Here is how I expect the Roster will look by cut down time on Saturday:
Offensive Line (8): Ronnie Stanley, James Hurst, Matt Skura, Marshal Yanda, Orlando Brown, Bradley Bozeman, Ben Powers, Gregory Senat.
The Ravens will attempt to move Mekari to the practice squad and he could return quickly if he makes it through the waiver process. DeCosta will continue to look for a pure tackle. Senat has not been consistent, but he’s shown flashes and has prototypical LT size, length, and feet. If waived, he’ll be claimed. Mekari was undrafted, has bad measurables, and has length that should all but preclude him from playing tackle in the NFL despite success there at California. I believe the Ravens have had a chance to fall in love with Mekari as a football player that no other NFL team has experienced.
Wide Receivers (6): Willie Snead, Chris Moore, Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin, Jaleel Scott, Seth Roberts
Snead was a lock for a spot all along. Brown and Boykin both recovered from offseason injury concerns. Chris Moore overcame some small doubts related to his 4th-year (pending UFA) status. That left 4 receivers fighting for 2 spots (Roberts, Scott, Wesley, and Floyd).
Roberts has $1M in guaranteed money on his 1-year deal, which should not be the deciding factor when evaluating him against a player with time on his first contract like Scott or Wesley, since it is still cheaper to cut Roberts and keep either Scott or Wesley than to keep Roberts. In the case of Scott, the team also has 2 additional years of option value.
Scott had the best preseason, blocked for the run, played special teams, and has been a valuable red-zone threat. Wesley has outstanding hands and uses his size well. The Ravens will try to get Wesley back on the practice squad, but I think the chance is good he’ll be picked up by another team.
Floyd will be cut despite a solid preseason. As a 1-year rental, he can’t compete with Scott’s upside. While he is a close comp for Roberts in many ways, Seth wins the final spot because the Ravens are otherwise flush with red-zone targets (Boykin, Scott, Hurst, Andrews) for perhaps the first time in team history.
Tight Ends (3): Hayden Hurst, Nick Boyle, Mark Andrews
Running Backs (4): Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards, Justice HIll, Patrick Ricard
The top 3 are a perfectly complementary set of running backs. If a back is lost to injury, I have confidence the Ravens can plug and play by style with (less) good results.
The Ravens will try to trade Kenneth Dixon for a pick or perhaps a SCB, but they need to find a team with a talent surplus that also wants Dixon as a 2nd or 3rd back. De’Lance Turner ran well and would probably be elevated from the practice squad at some point in 2019 if he makes it through waivers. Tyler Ervin doesn’t bring enough in the return game to justify a roster spot in the crowd at RB. He’s also a PS candidate.
Quarterbacks (3): Lamar Jackson, Robert Griffin, and Trace McSorley.
I’ve come around to the notion the Ravens need to make a spot for McSorley and doubt they will cut him even to create a temporary IR slot.
The question comes as to whether the Ravens should move on from RG3 and play with just 2 QBs. To do so, they would have to eat $1.5M in dead money and would lose the option to have Griffin play in 2020 for another $2.5M. While such a move is not out of the question, I think Griffin brings too much to the QB room in terms of leadership, intelligence, and relatable perspective on the league that is valuable to both Griffin and McSorley.
Defensive Line (5): Brandon Williams, Michael Pierce, Chris Wormley, Willie Henry, Daylon Mack
There isn’t any issue with the top 3 players. The Ravens do have a problem with youth, however. Willie Henry and Michael Pierce will be free agents after 2019. The contract of Brandon Williams becomes increasingly expensive. Chris Wormley is under contract through 2020 and Patrick Ricard (listed with RBs) will be a RFA in 2020 Willie Henry is safe, because he’s far and away the best interior pass rusher among the linemen. He should handle the bulk of single-DL snaps, with Wormley and Pierce taking smaller shares. Given his play in the preseason, it’s possible Ricard could take a few of these snaps as well.
Daylon Mack is the only rookie under serious consideration and has looked the part of the next Ravens NT based on power, pursuit, and motor.
Zach Sieler has 3 years remaining on his rookie deal and I expected a step forward this season. However, he has not been nearly the disruptive force we saw in 2018 when he was one of the team’s preseason MVPs. It’s difficult to justify another developmental year with 6 guys on the roster who can otherwise split a limited total of DL snaps (the Ravens used only 1.90 DL snaps per play in 2018). The best reason to keep Sieler is his status as the primary backup 5-tech, but the Ravens play so little base defense (15.8% in 2018), that role is blurred and he simply needs to be a lineman who can effectively compress the pocket and get his hands up from any spotalong the interior. I expect another team will claim him, but it might not happen prior to Sunday. If that’s the case, he should beinsurance on the practice squad for as long as he lasts.
Inside Linebacker (3): Patrick Onwuasor, Kenny Young, Chris Board
I expect Young and Onwuasor (who sat out vs the Redskins) to wear the green dot for most, if not all, of the season.
Chris Board was spending more time with the 1s than Kenny Young prior to his concussion, but Young has taken a big stride forward this preseason which I expect will translate to a plurality lead in snaps in the WLB platoon. Last season, Onwuasor led that group with 42% of snaps and it would be outstanding to see anything like the same production from Young, Board, and Levine this season.
Retaining just 3 ILBs is less risky than playing a man short at other positions for several reasons, but most relevant to this Ravens team are the large size-and-shape pool of talent and the Ravens ability to identify system talent at the position.
Otaro Alaka and Alvin Jones may both make the practice squad.
Outside Linebacker (5): Matthew Judon, Tim Williams, Tyus Bowser, Pernell McPhee, Jaylon Ferguson
There are no surprises here, which is a good thing, given Ferguson’s concussion.
The division of snaps will be interesting, because the Ravens have a complementary set of talents in the group to cover for a little injury adversity. In 2018, the Ravens played 2,222 OLB snaps spread across 963 plays that did not result in a kneel, spike, or penalty (no play). That’s 2.31 OLBs per snap. I expect that number to be similar this season given Martindale’s penchant for snap management and scheme for OLBs. An approximate division of snaps by percentage of Judon 70%, Williams 50%, Bowser 50%, McPhee 35%, Ferguson 25% would result in 2.3 OLBs per snap. The point here is that McPhee may well be the starter, but I expect he’ll play high-leverage snaps as opposed to a high volume of snaps.
Safety (5): Earl Thomas, Tony Jefferson, Chuck Clark, Anthony Levine, DeShon Elliott
The Ravens are flush with safety talent although it’s one of the oldest positions on the team. To address that, the Ravens need to find out what they have with DeShon Elliott in terms of ability to play the back end.
This season, the loss of Tavon Young may incent Martindale to play more big nickel, where a safety is used to cover the slot receiver against teams that like to run out of 11 personnel (1 TE, 1 RB). Clark has played that role in the past (as has Levine), but Elliott could be a perfect fit given what we’ve seen from him a hitter this preseason.
Cornerback (8): Marlon Humphrey, Brandon Carr, Jimmy Smith, Anthony Averett, Maurice Canady, Cyrus Jones, Iman Marshall, Tavon Young
I’m projecting the Ravens keep 8 corners temporarily in order to place both Iman Marshall and Tavon Young on IR for possible midseason returns.
The Ravens are old at corner (Smith, Carr), and have 3 players (Smith, Canady, Jones) who will be UFAs after 2019. Because of looming turnover it would be nice to find rotational opportunities for Averett and allow Marshall to practice with the team for at least a portion of his rookie season.
I am projecting Justin Bethel is a cut. He could be re-signed on Sunday, but it’s highly likely he’ll be cut by week 10, when he counts against the comp formula and will effectively cost the Ravens a 5th-round (if not a 4th) pick. Think of the proposition like this…the Ravens have an option to trade Bethel for a 5th in week 10. I can’t foresee circumstances where they would not make that trade.
Specialists (3): Justin Tucker, Sam Koch, Morgan Cox
The wolfpack rides on. Perversely, I hope the Kaare Vedvik draft pick is maintained in its current position and not laundered through 1 or more trades. If the Ravens draft a star in that spot, the trade can live on in Ravens (if not NFL) lore.
Front Office Homework
Prior to cuts, the Ravens will probably attempt to trade Kenneth Dixon and perhaps Zach Sieler. Each may have some value to another team. I don’t believe they will have any other player that draws interest. Fans should temper expectation for Dixon, because cuts expected typically only return a conditional 7th, or similarly tenured player who will be cut in year 4. If surplus talent and needs are complementary, trades of this type are possible and there have been several in Ravens history.
Sieler may have trade value given he’s still in his 2nd season, but there really need to be 2 teams with interest before the waiver process to generate a pick.
It is probably unrealistic for the Ravens to pick up a LT from cuts that will be better than current options on the roster. However, SCB is often a surplus position and some team may either have a young player nearing the end of his rookie deal or a veteran they’d like to move to give the job to a younger player. The Ravens have draft capital (or perhaps an outside corner such as Canady) to trade.
It’s quite possible the 53-man roster for the game at Miami will include a UDFA after IR machinations. However, as of now I have both Mekari and Alaka on the outside.