Ravens roster projection: With draft over and Alejandro Villanueva signed, depth chart comes into focus

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Jonas Shaffer, Baltimore Sun
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A week ago, the Ravens had roster holes at wide receiver, edge rusher, right tackle and interior offensive line. But that’s what the NFL draft — and $14 million free-agent contracts — is for.

In a five-day span, general manager Eric DeCosta found potential starters at all four positions. On Thursday, the Ravens drafted wide receiver Rashod Bateman and edge rusher Odafe Oweh in the first round. A day later, they took guard Ben Cleveland in the third round. And on Tuesday, the Ravens signed offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva to a two-year, $14 million deal.

The Ravens might have more offseason moves ahead, but not many. With a class of undrafted-free-agent signings soon to be finalized, the team’s depth chart is coming into focus. Here’s a way-too-early projection of the Ravens’ starters and backups at every position, plus the players who’ll be fighting for practice squad and end-of-the-roster spots.

Quarterback

Starter: Lamar Jackson

Backups: Tyler Huntley, Trace McSorley

DeCosta said there were “five or six strong guys” in the draft class with franchise quarterback potential, but of course he already had Jackson under contract. The Ravens didn’t take a late-round quarterback, and they haven’t added an undrafted free agent, either. All eyes will be on Jackson during training camp, but the main roster intrigue will be in who’s named his backup — and what becomes of the third-stringer. Could Huntley and McSorley both get a roster spot? Or would the Ravens hope to keep one on their practice squad?

Running back

Starter: J.K. Dobbins

Backups: Gus Edwards, Justice Hill

On the bubble: Ty’Son Williams

Some mock drafts had the Ravens taking a first-round running back. That didn’t happen. The position’s only offseason addition has been Division II Saginaw Valley State’s Nate McCrary, who rushed for 1,060 yards in 2019, didn’t have a 2020 season and went undrafted. Edwards has yet to sign his restricted-free-agent tender, but he’s expected to return for his fourth and potentially final season in Baltimore. With Mark Ingram II’s offseason departure for the Houston Texans, Hill should get more touches in Year 3.

Wide receiver

Starters: Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, Sammy Watkins, Rashod Bateman

Backups: Miles Boykin, Devin Duvernay, Tylan Wallace

On the bubble: James Proche II, Deon Cain, Jaylon Moore, Binjimen Victor

The Ravens could have two new Week 1 starters next to Brown. Watkins and Wallace project as outside receivers, like Boykin, while Brown and Bateman can fit in anywhere. Duvernay and Proche are better off inside. Beyond the team’s top four or five receivers, special teams value can’t be overlooked. The Ravens typically enter the season with six wide receivers on their roster, meaning Proche, who lost his punt return job to Duvernay late last season, could have a tough road ahead. It’s a young group overall, and with wide receivers coach Tee Martin taking over, everyone gets a clean slate.

Tight end/fullback

Starters: Mark Andrews, Nick Boyle, Patrick Ricard

Backups: Eric Tomlinson, Ben Mason

On the bubble: Josh Oliver, Jake Breeland, Eli Wolf

There’s not a lot of mystery at the top. Andrews is one of the NFL’s best tight ends. Boyle underpins much of the Ravens’ run-blocking schemes. Ricard is coming off his second straight Pro Bowl appearance. Mason is the new wrinkle here; he mostly lined up as a fullback at Michigan, where he had just three career catches, but he could help out as a detached tight end. If Mason adjusts quickly and Boyle is fully recovered from his season-ending knee injury, Tomlinson could face a roster squeeze. Oliver, Breeland and Wolf all have intriguing potential, but injuries have limited their development.

Offensive tackle

Starters: Ronnie Stanley, Alejandro Villanueva

Backup: Tyre Phillips

On the bubble: Andre Smith

Villanueva’s signing stabilizes the position somewhat, but the Ravens are in wait-and-see mode at both tackle spots. Stanley’s coming off a serious ankle injury. Villanueva has played just nine snaps at right tackle since 2015. Phillips, who has starting experience at both guard and tackle, struggled mightily as a rookie. Smith opted out of the 2020 season. The Ravens need to find a reliable swing tackle and some young pieces for their practice squad. Oklahoma’s Adrian Ealy and Stanford’s Foster Sarell are intriguing undrafted options.

Interior offensive line

Starters: Ben Cleveland, Bradley Bozeman, Kevin Zeitler

Backups: Ben Powers, Patrick Mekari, Ben Bredeson

On the bubble: Trystan Colon-Castillo, Greg Mancz

Zeitler’s all but guaranteed to start at right guard. Bozeman is the favorite to take over at center, where he started in college. As for who might replace him at left guard? Coach John Harbaugh’s enthusiasm about Cleveland’s selection was telling, and the third-round pick’s power is a perfect fit for an offense like the Ravens’. But Powers (seven starts last season) and Bredeson will give him good competition. Elsewhere, Mekari’s versatility is a huge asset, and Colon-Castillo, when called upon, showed his ability last season. Just how many interior linemen can the Ravens keep on their roster, though? Probably no more than five or six.

Defensive line

Starters: Calais Campbell, Brandon Williams, Derek Wolfe

Backups: Justin Madubuike, Justin Ellis, Broderick Washington

On the bubble: Chauncey Rivers, Aaron Crawford, Braxton Hoyett

After losing only defensive end Jihad Ward up front, and faced with a lackluster incoming class, the Ravens didn’t draft a defensive lineman for the first time in a decade. It’s an older group, and Washington’s scheduled to appear in court next month for allegedly damaging five vehicles. But there’s good depth and flexibility here. Madubuike’s primed for a breakout season. Rivers and Crawford held up well in emergency duty in the Ravens’ Week 12 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. With the Ravens’ losses at edge rusher, pass-rush production will be crucial.

Outside linebacker

Starters: Tyus Bowser, Odafe Oweh

Backups: Pernell McPhee, Jaylon Ferguson, Daelin Hayes

On the bubble: Aaron Adeoye

Bowser’s a clear favorite to start, and McPhee will likely enter training camp as the Ravens’ other top option. But given Oweh’s run-stopping ability and tantalizing potential, it would surprise no one if he leapfrogs McPhee by Week 1. The Ravens should have the cap space to add another veteran edge rusher — say, Justin Houston — but the arrival of Oweh and Hayes lessens the need somewhat.

Inside linebacker

Starters: Patrick Queen, L.J. Fort

Backups: Chris Board, Malik Harrison

On the bubble: Kristian Welch, Otaro Alaka

Queen’s starting job is secure, but expect a fierce competition for snaps elsewhere in camp. Fort will have to hold off both Board, who came on strong late last season, and Harrison, who had his ups and downs as a highly touted rookie. They should all find big roles on special teams, where Welch and the often-injured Alaka will also have to make their mark.

Cornerback

Starters: Marlon Humphrey, Marcus Peters, Tavon Young

Backups: Jimmy Smith, Anthony Averett, Shaun Wade

On the bubble: Davontae Harris, Iman Marshall, Khalil Dorsey, Chris Westry

The Ravens’ deepest position added reinforcements in Wade, who projects as a slot corner, and potentially Brandon Stephens, a college cornerback whom DeCosta sees fitting in at safety. When Young is cleared to practice, Humphrey can return to outside cornerback, where he’s most comfortable. The versatile Smith can line up outside, too, or match up with tight ends in the box. The Ravens kept five cornerbacks on their initial 2020 roster and seven in 2019; a bigger group is probably the better bet for this season, given their injuries last year.

Safety

Starters: Chuck Clark, DeShon Elliott

Backups: Jordan Richards, Anthony Levine Sr., Brandon Stephens

On the bubble: Nigel Warrior, Geno Stone

Clark and Elliott won’t face much competition for their starting jobs. Stephens should contribute on special teams immediately, but as a safety, he’s a developmental prospect, not even three years into full-time defensive duties. Assuming the Ravens keep just four or five safeties, health and special teams ability will be decisive. Richards has been a staple there since his 2019 arrival. So has Levine, though he struggled to stay healthy last season. Warrior and Stone will have to take a step forward after relatively anonymous rookie seasons.

Specialists

Starters: Justin Tucker, Sam Koch, Nick Moore

On the bubble: Johnny Townsend, Brain Khoury

Welcome to the post-Morgan Cox era. Moore spent most of last season as the Ravens’ practice squad long snapper, playing in one game and not messing things up. In Tucker and Koch, he’ll have two of the NFL’s best helping him along.