LANDOVER — Early in the fourth quarter Monday night, Ravens safety Ar’Darius Washington earned himself a break, maybe even the rest of the night off. He’d just stopped Commanders wide receiver Dax Milne short of the first-down marker on a third-down completion. On came Washington’s punt team. Off went Washington.
For the next 12-plus minutes, he didn’t play a snap. Then cornerback Kyu Kelly headed to the bench, briefly unavailable. There was no next man up, so back in Washington went, playing eight straight snaps until he, too, left the game, the wind knocked out of him on a last-minute pass defense.
“We’re trying to go out there and compete,” Washington said after the loss to the Commanders, who took a 29-28 lead in the final seconds on a field goal from kicker Joey Slye. “So we didn’t really think, ‘Oh, we’re hurt right now,’ but we tried to dig deep.”
The Ravens’ alarming cornerback depth — six corners on their 90-man roster didn’t play Monday — might’ve cost them their historic preseason winning streak, which ended at 24 games inside FedEx Field. It could also shape their biggest roster decisions Tuesday, when team officials will meet to finalize their initial 53-man roster.
As the Ravens prepare for their preseason finale Saturday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the looming start of the regular season, here’s how general manager Eric DeCosta could make the roster math work.
Quarterback (2): Lamar Jackson, Tyler Huntley
Huntley hasn’t practiced since he tweaked his hamstring in the Ravens’ preseason opener, but coach John Harbaugh all but confirmed his roster spot Saturday, saying he “should be more than fine” by the start of the regular season. With the Ravens’ roster crunch elsewhere, it’s unlikely they keep three quarterbacks. Josh Johnson had his best performance of the past month Monday, making his case to latch on somewhere as a capable reserve if the Ravens don’t keep him.
Running back (4): J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards, Justice Hill, Keaton Mitchell
With Dobbins impressing in his return to practice and Hill continuing to stack big runs, this group looks more and more like a strength. The main intrigue here, beyond how the Ravens figure out their regular-season timeshare, is at RB4: Do the Ravens need one? And, if so, whom would they prefer to keep? As an undrafted free agent, the speedy Mitchell would be under team control for three years, effectively replacing 2022 draft pick Tyler Badie. Melvin Gordon III has had a solid training camp, but his one-year deal, which has no guaranteed money, won’t force the Ravens’ hand.
Wide receiver (6): Rashod Bateman, Odell Beckham Jr., Zay Flowers, Devin Duvernay, Nelson Agholor, Tylan Wallace
The top five were all but settled entering Monday. Now the top six might be. Wallace had his second red-zone touchdown in as many games, drew a 35-yard pass interference penalty and helped out on special teams, as he’s done throughout his career. The gap between the 2021 fourth-round pick and his closest competition — Laquon Treadwell, James Proche II and Tarik Black — might be too much to make up.
Tight end/fullback (4): Mark Andrews, Isaiah Likely, Charlie Kolar, Patrick Ricard
Ricard’s offensive line experiment is over — for now, anyway — but the Ravens will use him wherever offensive coordinator Todd Monken sees a need. In his preseason debut Monday, Ricard lined up as a fullback, an in-line tight end and an H-back. Undrafted rookie Travis Vokolek has the size and hands to develop into a solid rotational tight end, but after his two-touchdown performance Monday, the Ravens might have a tough time getting him to their practice squad.
Offensive tackle (4): Ronnie Stanley, Morgan Moses, Patrick Mekari, Daniel Faalele
No surprises here. Faalele has built on his steady camp with a steady preseason, but there are still mental errors that need smoothing out. David Sharpe has helped the Ravens as a practice squad call-up before, and he might be needed again this year.
Interior offensive line (5): John Simpson, Tyler Linderbaum, Kevin Zeitler, Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu, Ben Cleveland
The left guard job is Simpson’s to lose. Through two strong preseason games, he ranks among the NFL’s highest-graded interior offensive linemen, according to Pro Football Focus. Aumavae-Laulu, who started camp as the first-string left guard, has had a rough preseason. While the rookie’s roster spot is safe, the same can’t be said for Cleveland. He followed a better-than-expected game against the Eagles with a more mixed night against the Commanders.
If the Ravens keep nine linemen, they’ll have to decide which interior piece provides the most value: the still-developing Cleveland, who has a year left on his rookie deal? Center Sam Mustipher, who was inconsistent against Washington but would let Mekari stick at swing tackle if Linderbaum’s hurt? A waiver wire pickup who can play both spots?
Defensive line (5): Justin Madubuike, Michael Pierce, Broderick Washington, Travis Jones, Brent Urban
In an ideal world, the Ravens would have the space to keep Angelo Blackson or Rayshad Nichols as their sixth defensive lineman. But with the logjam at cornerback, they might have to open the season with just five. Jadeveon Clowney’s versatility as an interior rusher should limit strain on the group.
Outside linebacker (5): Odafe Oweh, David Ojabo, Jadeveon Clowney, Tavius Robinson, Tyus Bowser (non-football-injury list)
Harbaugh said last week that Bowser’s “agitated knee” wasn’t expected to sideline him for the start of the season, but he still had a slight limp Monday. If the Ravens’ prognosis changes, they could have a decision to make Tuesday. Keeping Bowser on the NFI list would open a roster spot, but it’d also delay his return until Week 5, at the earliest. Clowney’s signing was a necessary insurance policy.
If the Ravens need another player at the position, Baltimore native Malik Hamm has routinely impressed as a pass rusher since signing as an undrafted free agent. Jeremiah Moon has also been solid and spent his rookie year on the practice squad.
Inside linebacker (5): Roquan Smith, Patrick Queen, Malik Harrison, Trenton Simpson, Del’Shawn Phillips
None of the reserves here distinguished himself on defense Monday, but it’s special teams ability that typically wins out on the margins of the roster. Kristian Welch and Phillips finished second and sixth on the team, respectively, in snaps there last season. Phillips seems to have the edge after a strong past month; his relatively limited workload Monday suggests the Ravens were keen on protecting him from injury.
Cornerback (5): Marlon Humphrey, Rock Ya-Sin, Jalyn Armour-Davis, Damarion “Pepe” Williams, Kyu Kelly
Here’s where it gets tricky, because here’s where the Ravens can get creative. Kevon Seymour is a virtual lock to play, if not start, in Week 1. Arthur Maulet, assuming his hamstring is healthy, has the track record that suggests he can help, too. New signing Ronald Darby is expected to be “out there playing hard” in Week 1, Harbaugh said last week. All three, crucially, are vested veterans, meaning the Ravens could release them without exposing them to waivers — and with the understanding that they’ll be re-signed after some space-clearing roster moves.
(Also crucial: Vested veterans have their base salary guaranteed if they’re on a team’s Week 1 active roster, while vested veterans who sign after Week 1 are guaranteed just 25% of their salary. Last year, that seemed to lead to the Ravens stashing defensive back Anthony Levine Sr. and defensive lineman Justin Ellis on the practice squad, calling them up for the season opener, then promoting them to the 53-man roster in Week 2.)
Williams’ ankle surgery will sideline him until at least October, but the Ravens can’t place him on injured reserve until he makes the team. Humphrey’s foot surgery has clouded his availability for Week 1. Ya-Sin and Armour-Davis should be available for the opener, barring injury setbacks. If the Ravens can somehow make the roster math work, Kelly’s spot might be safe. If not, he could be released after one preseason, a rarity for Ravens draft picks.
Safety (5): Marcus Williams, Kyle Hamilton, Geno Stone, Brandon Stephens, Ar’Darius Washington
Maybe no defender on the roster bubble has helped his case more than Washington. Like the versatile Stephens, he’s not listed as a cornerback on the team’s roster, but he’s been the Ravens’ most consistent slot corner in camp and the preseason. The former undrafted free agent is a near lock for the roster.
Depending on how the team’s depth chart comes together over the next few weeks, all five defensive backs here could play prominent roles on defense in Week 1. Williams is the team’s top deep safety. Hamilton will either partner with him in the back or play in the slot. Stone could replace Hamilton if he returns to his nickel back post. Stephens is in the mix to start at outside cornerback. And Washington is a viable option inside.
On the bubble is Daryl Worley, who’s had a strong camp while transitioning from cornerback to safety. His experience and special teams savvy would make him a useful practice squad player and potential midseason call-up.
Special teams (3)
Specialists (3): Justin Tucker, Jordan Stout, Tyler Ott
The Ravens might sign another kicker to give Tucker the night off Saturday, but this group is settled.