5 Dark-Horse Candidates to Make Baltimore Ravens' Final 53-Man Roster
The Baltimore Ravens front office already has a good idea of most of its 53-man roster. Only the last few spots are still up for grabs, and this slideshow covers five players who have an outside shot of working their way onto the team.
They are not the favorites in the competition by any stretch, but they’ve shown enough promise already that a stellar preseason built on an excellent training camp could catapult them to the final roster.
Only a couple of them are undrafted rookies, so the other three are players with NFL experience who are trying to find their niche with the Ravens.
Jeremy Butler, WR
Jeremy Butler has been one of the most impressive receivers on the team so far in the offseason process. Previous seasons have shown us that he’ll need to build on that momentum and have a good slate of preseason games to even sniff the final roster, but there is plenty of buzz about the undrafted wide receiver already.
Baltimore has given chances to players like Deonte Thompson and LaQuan Williams before, but Butler brings a much purer receiving skill set to the table—one which he broke down for Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun:
I would say I bring versatility in the schemes and being able to play all over the passing game. I make the plays downfield in the deep game. I go across the middle. I enjoy the dirty work and like the short, quick game.
I bring that physicality to the table and overpower defenders. I'm just a hard-nosed Ravens style player. I can bring that element to the offense.
Butler is certainly an intriguing physical specimen, and he’s almost a lock to make the practice squad if he isn’t on the final roster. But without many other challengers, Butler may just surprise everyone, follow in the footsteps of Marlon Brown and make the team.
Richie Leone, P
It wasn’t too surprising to see the Ravens bring in another punter to motivate Sam Koch after his relatively erratic 2013 season.
Only two years ago, the same thing happened with the kickers after Billy Cundiff’s “what on Earth just happened?” shank against the New England Patriots. In that case, the undrafted free agent actually unseated the incumbent, and there is no doubt that history will repeat itself if Richie Leone is as impressive as Justin Tucker was.
Special teams coach Jerry Rosburg gave the following update on Leone’s progress to Bo Smolka of CSNBaltimore.com:
There are a lot of things he needs to continue to get better at. But this is a really good camp for him; it’s an opportunity for him to work on things when the rush isn’t on, when you have a lot of time, and the game is not pressing us. When you come out here and work for two hours, you get a lot done, and it’s been a lot of fun.
Leone has two things working in his favor, the first of which is his versatility. He handled punting, place-kicking and kickoff duties at the University of Houston. That kind of experience is useful in case he ever needs to fill in for Justin Tucker, but it won’t earn him a roster spot.
The second thing is Sam Koch’s cap number. That might actually get Leone onto the roster if the Ravens are looking to free up some cap room.
Ultimately, however, Leone will need to be noticeably better than Koch (like Tucker was in 2012) to earn his spot on the team.
Omar Brown, S
The safety picture for the Ravens is unclear beyond Matt Elam, Darian Stewart and Terrence Brooks. After those three, Jeromy Miles, Omar Brown and Anthony Levine are in the mix for an unknown number of backup spots.
Baltimore has typically liked to carry a lot of safeties since they are good special teams contributors, and that could bode well for Brown’s chances of surviving final cuts.
Brown has been a ball-hawking playmaker in the preseason, but he hasn’t been able to parlay that into much playing time on the field.
His nose for the ball makes him an intriguing piece on defense and special teams, but his roster spot will be decided by how many safeties the Ravens want to carry since Jeromy Miles is the probable fourth safety on the team.
Will Rackley, OG
Will Rackley’s bid to make the team will be difficult. He was signed as a free agent this summer, and he wasn’t very impressive during his stint in Jacksonville.
Nevertheless, this wouldn’t be the first time that a former Jaguar played better in his new surroundings at M&T Bank Stadium (e.g. Daryl Smith and Eugene Monroe).
Rackley spent OTAs running with the third team—hardly a good sign for his hopes of making the team. But if he starts to rise up the ranks as he gets acclimated to the system and to his teammates, there is a glimmer of hope for him.
The starting offensive line is set with Rick Wagner being the only possible question mark. Behind those five, it’s relatively wide open for the backup positions.
Jah Reid and A.Q. Shipley are two players who are on the roster bubble, and Rackley could oust both of them if he shows more promise.
He’s still young (only 24 years old) and he had great potential coming out of Lehigh. The coaching staff could view him as a nice project, and there needn’t be too much pressure on him with the likes of Gino Gradkowski, Ryan Jensen and John Urschel on the roster at guard too.
LaQuan Williams, WR
LaQuan Williams is used to fighting for his roster spot, so this is hardly new for him. The wide receiver position is once again crowded, so he’ll need to perform in the preseason games to earn his spot.
His path onto the roster will be determined by what exactly the Ravens are looking for in their fifth and sixth receivers.
If they want more offensive firepower, Williams won’t be the choice. He’s made a few key plays for the Ravens, but he’s a limited receiver and doesn’t possess high-end speed or size.
If the coaching staff wants to stash a young player for development purposes, Williams is once again on the outside looking in.
If Baltimore wants a special teams contributor, however, Williams is in business. He’s not a returner, but he’s a strong tackler and provides reliable coverage on kickoffs and punts.
With four solid receiving options ahead of him on the depth chart (plus two good pass-catching tight ends), it might be more valuable for the Ravens to carry a No. 5 WR who can contribute in other phases of the game as opposed to riding the bench.