The Baltimore Ravens will be hoping to keep their historic preseason streak alive over the next three weeks. More importantly, they’ll be looking to have their 2023 roster come into focus by evaluating players battling for starting jobs, key roles, and spots on the team.
Up first is an exhibition bout with the Philadelphia Eagles at M&T Bank Stadium on Saturday night. Almost the entirety of this year’s rookie class — drafted and undrafted — will get their first taste of NFL action, and those on the roster bubble will be trying to prove themselves.
For the second summer in a row, the starting left guard job is up for grabs after 2019 fourth-rounder Ben Powers broke out in 2022 and priced himself out of Baltimore in free agency.
As of right now, it is viewed as a two-horse race between fourth-year pro John Simpson and sixth-round rookie Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu. They’ve rotated the bulk of first-team reps by week in training camp and will likely do the same in the first and second half of these three preseason games.
Last year, Powers went from being on the roster bubble and trading block to emerging as the starter. He showed consistency in both his preseason and practice performances.
Aumavae-Laulu could very well be this year’s surprise candidate. He went from being viewed as a developmental tackle prospect to being a front-runner to win the starting guard job. However, Simpson — a three-year veteran — has 35 regular season games and 21 starts under his belt and will be putting his best foot forward as well heading into a contract year.
The only solidified starting spot at this position is occupied by three-time Pro Bowler Marlon Humphrey. The other first-team role on the perimeter across from him, as well as in the slot, is currently an open competition.
The front runner to replace three-time Pro Bowler Marcus Peters as the Ravens’ new No. 2 corner is offseason free agent acquisition Rock Ya-Sin. However, with him currently out of practice due to a lower body injury, it’s opened the door for some younger players step up and potentially overtake him in the running.
Among the top competitors in the running for the other outside corner spot are 2022 fourth-rounder Jalyn Armour-Davis and 2021 third-rounder Brandon Stephens, who both have been taking first-team reps in Ya-Sin’s absence. Stephens is also in contention for the starting nickel job along with veteran Arthur Maulet, third-year pro Ar’Darius Washington, and second-year pro Damarion “Pepe” Williams.
Lamar Jackson is the unquestioned starter at the most important position in all of sports. The role of his primary backup is up for grabs, though, and could very well be decided over the next few weeks. Fourth-year pro Tyler Huntley has gone from undrafted free agent to regarded as one of the better reserve signal callers in the league. He’s stepped up in a starting role for the Ravens down the stretch in each of the past two seasons.
However, that didn’t stop the team from exploring the veteran quarterback market this offseason in an attempt to upgrade the spot by adding a more experienced player. They were also looking for a potential stopgap starter in the event that Jackson threatened to hold out, prior to then signing a contract extension on the first night of the draft.
They were reportedly interested in signing former No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield and journeyman Jacoby Brissett. Ultimately, each of them opted to sign with a team where they had better odds to win the starting job.
The Ravens brought back another well-traveled veteran quarterback in Josh Johnson for a third stint with the team, who will be battling with Huntley for the backup job. With new Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken’s offense likely to rely less on the quarterback run, Huntley’s youth and athleticism advantages likely won’t factor in as much as they did previously.
The Ravens’ projected top three spots at the position are spoken for by sixth-year veteran Gus Edwards, fourth-year pro J.K. Dobbins, and fifth-year veteran Justice Hill. If they were to carry a fourth player to provide injury insurance for Dobbins and Edwards, the top two candidates are veteran Melvin Gordon and undrafted rookie Keaton Mitchell.
In order to overtake the two-time Pro Bowler in the pecking order, Mitchell will need to prove he can make an impact on both offense and special teams. If he can make plays as a returner and on kick/punt coverage units, he could begin to separate himself. It remains to be seen if Gordon will see any action on special teams, but he just needs to prove that he can still contribute and that his ball security issues are behind him.
The top five spots at what has been the most scrutinized position are locked up by Odell Beckham Jr., Zay Flowers, Rashod Bateman, Nelson Agholor, and Devin Duvernay. Although the pecking order of the final depth chart is to be determined, this likely leaves just one more spot for a sixth wideout on the roster.
As much as proving they can contribute as a pass-catcher will be key to setting themselves apart, standing out on special teams will likely be even more crucial in increasing their roster chances. Targets for players at the bottom of the depth chart will be hard to come by with all the other weapons ahead of them.
The top candidates in the running include fourth-year pro James Proche, third-year pro Tylan Wallace, and veteran Laquon Treadwell. Of the three, Wallace has proven to be the best special teams player of the bunch. However, Treadwell is a former first-round pick who has been impressing in training camp thus far. He provides a bigger size dimension to the group at 6-foot-2, 215 pounds.
Reserve Inside Linebacker
While the top three spots on the depth chart are set with All-Pro Roquan Smith, fourth-year pro Patrick Queen, and third-round rookie Trenton Simpson, the No. 4 spot is an open competition. The top candidates include fourth-year pros Del’Shawn Phillips and Malik Harrison, and Kristian Welch, as well as second-year pro Josh Ross.
All are proven special teams contributors. What will separate the winner from the rest of the pack, though, is how much of an asset on defense they can be. The team is less likely to use reserve roster spots for players that can’t do both. Phillips has been having a strong training camp and Harrison can play both inside linebacker and SAM outside linebacker, so they might be the early front runners heading into the preseason.