Now that the draft has come and gone, we have a solid idea of what the roster is going to look like, barring any surprising cuts. Since we're still ages away from real football action, we might as well dream about who will be lining up in two toned blue when season finally does arrive. For this post, I will feature the offense.
Before discussing who the starters will be, it's important to determine what positions constitute labeling a player as a starter. Conventional football wisdom (along with Madden depth charts) might lead one to believe that you have 1 quarterback, 1 running back, 1 full back, 1 tight end, 2 wide receivers, and 5 offensive lineman. But that's only one of several potential personnel groupings. Because practically every normal grouping has 5 lineman and 1 quarterback, the other 5 skill positions are where all the flexibility lies. A popular way to label these groupings is with a simple, 2 digit numbering scheme. In this scheme, the first number refers to the number of running backs in the formation and the second number refers to the number of tight ends. It stands to reason that the remaining 5 skill positions will be filled by wide receivers. The aforementioned Madden standard depth chart, then, would be referred to as 21 personnel.
But is 21 really the NFL's base personnel? Or the Titans? Pro Football Focus has the answer. According to PFF, NFL teams line up most often with the following personnel:
21 (2 RB, 1 TE, 2 WR): 13.26% of the time
12 (1 RB, 2 TE, 2 WR): 19.74% of the time
11 (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR): 51.62% of the time
NFL teams actually run 3 WR sets over 50% of the time. This explains why the fullback is a dying position and why the slot receiver is becoming so prolific in today's NFL. But what about the Titans last year? With a former offensive lineman as a head coach, surely we ran more 21 and 12? The Titans, even under Mike Munchak, used 11 personnel 47% of the time (and 2nd most was 12 at 22%). In San Diego, Ken Whisenhunt relied on 11 personnel even more often, almost 67% of the time, good for 5th highest rate in the league. So with that, I think it's safe to say we can toss aside conventional wisdom.
The following figure is what a base 11 personnel formation might look like.
Using the above image as our standard, my guess at next year's starters are as follows:
LT - Michael Roos. He's the longest tenured starter, and still one of the best left tackles in the country. He's not going anywhere this year.
LG - Andy Levitre. Levitre was the jewel of last year's free agency class. He's a very talented guard and will no doubt be the starter in 2014.
C - Brian Schwenke. Schwenke took over mid way through last year as a rookie and played well enough to keep the spot.
RG - Chance Warmack. Warmack was last year's first round pick and started every game for the Titans in his rookie year. He struggled at times, but he showed all the tools to turn into a dominant guard for years to come.
RT - Taylor Lewan. Right tackle is the first position that will be different from last year's starting 11. David Stewart, former stalwart, has moved on after battling with injuries last year. The Titans signed Michael Oher to potentially fill the void left by him, but drafted Taylor Lewan at #11 overall. I think the Titans eventually see Lewan as the team's left tackle after Roos either retires or leaves for free agency, but if he's allowed to compete in camp for the spot at right tackle, I think he has the ability to win the job as long as the coach's don't feel obligated to start Oher because of his contract.
Flanker - Justin Hunter. Hunter is in many ways the prototypical flanker in terms of build and skill set. He is tall, fast, and he can elevate to catch the ball. He is not, however, a very big player, and he can struggle beating the press at times. Since flanker puts him off the line of scrimmage (because he's "flanking" the TE), he doesn't have to worry about beating the press as much, and he can get clean releases off the line of scrimmage. This could be his breakout year.
Split End - Nate Washington. Washington has been a very productive player for the Titans. While Washington is perhaps a better fit at slot or flanker, he's a veteran who is capable of playing at any of the wide receiver positions, and because the team lacks a true split end with the departure of Kenny Britt, I expect to see Washington fill the role. The fact that the Titans did not acquire a true split end in free agency or the draft tells me that they think the answer is on the roster. I believe that answer is Nate.
Slot - Kendall Wright. While we will see Wright play outside at times, he is most productive in the slot. As a slot WR, he is asserting himself as one of the best in the league, and I expect that moving forward, he will become renowned as a premier wide receiver from the slot position, much like Wes Welker has.
Tight End - Delanie Walker. Walker had a very productive year for the Titans in 2013, and he will continue to be a reliable target in 2014 as the starting TE. He is also flexible enough to be used as an H back or full back out of the backfield in other personnel groupings.
Running Back - Bishop Sankey. With the departure of Chris Johnson, the Titans will be looking for a new starting running back in camp. The favorite to win this job before the draft might have been Shonn Greene, but after drafting Sankey in the 2nd round, and now that there are rumors that Greene had another knee surgery, Sankey should be the odds on favorite to start. He will split carries with Greene and Dexter McCluster, though.
Quarterback - Jake Locker. Despite the fact that the Titans drafted Zach Mettenberger in the 6th round, the front office seems committed to Jake Locker as the starter this year. If there is an open competition in camp, Mettenberger might have an outside chance, and if Locker struggles down the stretch, he may be replaced, but as long as Locker is healthy and playing reasonably well, he should be the starter this year.
Of course, things could change at any time due to injury or open camp competitions, but I think the 11 players listed above are the players that we'll see on the field for the majority of the offensive snaps this season. Overall, this is a young, talented offense that is capable of scoring a lot of points.