Projected Baltimore Ravens' Final 53-Man Roster, Pre-Training Camp Edition
The two biggest components that factor into the personnel choices for the Baltimore Ravens are performances in training camp and the preseason. OTAs and minicamp are a good chance to form some preliminary opinions on the state of the team, but it’s difficult (and relatively meaningless) to use noncontact practices as a frame of reference for a game rooted in physicality.
Roster spots will be won and lost in training camp, which begins July 23, and this is an initial look at how the roster stacks up before camp begins.
Every position and player will be discussed in detail, complete with a slide discussing the players who just missed the cut, and a snapshot of the final roster to give you an idea of how the team looks as a whole.
Starter: Joe Flacco
Backup: Keith Wenning
We get a fierce position battle and a difficult cut right off the bat with the quarterbacks. One of the more intriguing dilemmas facing general manager Ozzie Newsome and head coach John Harbaugh this offseason is whether to carry two or three quarterbacks.
Joe Flacco’s impressive durability means that the Ravens have the luxury of rolling the dice with only one backup QB—which is what they’ve done for the past four seasons.
But the addition of sixth-round pick Keith Wenning changes the game a little.
With Tyrod Taylor’s expiring contract and unsatisfactory performance, Wenning is clearly the long-term answer as the backup quarterback. So, will the Ravens:
- Opt to keep only one totally inexperienced backup (Wenning)?
- Keep the more proven backup (Taylor) and risk losing Wenning by stashing him on the practice squad?
- Play it safe, keep both QBs and take away a roster spot that could go to another position with a greater chance of actually seeing the field or contributing on special teams?
If I had to pick one* I’d lean toward the player with more upside and longer future in Baltimore. Taylor has more experience, but the new offense reduces that advantage by a good margin, and his on-field performance has done nothing to suggest that he’s a significantly better option than Wenning.
*There is actually a secret door No. 4: Baltimore places Wenning on injured reserve for the season and keeps Taylor on the roster. Don’t be surprised to see Wenning magically pick up an injury that allows the Ravens to realize their ideal scenario.
Starter: Ray Rice
Starting Fullback: Kyle Juszczyk
Primary Backup: Bernard Pierce
Short-Yardage/Goal-Line Back: Lorenzo Taliaferro
All-Purpose/Third-Down Backup: Justin Forsett
Newsome made two upgrades to the running back position, but an improved rushing performance in 2014 starts with Ray Rice. According to Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun, Rice has looked more explosive and elusive thus far, but we’ll see how well he breaks through contact in camp.
There is also the unanswered question of how many games Rice will miss due to suspension after violating the NFL's personal conduct policy. The length of his suspension could affect this positional depth chart significantly—namely by scratching Justin Forsett’s name off it.
If Rice were to play the full season, Baltimore’s history under Coach Harbaugh suggests it would be unlikely that it carries four running backs (especially with both backups being fresh, young and talented).
But a prolonged suspension (i.e. four games or more) would mean that Forsett’s presence as added depth (and to fulfill Rice’s role as the shifty third-down pass-catcher out of the backfield) would be necessary—at least for however many games Rice misses.
With uncertainty shrouding the position, four backs seems like the safer bet, but that could change if Rice only misses two games or less.
Primary: Torrey Smith
Starter: Steve Smith Sr.
Part-Timer: Marlon Brown
Part-Timer: Jacoby Jones
Backup: Michael Campanaro
The first four wide receivers are locks, and all four will be significant cogs in offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak’s renovated passing attack.
It will be intriguing to see the battle for the No. 3 spot play out during training camp, but both Jacoby Jones and Marlon Brown figure to see plenty of playing time because of their effectiveness and their specific roles (Jones as the deep threat, Brown as the red-zone threat).
After the “core four,” however, the wide receiver picture gets a little murky. History has shown us that the Ravens place a great value on their draft picks, and it takes a lot (either a very disappointing performance or sustained excellence by a competitor) to prevent a draft pick from making the final roster in his rookie year.
That’s part of the reason for Michael Campanaro’s presence on the roster. He hasn’t repeatedly whiffed on opportunities to seize the moment in the past (like Deonte Thompson and LaQuan Williams), and he has more upside than Jeremy Butler.
But the other reason I see him making the roster is because of his very specific role as a slot receiver. If Butler and Campanaro impressed the coaching staff to the same degree, Campanaro still has a better shot of getting onto the field because he can do something that nobody else (other than Steve Smith Sr. to some extent) can do: work the slot and pick up yards after the catch.
Starter: Dennis Pitta
Secondary: Owen Daniels
Backup/Blocker: Crockett Gillmore
There are five tight ends currently on the roster, but the three tight end spots are clearly going to the three players listed above unless an injury forces the Ravens to go in another direction.
Dennis Pitta has had a great summer after signing a long-term contract to remain in Baltimore with one of his best friends throwing him the football in an offense that is sure to be extremely tight end friendly. He’s the unquestioned No. 1 tight end, but his role will be as one of the primary targets for Flacco.
As a result, the responsibility of lining up next to the O-line and getting his hands dirty in the running game falls to Owen Daniels. Daniels hasn’t been a particularly good blocker over the course of his career, and it will be interesting to see how adapts to new his role.
Moreover, it will be fascinating to watch the development of Crockett Gillmore, since he is definitely better suited to that secondary job as the tight end who is primarily a blocker but can make plays happen with the ball in his hands.
Daniels’ experience gives him the inside track to more playing time right now. But Gillmore is the better complement, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see the rookie start to carve out a niche in the offense—particularly as the year goes on.
Nathan Overbay and Phillip Supernaw are purely blocking options, and while the Ravens have carried a No. 3 blocker in the past (e.g. Billy Bajema), they won’t do it at the expense of Gillmore’s roster spot.
Starting Left Tackle: Eugene Monroe
Starting Right Tackle: Rick Wagner
Backup Swing Tackle: James Hurst
After the team locked up Eugene Monroe to a long-term deal, Flacco’s blind side is secure for the next five seasons. It’s the other side that is still a concern.
Rick Wagner has looked very good throughout OTAs and minicamp according to CSN's Clifton Brown, but the real evaluation begins in training camp, when the defense can play at full capacity and will push Wagner to his limits.
Beyond those two, there aren’t many tackle options on the roster. Jah Reid is capable of playing some tackle, and Ryan Jensen took snaps there in competition with Wagner during OTAs according to CSN's Bo Smolka, but the best option is James Hurst.
Hurst projects best at right tackle, but he was a very good left tackle for North Carolina and has the versatility to play both positions. The undrafted free agent has looked very good so far in offseason workouts according to Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun, and he’ll play an important role in his rookie season.
Starting Left Guard: Kelechi Osemele
Starting Right Guard: Marshal Yanda
Utility Backup: Ryan Jensen
Developmental Backup: John Urschel
With Kelechi Osemele now fully healthy after November surgery to repair a herniated disc, this could finally be the season that the Ravens have one of the best guard duos in the league. Even through a down year, Marshal Yanda was one of the best guards in the league, and the 6'5", 330-pound Osemele will bring a much-needed dose of size and brute strength to the trenches.
Behind them, Ryan Jensen will serve as a primary backup, but he has the versatility to play every position on the line, which is why he’s labeled as a utility backup—and why the Ravens can take a chance on the unproven Hurst to round out their tackle rotation.
Rookie John Urschel will be groomed to be a center, and he won’t play a significant role in his first season.
Starter: Jeremy Zuttah
Backup: Gino Gradkowski
Newsome pounced on the opportunity to trade for Jeremy Zuttah, and the early indications are that it was a great trade for Baltimore.
An upgrade at center was necessary, and Zuttah is definitely an improvement over Gino Gradkowski and is a perfect fit for Kubiak's zone-running scheme.
With more experience, Zuttah’s leadership will be key for the O-line, and that’s the area where Gradkowski struggled the most last year.
Gradkowski was definitely disappointing last season, but there is still potential and talent in the Delaware product, and he will be the lone backup at the position in 2014, besting A.Q. Shipley once again.
Starter: Brandon Williams
Backup: Timmy Jernigan
The defensive line positions are split up, but that’s not really indicative of how the rotation will play out because so many of the linemen are versatile enough to play multiple positions—including the two young guys listed here.
Brandon Williams, 25, is extremely strong and stout in the middle, and his ability to play nose tackle should free up Haloti Ngata to move outside, where he can be more disruptive as opposed to eating up double-teams on every play.
Williams will be joined by Timmy Jernigan, 21, to form a very talented young duo of interior linemen. Both could potentially kick outside to defensive end if necessary, but they thrived at nose tackle in college, so that’s where they’ll get their first shot in the NFL.
Starter: Haloti Ngata
Starter: Chris Canty
Rotation Player: DeAngelo Tyson
Rotation Player: Kapron Lewis-Moore
Developmental Backup: Brent Urban
Ngata and Chris Canty are slotted in as the starters since they are the wily vets and leaders of a very young D-line group. Both were underwhelming in 2014, however, so hopefully the improved depth behind them will keep them fresh and take some of the pressure off them.
Two of the players who will be very important in that endeavor are DeAngelo Tyson and Kapron Lewis-Moore.
The 25-year-old Tyson has surpassed all expectations and grown into a very reliable rotation piece on the defensive line, and he’s still relatively young and has room to keep improving.
Lewis-Moore is coming back from his redshirt rookie year, but he was one of the best players on a very good Notre Dame defense and could be pushing for a starting job before too long.
With so many moving parts, Baltimore’s D-line will be a tremendous strength thanks to the depth, talent and versatility of the unit.
Starter: Daryl Smith
Starter: C.J. Mosley
Rotation Player: Arthur Brown
Run Stuffer: Josh Bynes
Reserve/Special-Teamer: Albert McClellan
Two years after losing one of the greatest inside linebackers in the history of the NFL, Ray Lewis, the position looks very healthy in Baltimore.
Daryl Smith was a revelation last year, and, along with C.J. Mosley, the young guns look like they could form a terrific partnership for the future.
Smith will hold down the fort as the quarterback of the defense, but Mosley could very well steal the show—that’s how good he’s been during OTAs according to Brown.
And don’t forget about Arthur Brown, who looks like a candidate to make an enormous second-year leap and emerge as a more well-rounded middle linebacker.
Josh Bynes will be relegated to backup duty after becoming a starter last season, but this way he can focus on special teams and be called upon in definite rushing situations as a downhill thumper against the run.
Last but not least is Albert McClellan. Picking McClellan over some of the other candidates was a tough decision to make, but he’s a core special-teamer with the versatility to play inside or outside linebacker in a pinch if necessary.
Starter: Terrell Suggs
Pass-Rusher: Elvis Dumervil
Run Stuffer: Courtney Upshaw
Backup Pass-Rusher: Pernell McPhee
Reserve/Special-Teamer: John Simon
This is one of the deepest positions on the roster, and the Ravens go four deep with very solid contributors. The group is, of course, headlined by the duo of Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil.
They will be instrumental to any success the defense has this season since they are responsible for a large majority of the pass rush.
Both players are on the wrong side of 30 (Suggs is 31, Dumervil 30) and faded down the stretch last season, so maintaining consistency and keeping both of them fresh will be imperative in 2014.
To that end, Courtney Upshaw and Pernell McPhee are both capable contributors who could take some snaps and even out the rotation. Once again, Upshaw is likely to split snaps with Dumervil, depending on the run/pass situation, while McPhee is the third-best pass-rusher on the roster and could be an important piece of the puzzle if he can return to the form of his rookie season.
John Simon is really a special-teamer at this point, but he was very good in that role last season.
Starter: Lardarius Webb
Starter: Jimmy Smith
No. 3 Corner: Dominique Franks
Backup: Chykie Brown
Backup: Asa Jackson
Despite adding a couple of veteran corners in OTAs, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Newsome sign another veteran corner because it’s a rather uninspiring bunch once you get past the starters.
Lardarius Webb was starting to get back to Pro Bowl form at the end of 2013 as he looked more comfortable in the defense and on his knee.
Opposite him, Jimmy Smith broke out last season but will need to prove that it wasn’t a fluke to land the big-time deal he’s looking for.
Dominique Franks is listed here, but honestly it’s very hard to pick between him and Aaron Ross—and I think both Brown and Jackson will make the roster since they do have some upside and are both familiar with the defense.
It may also fall upon rookie safety Terrence Brooks to come down and play some corner, which might not be the worst thing in the world. He has elite athleticism, and while his ball skills are questionable, his footwork and positioning are not.
Starting SS: Matt Elam
Starting FS: Darian Stewart
Backup FS: Terrence Brooks
Backup/Special-Teamer: Jeromy Miles
Matt Elam is poised to make a gigantic leap to stardom this season, but he’ll probably have to wait at least a year for a comparable running mate.
Terrence Brooks will be that running mate eventually, but it’s asking a lot for the rookie safety to come in and anchor the back line of the defense.
Consequently, Darian Stewart has taken control of the position and earned the first-team reps. Brooks will get a chance to prove he’s the better player in camp, but until we see it, Stewart is locked in as the starter.
For the fourth and final safety, Jeromy Miles gets the nod for his experience and excellence on special teams. It’s very possible that a fifth safety (Omar Brown or Anthony Levine) is kept on board too—probably at the expense of McClellan—but he would need a strong camp to make the cut.
Kicker: Justin Tucker
Punter: Sam Koch
Long Snapper: Morgan Cox
No surprises here as the Wolfpack remains intact. Richie Leone will need to play extremely well to oust Sam Koch, and the reality is that Koch is a very good NFL punter (albeit one who was erratic for the first half of 2013).
Just Missed the Cut
Taylor has already been discussed on the QB slide briefly. He has been a very good practice player for the Ravens, but he has been substantially less effective in live game action. A strong preseason could convince the coaching staff that he’s the more reliable option, but it will take a lot to make the Ravens risk losing Wenning.
Shipley is just a victim of the numbers game. With so many interior linemen in the fold, Shipley gets squeezed out of the roster. He will be one of the more difficult cuts to make because he is best player to not make the final roster, but the coaching staff is enamored with Jensen. And the versatility of Zuttah and Gradkowski to play center/guard means that Shipley’s role is redundant.
With two undersized nose tackles ahead of him (Williams and Jernigan), Cody definitely has the potential to parlay his mammoth 6'4", 345-pound frame into a roster spot. But the reality is that size only matters if you know how to use it, and Cody plays much smaller than he actually is.
If Cody proves in training camp that he can anchor up front and hold his ground against multiple blockers while displaying the ability to stack and shed, there is a place for him on the roster. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen him do that consistently yet.
Butler has been outstanding so far, and he’s a lock for the practice squad if he doesn’t make the final roster.
As was discussed on the receivers slide, Campanaro’s unique skill set means Butler is the odd man out, but he could be a factor in 2015—or he may receive a call-up if Forsett is released after Rice’s potential suspension.
QB: Joe Flacco, Keith Wenning
RB: Ray Rice, Kyle Juszczyk, Bernard Pierce, Lorenzo Taliaferro, Justin Forsett
WR: Torrey Smith, Steve Smith Sr., Marlon Brown, Jacoby Jones, Michael Campanaro
TE: Dennis Pitta, Owen Daniels, Crockett Gillmore
OT: Eugene Monroe, Rick Wagner, James Hurst
OG: Marshal Yanda, Kelechi Osemele, Ryan Jensen, John Urschel
C: Jeremy Zuttah, Gino Gradkowski
NT: Brandon Williams, Timmy Jernigan
DE: Haloti Ngata, Chris Canty, Kapron Lewis-Moore, DeAngelo Tyson, 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