Ravens a weapon they haven’t had in recent years: a slot receiver in the mold of Wes Welker and Julian Edelman.
That’s not to say that Campanaro is at that level right now (or that he’ll ever be, for that matter), but it makes more sense to keep the player who has a long-term niche on the team as opposed to Thompson, who will need to leapfrog the core four to earn substantial playing time.
2nd Last In: Asa Jackson
Cornerback is arguably the weakest position on the roster in terms of depth. The talent falls off a cliff after the studly duo of Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith, and that’s bad news.
I had Chykie Brown and Dominique Franks making the roster, so it came down to whether keeping a fifth corner was more important than retaining a player with more talent who had the misfortune of playing a more crowded position.
I went with Asa Jackson for four reasons:
- With more teams stretching the field with more receivers, it’s not unusual to see four cornerbacks on the field, so a fifth cornerback is becoming more and more like a necessity instead of a luxury.
- Jackson hasn’t been able to get on the field, but he’s flashed as a playmaker in the secondary. It may be worth it to hold onto him and see how he continues to mature.
- The gap between Brown, Franks and Jackson may not be that wide.
- He has the athleticism to be a versatile special teamer (coverage, gunning and returning).
Last In: Albert McClellan
The Baltimore Ravens boast one of the best special teams units in the league, and this roster decision is the reason why.
Thanks to his extensive special teams background, Coach Harbaugh does not gloss over the third phase of the game and greatly values players who embrace their roles as core special teamers.
Albert McClellan is one of those guys. You may not know him very well because he doesn’t factor into the defensive game plan very much, but he’s one of the players who keeps the coverage units reliable and knows his role.
This last spot could go to another receiver, a third quarterback or another O-lineman, but I’m giving it to McClellan because special teams decides victories more often than you would think.
Now...on to the players who just missed the cut.
5th Last Out: Jah Reid
These ordinal numbers are confusing me, so just know that Jah Reid was the least difficult cut of the five guys mentioned here, and that the player listed as “last out” was the most difficult release on the roster.
This goes back to what was discussed on the James Hurst slide. With so many young linemen on the roster, Coach Harbaugh (or probably O-line coach Juan Castillo) may want some depth with more knowledge and experience.
Jah Reid has that experience and provides the versatility to play both tackle and guard. After all, he was the starting guard as recently as Week 17 of the 2012 season.
Since that point, however, he hasn’t looked that high in the pecking order.
When Kelechi Osemele’s season ended, the Ravens turned to A.Q. Shipley (who is a center by trade) instead of Reid—who had started at the position for the previous season.
When Baltimore brought on a sixth lineman in jumbo packages, it was Ricky Wagner and not Reid who saw the field.
Those choices reveal a lot about Reid’s place on the O-line totem pole, and his injury history combined with his offseason arrest decreases the probability of him getting another chance to prove himself when the Ravens could go with a younger player with more upside.
4th Last Out: Terrence Cody
Terrence Cody never delivered on the grand expectations we had for him when he came out of Alabama. Despite this, the Ravens signed him to a one-year, veteran’s minimum contract this offseason.
That contract doesn’t mean that he’s a lock to make the team, however.
His size (6’4”, 345 pounds) is appealing, but it doesn’t make him a good run defender. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), he has never graded out positively in run defense, and those numbers back up what you see on film.
Despite earning the nickname “Mount Cody” in college, he never consistently showed the ability to stand his ground and eat up blockers. As a result, he underachieved as a run defender and doesn’t bring too much to the table.
It makes more sense to give Brandon Williams and Timmy Jernigan the opportunity to prove themselves in the middle of the D-line, which is why Cody finds himself on the outside looking in.
3rd Last Out: Deonte Thompson
Deonte Thompson could very well beat out Michael Campanaro for a wide receiver spot, or the Ravens could choose to carry six wideouts.
But if I had to pick right now, I’d lean toward Campanaro because of his specialized role as a slot receiver.
Thompson is an intriguing prospect with blazing speed, but he missed a great opportunity last year to cement his place on the roster after Anquan Boldin was traded. With a starting job staring him in the face, Thompson was unable to build on the impressive preseason he put together as an undrafted rookie and fell out of the rotation as a result.
At 25 years old, he’s still young and has room to grow, but it’s legitimate to worry about whether he’ll be able to put it all together, and the unknown (rookies like Campanaro and Jeremy Butler) is more alluring.
With a strong preseason, Thompson could once again vault himself onto the final roster, but Campanaro has the edge right now.
2nd Last Out: Keith Wenning/Tyrod Taylor
I wasn’t sure which quarterback I wanted to pick for my final roster, so I cheated and put them both on here because it conveys the problematic decision awaiting Newsome and Harbaugh.
Joe Flacco’s durability makes spending a roster spot on a third quarterback a costly proposition, but choosing between the two quarterbacks is difficult.
Tyrod Taylor is on the last year of his contract and hasn’t exactly inspired confidence with his on-field performance. It would make sense to move on to another backup quarterback, and rookie Keith Wenning is certainly the long-term hope for that role.
But he is a sixth-round pick. Is he ready for the pressure of being the lone backup? Taylor may have struggled in his limited action, but at least he’s had a couple of years to work with the receivers and learn how to play quarterback in the NFL.
It would be asking a lot of Wenning to lead the Ravens offense if Joe Flacco’s iron-man streak ends.
The backup quarterback battle is going be fascinating to watch as it unfolds, and it’s certain to lead to some tough roster decisions.
Last Out: A.Q. Shipley
Baltimore traded for A.Q. Shipley to challenge for the starting center spot. Shipley eventually lost that battle to Gino Gradkowski, who went on to grade out as the worst center in the league, according to Pro Football Focus.
With Jeremy Zuttah and Ryan Jensen now in the mix, there are plenty of center options on the roster with the versatility to play guard as Shipley did last season.
Shipley’s intelligence makes him the toughest lineman to keep off the roster.
Final Roster: Offense
QB: Joe Flacco, Tyrod Taylor/Keith Wenning
RB: Ray Rice, Bernard Pierce, Lorenzo Taliaferro, Justin Forsett
FB: Kyle Juszczyk
WR: Torrey Smith, Steve Smith Sr., Jacoby Jones, Marlon Brown, Michael Campanaro
TE: Dennis Pitta, Owen Daniels, Crockett Gillmore
OT: Eugene Monroe, Ricky Wagner, James Hurst
OG: Marshal Yanda, Kelechi Osemele, John Urschel
C: Jeremy Zuttah, Gino Gradkowski, Ryan Jensen
Final Roster: Defense and Special Teams
NT: Haloti Ngata, Brandon Williams, Timmy Jernigan
DE: Chris Canty, DeAngelo Tyson, Kapron Lewis-Moore, Brent Urban
ILB: Daryl Smith, C.J. Mosley, Arthur Brown, Josh Bynes, Albert McClellan
OLB: Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, Courtney Upshaw, Pernell McPhee, John Simon
CB: Lardarius Webb, Jimmy Smith, Dominique Franks, Chykie Brown, Asa Jackson
S: Matt Elam, Darian Stewart, Terrence Brooks, Jeromy Miles
K: Justin Tucker
P: Sam Koch
LS: Morgan Cox