Baltimore Ravens training camp is heating up with the first preseason contest scheduled for Thursday against Washington. Even after an offseason and start of training camp that has seen the team lose as many as five players to season ending injuries and a couple more to unexpected retirements, regular season roster spots remain at a premium. The front office has spent years stacking extra late round draft picks and developing impressive undrafted free agents. This wise philosophy has created a tight roster crunch, with up to 60 NFL caliber players fighting for 53 final roster spots.
Punt returner/Slot Receiver: Michael Campanaro vs Tim White vs Keenan Reynolds
The Ravens do not necessarily need a slot-only receiver, as Jeremy Maclin, Mike Wallace, Maxx Williams and Danny Woodhead are all capable of bringing different dimensions to the slot. They also have multiple kickoff returner options, led by Chris Moore. However, they will need a dependable punt returner with more juice than Lardarius Webb to flip the field against contending teams.
Campanaro is chronically injured, but recently returned from the PUP list and has been making plays in practice. It remains to be seen if he can stay healthy through four preseason games, these contests should be his final chance to prove his worth. White, an undrafted rookie from Arizona State, has been turning heads with his elite explosiveness and natural feel for returning kicks. Reynolds is a second-year project who may not be quite talented enough play in the league, but can still bring value to the franchise by mimicking mobile quarterbacks from the practice squad.
Backup defensive tackle: Willie Henry vs Carl Davis vs Patrick Ricard
Baltimore lost two of their four best defensive lineman from last season, but as usual, still boast more quality tackles on the depth chart than room on the roster. The starters bring plenty of girth in the middle between Michael Pierce and Brandon Williams. Brent Urban is listed atop the depth chart at defensive end, with Bronson Kaufusi on his heels and rookie Chris Wormley able to play either 3 or 5-technique. That leaves room for probably one more tackle, two at most, preferably a player who can create some pass rush in sub packages.
Henry was stashed as a rookie last year and possess some of the same skills as former Ravens interior penetrator Timmy Jernigan. Entering his third season, Davis has flashed in practice and brings ideal size for the nose. Ricard has proven to be an undrafted find who has a surprising nose for the football. This battle will be fierce, the loser could provide some draft capital in a trade.
Backup outside receiver: Quincy Adeboyejo vs Chris Matthews vs Kenny Bell
Despite disappointing many fans by failing to address the receiving position in the draft, the Ravens depth chart is deep and explosive. Maclin, Wallace and Breshad Perriman are expected to comprise the starting trio, with Chris Moore in line to serve as the fourth wideout. Assuming one of the aforementioned slot men/kick returners win a job, the sixth receiver spot will likely go to a big-bodied red zone target.
Adeboyejo has been an undrafted revelation thus far in practice, making spectacular plays all over the field at ‘the Castle’. Matthews was apparently earmarked for a roster spot last year, before a torn thumb ligament landed him on IR. Matthews has the best size and a proven pedigree. Bell is a journeyman who received some buzz in minicamp and is currently listed on the third third team.
Backup third down back: Buck Allen vs Taquan Mizzell vs Bobby Rainey
Veteran scatback Danny Woodhead is primed for a heavy workload next season, he should assume the majority of Kenneth Dixon’s snaps as a change-of-pace from Terrance West, as well as most of Kyle Juszczyk’s former third down responsibilities. Considering Woodhead’s advanced age and extensive injury history, plus hybrid fullback Lorenzo Taliaferro’s ability as a power runner, the final backfield roster spot should rightfully go to a receiving specialist.
Allen performed reasonably well during his rookie campaign before being buried on the depth chart in 2016. He is currently listed as the third team tailback and has made several splash plays in practice. Mizzell is another shifty option who has generated considerable excitement as an undrafted rookie from Virginia. Rainey was signed when Dixon went down to injury, and has the resume of a serviceable back. All three could also factor into the punt return competition.
Backup interior offensive line: De’Ondre Wesley vs Jermaine Eluemunor vs Stephane Nembot
Depth on the interior of the offensive line took successive major blows when veteran backup John Urschel retired on the day camp began, and powerful rookie guard Nico Siragusa tore multiple knee ligaments. The starters seem set after the late signing of massive right tackle Austin Howard, which will allow James Hurst to resume his place as the backup swing tackle. Matt Skura also appears to be safe as the only pure center on the depth chart. The Ravens will probably carry eight or nine blockers on their regular season roster.
Developmental lineman Wesley and Nembot are currently listed as the second team left and right tackles respectively, but each are probably best served as guards due to their relative lack of foot speed. Eluemunor was drafted in April as a developmental project as well, he also has the versatility to play guard or tackle. The top backup guard job remains one of the biggest question marks on the team. All three could make the team if they perform exceedingly well against live competition in the preseason. Perhaps more likely, one or two of these big-bodied youngsters will ultimately end up on the practice squad.