Ordinarily, this space is reserved for my five thoughts about the Ravens' latest game. But instead of analyzing their 22-13 preseason win over the New Orleans Saints Thursday night, I'm going to focus on this week's big topic: the final cuts due by Saturday.
After taking 75 players to New Orleans, the Ravens have to get down to 53 to start the regular season. Here's my prediction for what the roster will look like after the final cuts:
Quarterback (2): Joe Flacco, Tyrod Taylor
Skinny: After some offseason speculation about his job possibly being in jeopardy, Taylor easily outplayed rookie Keith Wenning and demonstrated he could back up Flacco, finishing with a strong performance Thursday night. Wenning has a future here if the Ravens can get him through waivers and onto the practice squad.
Running back (4): Bernard Pierce, Lorenzo Taliaferro, Justin Forsett, Kyle Juszczyk, (Ray Rice suspended)
Skinny: Rice's season-opening suspension means his top backups all make it for now. Forsett's spot could be in jeopardy when Rice returns. Taliaferro's spot is secure after a strong preseason. Fitzgerald Toussaint played well enough Thursday night to warrant practice squad consideration.
Wide Receiver (6): Steve Smith, Torrey Smith, Jacoby Jones, Marlon Brown, Michael Campanaro, Deonte Thompson
Skinny: The top four were locks. The final choice, a tough one, came down to Thompson, Campanaro and Kamar Aiken. They all deserved to make the roster, but only two jobs are available. Campanaro makes it because he has return skills and upside potential as a Wes Welker-like slot receiver. Aiken had an edge until Thompson started making big plays in games. He scored three of the Ravens' nine preseason touchdowns. That gets you a job.
Tight end (3): Dennis Pitta, Owen Daniels, Crockett Gillmore
Skinny: The only drama was whether Daniels would start the season on the roster after missing most of the preseason due to leg fatigue. He is a go.
Offensive line (9): Eugene Monroe, Kelechi Osemele, Jeremy Zuttah, Marshal Yanda, Rick Wagner, Jah Reid, Gino Gradkowski, A.Q. Shipley, John Urschel
Skinny: With the first five set as starters, the issue was the backups. Gradkowski and Shipley struggled as starters in 2013, but with their experience, make solid reserves. Reid will play on jumbo packages. The final spot came down to Urschel over Ryan Jensen. Urschel opened holes in the preseason. He's a lot more than a math whiz. Jensen could land on the practice squad.
Defensive line (5): Haloti Ngata, Brandon Williams, Chris Canty, Timmy Jernigan, DeAngelo Tyson
Skinny: This position was hit hard in training camp when Brent Urban and Kapron Lewis-Moore went down with serious injuries. But rather than go with a young player who might not be ready, the Ravens seemingly are going to mix linebacker Pernell McPhee into their rotation here and also wait to see if Terrence Cody is able to get off the physically unable to perform list and onto the field.
Linebackers (9): Terrell Suggs, Daryl Smith, Elvis Dumervil, C.J. Mosley, Courtney Upshaw, Pernell McPhee, Josh Bynes, Arthur Brown, John Simon
Skinny: When Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said the team had tough decisions to make, he surely was referring to the last linebacker slot, a choice between Albert McClellan and John Simon. McClellan led the Ravens in special team tackles in 2013 and also has starting experience. Simon played his best game as a pro Thursday night. I say they keep Simon, a 2013 fourth-round pick. They like to give their draft picks time to develop.
Cornerbacks (6): Lardarius Webb, Jimmy Smith, Asa Jackson, Chykie Brown, Derek Cox, Dominque Franks
Skinny: Preseason injuries to the top three at this position mean quality depth is even more of a priority than usual. The Raven go with veterans over young guys such as Tramain Jacobs and Sammy Seamster.
Safety (6): Matt Elam, Darian Stewart, Terrence Brooks, Anthony Levine, Jeromy Miles, Brynden Trawick, (Will Hill suspended)
Skinny: Elam and Stewart are the starters for now, with Brooks coming on fast. Miles, Trawick and Levine have strong coverage skills on special teams, and Levine increased his value by filling in at cornerback in the preseason. One could go when Hill's suspension ends in October. He has shown he can contribute.
Specialists (3): Justin Tucker, Sam Koch, Morgan Cox.
Skinny: Tucker, coming off an All-Pro season, is in line for a contract extension. Cox is entrenched. Koch was the only one who faced competition in training camp, and it was minimal.
The Baltimore Ravens travel to New Orleans to take on the Saints in the Superdome for the final tune up before the 2014 regular season.