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Can tight end Darren Waller make the final roster?

Cleveland Browns v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

After being suspended for one year without pay for a second violation of the NFL’s substance abuse policy, Ravens tight end Darren Waller now faces an uphill battle to make the final 53-man roster.

He returns to a crowded tight end group after missing over a year of football. At 6’6”, Waller was drafted as a wide receiver by Baltimore in the sixth round of the 2015 NFL Draft. After serving most of his rookie season on injured reserve, Waller transitioned to tight end in 2016, catching 10 passes for 85 yards and two touchdowns at the position.

Waller’s competition to make the cut includes rookies Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews, fourth-year players Nick Boyle and Maxx Williams, Vince Mayle and Nick Keizer. Keizer, an undrafted rookie, has little chance of making the final roster, and Mayle is a solid special teams contributor, but he has offered very little on offense. Hurst and Andrews are locks to make the team as early-round selections, leaving Boyle and Williams as Waller’s main competitors.

Boyle is the best blocking tight end on the roster, making him an integral part of the Ravens’ rushing attack under tight ends coach Greg Roman, so he should make the team as well. Williams was selected in the second round in 2015 but has under performed amidst a litany of injuries. Along with previously being a key special teams player, Waller has the size and athleticism to provide match up problems for linebackers in the passing game. Williams is a better blocker, but Waller has greater upside as a receiving threat.

Both Williams and Waller have had problems staying on the field since being drafted. However, Williams played in 11 games last season, while Waller was inactive due to his suspension.

“He needs to be here,” Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said. “I haven’t seen the guy for a year. I love him, but like I told him, I’m going to be the hardest guy on him of anybody. I’m going to be on him every single day because he has a lot to prove.”

Meanwhile, Williams suffered an injury in practice last week and missed the preseason game against the Rams. Still, Williams scored a touchdown in the Hall of Fame Game the week prior. As for Waller, his first practice back was a strong showing.

Waller and Williams have three remaining preseason games to showcase why they deserve to make the final 53-man roster. Waller has been given several chances by Harbaugh and Williams has been hampered by injuries. Williams has the edge right now, but if he continues to miss games and Waller impresses like he did in his first practice, then the odds could shift in his favor.