Now that free agency and the draft are in the rear view mirror it is time to turn our attention to what the Titans roster will look like when the 2017 season kicks off against the Raiders at Nissan Stadium. There are a few things that can change between now and then like injuries (knock on wood), off-field trouble, or trades, but for the most part the core of the roster shouldn’t change much. So let’s take a look at the roster position by position as it stands today and see if we can guess the 53-man roster.
Players: Marcus Mariota, Matt Cassel, Alex Tanney, Tyler Ferguson
Analysis: This one is pretty straightforward. Obviously, Mariota is the clear starter while Cassel and Tanney will compete for the right to back him up. Cassel got a new two-year deal this offseason to come back for another turn, but the team clearly likes Tanney quite a bit as well. He has been with the team off-and-on since 2014. Cassel should be considered the favorite to win the backup job, but Tanney has a chance to at least push him in camp. The Titans signed UDFA Tyler Ferguson to a deal after the draft. He is realistically probably just an arm to be used for the rookie mini-camp, but if they like him he might stick around on the practice squad later in the offseason.
Projected 53-Man Roster (2): Marcus Mariota, Matt Cassel
Battle to Watch: Cassel vs. Tanney for QB2
Players: DeMarco Murray, Derrick Henry, Khalfani Muhammad, David Fluellen, Akeem Judd
Analysis: Murray and Henry will return as the top 2 backs in this offense in 2017. Murray will be the starter with Henry likely seeing at least a small increase in usage during his 2nd season in the league. They are among the best 1-2 punches in the NFL right now. Beyond that it gets hazy. The team chose not to bring back Antonio Andrews this offseason so there will be a new #3 back making the team. I would give 7th round pick Khalfani Muhammad a pretty big edge over Fluellen or Judd (another UDFA addition) right now. Muhammad is small, but has 4.34 speed and runs hard. His ability to catch the ball out of the backfield gives the Titans a good change of pace if they need it and he can also be a big factor on special teams where he can return kicks. I wouldn’t expect to see him taking any snaps from Murray or Henry when both are healthy though.
Projected 53-Man Roster (3): DeMarco Murray, Derrick Henry, Khalfani Muhammad
Battle to Watch: Muhammad vs. the field for RB3
Players: Jalston Fowler
Analysis: Fowler is a solid fullback and has no competition on the roster currently. The question for Fowler is whether or not the Titans continue to roster a true fullback. Fowler only played 17.9% of the Titans offensive snaps last year which was quite a bit less than the Titans 3rd tight end Phillip Supernaw (28.1%). Lots of NFL teams have gone away from the fullback position altogether. They will use an H-back type of tight end to fill that spot, or even throw a defensive lineman in the backfield to play the role in short yardage situations. If the roster gets more competitive in other spots, the Titans may opt to go that route and use a guy like Jonnu Smith as an H-back instead of keeping Fowler around. They could also get back to using Karl Klug as a lead back on the goal line as they have in the past. My guess is that the Titans like Fowler enough to continue to roll with him on the roster rather than keeping a 5th tight end or a 6th wide receiver.
Projected 53-Man Roster (1): Jalston Fowler
Battle to Watch: Fowler vs. an extra TE or WR
Players: Corey Davis, Rishard Matthews, Taywan Taylor, Tajae Sharpe, Harry Douglas, Eric Weems, Tre McBride, Jonathan Krause, K.J. Maye, KeVonn Mabon, Bra’lon Cherry, Giovanni Pascascio
Analysis: Unlike quarterback and running back, the wide receiver position is going to look quite a bit different in 2017. Obviously, when you take a wide receiver 5th overall you expect him to come in and play right away. I fully expect Corey Davis and Rishard Matthews to be your starting X and Z receivers when the Titans line up against the Raiders on September 10th. Taywan Taylor likely picks up snaps as the top slot receiver right away and Tajae Sharpe probably rotates in for 4-wide sets and to spell either Matthews or Davis. This is starting to look like a real threatening wide receiver group. Normally, rookie wide receivers are slow to develop, but I don’t think that is going to be the case with Davis and Taylor. For one, the Titans demonstrated a willingness to throw a rookie receiver in the fire last year with Sharpe. But more importantly, Davis and Taylor come in as refined route runners which gives them a leg up on most rookie receivers. Getting these guys in the playbook and in sync with Mariota is priority #1 for this offense this summer. Beyond the top 4, the rest of the receiver group is likely battling for 1 or 2 spots.
Weems, McBride, and Douglas seem like the top contenders. Weems adds value on special teams which gives him an edge even if he isn’t the primary return man. He is a very good gunner on punt coverage and can run down kickoffs too. If you’re going to keep more than 4 wide receivers, you would really like them to contribute on special teams. McBride is similar to Weems in that he offers some special teams ability. The only reason to keep Douglas at this point would be veteran leadership and depth at the slot position behind Taylor, but considering that both Corey Davis and Rishard Matthews could work down in the slot if needed, that seems less valuable in 2017 than it did last year. I don’t think Douglas makes the team this year.
Krause and Maye were practice squad guys last year, but neither has shown enough at this point to consider worthy of a spot on the 53-man. Mabon, Cherry, and Pascascio are UDFA receivers who will come in to compete, but seem likely to be destined for the practice squad.
Projected 53-Man Roster (5): Corey Davis, Rishard Matthews, Taywan Taylor, Tajae Sharpe, Eric Weems
Battle to Watch: Weems vs. Douglas for WR5
Players: Delanie Walker, Phillip Supernaw, Jonnu Smith, Jace Amaro, Jerome Cunningham, Tim Semisch, Kody Kohl
Analysis: Delanie Walker returns as the Titans go-to tight end in his 5th season with the team. Delanie is a stud and one of the best receiving tight ends in the NFL, but the Titans lost one of the best run-blocking tight ends in the league when Anthony Fasano signed with the Dolphins in free agency. Fasano was realistically a starter for this team as he played 50.2% of all offensive snaps in 2016. The TE2 role on this team will probably be decided between Phillip Supernaw and 3rd round rookie Jonnu Smith. Smith was an above-average blocker in college, but blocking in the NFL is a different animal than blocking in Conference USA. Supernaw has been solid but unspectacular over the past two years, however he was named the Titans most attractive player this offseason so he’s got that going for him. My expectation as of today is that Supernaw will take Fasano’s in-line-blocking tight end spot while Smith is used from time to time in specific packages. If Smith proves to be a good enough blocker to get on the field as the TE2 right away, that is the best possible scenario for the Titans.
The dark horse in the tight end competition is Jace Amaro. The former 2nd round pick of the Jets flashed a lot of potential in his rookie year in 2014 before missing 2015 with a shoulder injury and then being released by the Jets before the start of the 2016 season. The Titans claimed Amaro off waivers and he stuck with the team throughout the season, but was usually a healthy inactive on game days. He did fill in for an injured Delanie Walker against the Raiders early in the season and contributed with 3 catches for 59 yards. Amaro’s receiving skills have never been in question, but his lack of willingness to block in the running game cost him his job in New York and has held him back in Tennessee. Here’s to hoping the light comes on for Amaro this offseason.
Cunningham and Semisch are both veteran players who are unlikely to make the 53-man roster for this team. Kohl is a UDFA H-back type who could be a practice squad guy.
Projected 53-Man Roster (4): Delanie Walker, Phillip Supernaw, Jonnu Smith, Jace Amaro
Battle to Watch: Supernaw vs. Smith for TE2
Players: Taylor Lewan, Jack Conklin, Dennis Kelly, Brad Seaton, Tyler Marz, Jonah Pirsig, Steven Moore, Ryan Melton
Analysis: Lewan and Conklin are the best tackle duo in the NFL. Both guys are locked in to start again this year and for many years to come. The Titans traded frustrating receiver Dorial Green-Beckham to the Eagles at the end of training camp last year to acquire Kelly. It ended up being a good deal for the Titans. The Eagles signed Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith this offseason and then turned around and drafted Mack Hollins and Shelton Gibson to fill the DGB sized hole at receiver they still had, while the Titans got a valuable swing tackle who was able to adequately fill in for Taylor Lewan at left tackle when he got ejected from the Packers game in the 1st quarter. Kelly also got on the field quite a bit as a tight end in some jumbo packages. Kelly is an ideal backup lineman as he has experience playing guard and tackle on both sides of the line.
Seaton was a 7th round pick who could act as the body-double for The Mountain on Game of Thrones (credit to @MisterLebowski on Twitter) if this whole NFL thing doesn’t work out. In fact, can we just go ahead and start calling him The Mountain now?
Check out his highlight reel.
WARNING: The following images depict extreme violence.
In all seriousness, Seaton is a beast, but his feet look very slow on tape which is not great for an NFL tackle expected to slide with the likes of Von Miller on the edge. But for a 7th round pick, you can’t go wrong taking one of the biggest and baddest dudes out there. Who knows? Maybe he develops in to the second coming of David “Big Country” Stewart. I, for one, cannot wait to see The Mountain line up against Roderick Henderson (a 6’-0” 340 lbs UDFA NT the Titans signed) in training camp. Beyond Seaton there is a veteran practice squad guy in Marz competing with a few UDFA’s in Pirsig, Moore, and Melton likely for a spot on the practice squad. I would only expect the Titans to keep 3 tackles on the 53-man roster and probably 1 or 2 on the practice squad.
Projected 53-Man Roster (3): Taylor Lewan, Jack Conklin, Dennis Kelly
Battle to Watch: Seaton vs. a 4th guard
Players: Quinton Spain, Josh Kline, Sebastian Tretola, Tim Lelito, Corey Levin, Josue Matias, Karim Barton
Analysis: This is one of the few positions on the team where it feels like a starting spot is truly up for grabs. Quinton Spain played well enough that I would expect him to be the starting left guard when the season opens, but it’s not a 100% lock. Josh Kline’s spot at right guard seems the most likely to be open for someone to take. Kline played pretty well last season, but he was the weakest link in a very strong chain. The Titans brought in Lelito as veteran competition at guard. He has 24 careers starts from his 4 years in New Orleans so he will certainly be in the mix at guard. Tretola was a 6th round pick in the 2016 draft that got a look in the starting rotation during parts of his rookie training camp. The team seems to like what they’ve seen from Tretola so far. Corey Levin was the Titans 6th round pick this year and he’s pretty impressive on tape. He played at UT-Chattanooga, but holds up very well in pass protection and is athletic enough to get out as a pulling guard or screen passes. Don’t be surprised if he gets some looks with the 1’s in camp. I could easily see any of these 4 guys ending up as the opening day starting right guard. This will be one of the most fascinating position battles to watch during camp. I would give the edge to Kline at the moment though based on experience and his good performance last season. Levin seems like a good fit as a swing backup as he has experience at both guard and tackle, like Dennis Kelly, and also has played some center. Matias and Barton seem to be on the outside looking in at the moment.
Projected 53-Man Roster (4): Quinton Spain, Josh Kline, Tim Lelito, Corey Levin
Battle to Watch: Kline vs. Tretola vs. Levin vs. Lelito for RG1
Players: Ben Jones
Analysis: Jones is the only active center on the roster. Guards Kline, Lelito, and Levin all have some experience playing center though so expect the runner up in the guard battle to end up being the de facto backup center.
Projected 53-Man Roster (1): Ben Jones
Battle to Watch: N/A
Players: Sylvester Williams, Austin Johnson, Antwaun Woods, DeAngelo Brown, Roderick Henderson
Analysis: Sylvester Williams was signed this offseason to replace Al Woods in the middle of the Titans 3-4 base defense. Williams could get competition from Austin Johnson, although I’m not sure that the Titans view Johnson as a true nose tackle. He is really a hybrid type defensive linemen that falls somewhere between nose tackle and a strong side 3-4 defensive end. Those two are likely to make the roster. The guys behind them will be trying to break in to the team. Woods was a practice squad guy who nearly made the team out of camp last year. The team seems to like him a lot. Brown and Henderson are both big body UDFA’s. These are two of the more prominent UDFA’s that the Titans have signed at this point so seeing them break through and end up either on the practice squad or even on the 53-man wouldn’t be a total shock. My guess today is that Woods makes the team in large part due to the fact that Klug’s recovery from Achilles surgery could require Johnson to play more defensive end this year.
Projected 53-Man Roster (4): Sylvester Williams, Austin Johnson, Antwaun Woods, DeAngelo Brown
Battle to Watch: Williams vs. Johnson for NT1
Players: Jurrell Casey, DaQuan Jones, Karl Klug, Angelo Blackson, Mehdi Abdesmad, Caushaud Lyons
Analysis: This is one of the least changed positions on the team. Casey and Jones appear set to return as starters again. The only guy that I could see changing that is Austin Johnson. Klug is recovering from the torn Achilles he suffered in the Chiefs game last season. His recovery sounds like it is going well and the team expects him to be ready for the start of training camp, but I always worry about Achilles injuries limiting a player’s explosiveness and you have to wonder if Klug will be back in form by September. The Titans have to hope he is because he is easily the best pass rushing interior lineman on the team besides Casey. Angelo Blackson flashed from time to time last season in limited action and provides solid depth for the “DaQuan Jones role” in this defense.
Those are the 4 that were usually active last year. Mehdi Abdesmad was a UDFA last year but stuck around the team and ended up on the active roster towards the end of the year taking Klug’s place after he got injured. Lyons offers veteran depth for camp but seems unlikely to end up on the 53-man roster. This is one spot that I think the Titans could use some added depth.
Projected 53-Man Roster (4): Jurrell Casey, DaQuan Jones, Karl Klug, Angelo Blackson
Battle to Watch: Abdesmad vs. numbers at other positions
Players: Brian Orakpo, Derrick Morgan, Kevin Dodd, Aaron Wallace, Josh Carraway, Kourtnei Brown, Steven Rhodes
Analysis: Again, the starters here are unlikely to change. Orakpo and Morgan were very good last year and haven’t shown any signs of slowing down. Dodd is the real wildcard in this group. Some recent comments from Mularkey indicating that the stress fracture in his foot still isn’t 100% healed which is obviously very concerning for Titans fans. Dodd flashed in his one opportunity for extended action during the Lions game last season, but the foot kept him down and out of the rotation for most of the year. I know lots of Titans fans have given up on Dodd, but I remain optimistic that he could turn out to be a good player for us if we can get his foot fully recovered. Aaron Wallace was the “other” rookie pass rusher last season, but he started to get some opportunities late in the season and looked good at times as well. Wallace is an interesting guy. He’s a bit undersized for a 3-4 OLB but he’s ultra-athletic and showed good natural pass rush skills in college. The bonus is that he is athletic enough to slide in to inside linebacker if needed. Josh Carraway was a 6th round pick this year. Like Wallace, Carraway is highly athletic, but a little raw. He needs to develop better strength at the point of attack to become an every down player, but can likely contribute early as a situational pass rusher.
Its hard to see Brown or Rhodes cracking the roster. Brown is a journeyman who has never really put it all together. Rhodes is a 28 year old former Marine who played at MTSU and earned a UDFA invite from the Titans.
Projected 53-Man Roster (5): Brian Orakpo, Derrick Morgan, Kevin Dodd, Aaron Wallace, Josh Carraway
Battle to Watch: Aaron Wallace vs. Josh Carraway for OLB4
Players: Avery Williamson, Wesley Woodyard, Jayon Brown, Daren Bates, Nate Palmer, Justin Staples, Reshard Cliett, Ja’Karri Thomas
Analysis: Williamson and Woodyard once again look to be the starters heading in to the season. 5th round pick Jayon Brown appears poised to pick up the role of coverage linebacker vacated by Sean Spence this offseason. Brown is a rangy linebacker who excels in pass defense which is exactly what the Titans needed to add to the roster. Bates was signed primarily as a special teams ace, but he could also fill in at ILB from time to time if needed.
It’s hard to see the Titans keeping more than 4 inside linebackers given the numbers at other spots on the roster which would potentially leave Nate Palmer on the outside looking in, but his special teams ability may help him make the team if its close. Staples, Cliett, and UDFA Thomas are unlikely to make the roster.
Projected 53-Man Roster (4): Avery Williamson, Wesley Woodyard, Jayon Brown, Daren Bates
Battle to Watch: Brown vs. Bates vs. Palmer for ILB3
Players: Logan Ryan, LeShaun Sims, Adoree Jackson, Brice McCain, Kalan Reed, D’Joun Smith, Curtis Riley, Tye Smith, Demontre Hurst, John Green
Analysis: Ahhh yes, the position that Titans fans can’t stop talking about. The Titans corners were horrifically bad last year as the team finished dead last in the NFL in yards per game allowed to both #1 and #2 receivers per Football Outsiders. The Titans corner group will look nothing like it did to start 2016. At the start of last season the Titans top 4 corners were Jason McCourty, Perrish Cox, Brice McCain, and Valentino Blake. Only one of those guys, McCain, remains on the roster for 2017. Ryan was the biggest free agent signing of the offseason for the Titans and they also used one of their 1st round picks to grab Jackson. Sims impressed at the end of last year when given the opportunity and seems poised to enter 2017 as a top 3 corner on the team. McCain is still effective enough covering the slot that I would expect him to make the team. Reed and D’Joun Smith seem positioned to take the 5th and 6th spots as it stands now.
Projected 53-Man Roster (6): Logan Ryan, LeShaun Sims, Adoree Jackson, Brice McCain, Kalan Reed, D’Joun Smith
Battle to Watch: Sims vs. Jackson vs. McCain for CB2 and slot
Players: Kevin Byard, Johnathan Cyprien, Da’Norris Searcy, Brynden Trawick, Denzel Johnson, Aaron Taylor
Analysis: There was a lot of talk about the Titans potentially adding a safety in the 1st round of the draft this offseason, but the team ended up not taking a safety at all. This shows a certain level of confidence in Kevin Byard in my opinion. Byard will likely start 2017 as the full time starter at free safety instead of splitting time there with Rashad Johnson and, sometimes, Da’Norris Searcy. I would expect Cyprien to start at strong safety in base defense and then often slide down to a nickel linebacker role when the team goes to sub-packages, bringing Searcy on the field to fill his safety spot. Trawick was signed primarily as a special teams player similar to Weems and Bates. Its possible that he gets some safety reps as well from time to time, but I would guess Byard, Cyprien, and Searcy handle most of the heavy lifting there.
Johnson and Taylor are a couple UDFAs that are unlikely to make the roster.
Projected 53-Man Roster (4): Kevin Byard, Johnathan Cyprien, Da’Norris Searcy, Brynden Trawick
Battle to Watch: Cyprien vs. Searcy for SS1
Players: Ryan Succop, Brett Kern, Ethan Wood, Beau Brinkley
Analysis: The Titans specialists will likely return intact this year. Ryan Succop was fantastic for the Titans last year converting 91.7% (22 of 24) field goal attempts which was good for 5th in the NFL. His only two misses were from outside 50 yards. He also converted over 95% of his extra points which put him in the top half of the league. We will never forget the kick to beat the Chiefs, Ryan. Thank you. Brett Kern is also expected to return as the punter. The Titans did sign Wood to a UDFA deal to bring in as an additional punter for camp, but he is unlikely to challenge Kern for the job. Beau Brinkley continues to be excellent as a long snapper as well.
Projected 53-Man Roster (3): Ryan Succop, Brett Kern, Beau Brinkley
Battle to Watch: N/A
This Titans roster is going to be much more competitive in camp than most in recent memory. There are going to be some good players who simply don’t make the cut down to 53. Guys like Harry Douglas, Tre McBride, Sebastian Tretola, and Nate Palmer are in real danger of getting cut despite making the team last year. I can’t find a single position that seemingly got worse from last year to this year.
The toughest calls when picking the guys I was going to keep in this hypothetical 53-man roster were who to keep among the guards, whether to keep an extra defensive lineman or an extra linebacker (came down to DeAngelo Brown vs. Mehdi Abdesmad vs. Nate Palmer), and whether to keep Harry Douglas or Jace Amaro.
There are going to be some fun stories to follow during camp this year. I think the biggest position battles are going to take place at RG, WR, and CB as those positions need to sort themselves out.
What changes would you make to my 53?