Eisenberg: Ravens' 2021 Roster Isn't Hard to Predict

HC John Harbaugh

I had some time to kill, so I tried doodling projections for the Ravens' starting lineup and 53-man roster in 2021.

Maybe I should have read a book with my free time, but with the draft in the rear-view mirror, I had a case of lineups on the brain. In any case, it didn't take long for me to doodle a lineup and roster. When I finished, I still had plenty of time to kill.

The Ravens are months away from having to finalize those decisions, and a few surprises always arise to complicate matters, but even factoring that in, I can't remember their lineup and roster being this easy to predict and so close to set so early.

It's largely a function of their having drafted 38 players since 2018, a massive injection of young talent that reflects the organization's commitment to building through the draft. Thirty-eight far exceeds the typical allotment; the total would be 28 if the Ravens had drafted one player in each round over the same period.

Not all of the 38 are still with the Ravens. They traded Hayden Hurst, Kenny Young and Orlando Brown Jr., and cut several others – a typical winnowing.

But by my count, 30 are still in Baltimore and most are filling key roles on a team that has made three straight playoff appearances.

"We love our team. We love our roster. We have a lot of really good, young football players who care very badly about it," Ravens General Manager Eric DeCosta said recently.

When you add veteran cornerstones such as Sam Koch, Jimmy Smith and Justin Tucker, hole-filling additions such as Sammy Watkins, Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe and key special-teamers such as Jordan Richards and Anthony Levine Sr. to all of that young talent, you get to 53 in a hurry.

Try it, you'll see.

The starting lineup is truly a breeze to pencil in now that the offensive line has come into focus with the signing of tackle Alejandro Villanueva. Little is in doubt other than not knowing whether edge defender Odafe Oweh and/or guard Ben Cleveland can start as rookies.

As for the 53-man roster, the biggest issue is the Ravens have more quality players than they usually carry at such positions as wide receiver, interior offensive line, cornerback and safety.

There are decisions to make on the road to 53 but most involve "deep depth."

For instance, the wide receiver corps includes Watkins and six players drafted in the past three years, but the Ravens seldom keep more than six receivers. Might they go to seven in 2021 with so much talent on hand? My hunch is yes.

They also have to figure what they're doing at the position I'll call tight end/fullback/hybrid. Mark Andrews, Nick Boyle and Pat Ricard are locks, but after that, there are almost a half-dozen interesting candidates, including rookie Ben Mason. Are they competing for one spot or two? Who survives?

For the record, I got to 53 with two quarterbacks, three running backs, eight offensive linemen, seven wide receivers, five tight end/fullback/hybrids, five defensive linemen, five outside linebackers, four inside linebackers, six cornerbacks, five safeties and three specialists.

I'm sure I missed on a few, but I'm also sure I got a lot right. There just isn't much room for out-of-nowhere candidates.

A year after the Ravens ended a 16-year streak of having at least one undrafted rookie free agent on their 53-man roster coming out of the preseason, they could easily not carry a UDFA for the second year in a row, though that changed by midseason last year. (This year's UDFA crop does include intriguing prospects at tackle, where the Ravens need new blood.)

Before the draft, Pro Football Focus ranked the Ravens' roster as the NFL's seventh best, citing receiver as their biggest shortcoming. I'm guessing that ranking could rise now that they addressed that perceived shortcoming with their top draft pick.

It's a strong, young roster that doesn't figure to undergo significant upheaval during the months that include offseason workouts, minicamp, training camp and the preseason.

You can already clearly see the outline of the team the Ravens will carry into the 2021 season.

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