When the Ravens announced their 53-man roster Saturday, it was another indication that this could be a particularly challenging season for NFL rookies. No undrafted rookies made the Ravens' initial 53-man roster, ending a 16-year streak.
Undrafted rookies who have made the team in previous seasons include Pro Bowlers like kicker Justin Tucker and fullback Patrick Ricard. Last year, linebacker Otaro Alaka and center/guard Patrick Mekari kept the streak alive. Mekari ended up starting six games, including one in the playoffs.
A new NFL rule for this season allows practice squads to include up to 16 players, and some of the players released Saturday will surely land on the practice squad, putting themselves in position to contribute at some point this season.
Head Coach John Harbaugh encouraged all players who were released Saturday to stay ready. Due to the uncertain circumstances created by the coronavirus, any player who is on the practice squad could potentially be promoted to the 53-man roster at any time.
"It is different this year in that sense," Harbaugh said. "You might need to bring up 10 players or something like that; that's something that you talk to those guys about. So, we talk to them about being ready if you make it to the practice squad – being ready to actually – not just work on developing their game and improving and earning a spot on the roster, but actually being prepared to play the game that week. That's definitely something that they're going to have to think about.
"All these guys are on the brink of making the National Football League. There's really nobody that comes to camp that can't compete at this level; they're all right there."
Harbaugh said anyone on this year's practice squad would be valued heavily due to the unusual circumstances.
"Being on the practice squad this year, in my mind, is like making the team," Harbaugh said. "I think most teams are going to really want to hold on to their guys for their practice squad because they know the system, they're kind of schooled up in the offense and defense, and you have to assume that there's a possibility that those guys will be playing in any given week."