We are officially just 2 weeks from the first practice of the Titans 2018 training camp. That means we are about to — finally — start getting some real information about certain position battles and who might be on the roster bubble. The Titans will have to cut down from the 90 players currently on the team to 53 by 3:00 PM Central on September 1st. Here is my first run at who I think is currently in good shape to make the team and who probably has some work to do at each position.
Locks: Marcus Mariota, Blaine Gabbert
Work to do: Luke Falk
This one is pretty simple. Mariota and Gabbert are locks to make the roster. Even if Falk outplays Gabbert during the preseason, there is no way I see the Titans going in to 2018 with only a developmental rookie on the roster behind Mariota.
Falk is very likely to make the roster as well, but I think a disastrous camp/preseason could give the Titans the chance to try to sneak him on to the practice squad. However, I expect that the team will end up keeping all 3 of these guys with Falk being among the 7 inactives on gamedays.
Projection: (3) Mariota, Gabbert, Falk
Locks: Derrick Henry, Dion Lewis
Work to do: David Fluellen, Akrum Wadley
Longshots: Dalyn Dawkins
There will be a couple interesting things to watch in camp at running back. First, who gets the “A” part of the “RB1A and RB1B” equation between Henry and Lewis. Both are going to have significant roles and I think you can certainly pencil in Lewis as the primary 3rd down back, but how much early down work will he get? We may not get much indication from their usage in camp/preseason games, but it will be a big topic of conversation around this team.
The second major question is how many backs beyond those two do they keep, and which ones? Last year the team only carried 3 running backs on the roster for most of last season and it’s entirely possible that they only keep 3 again. The 3rd running back is unlikely to get any work on offense barring injury so you really need a special teams contributor in this spot if possible. That’s why I think Fluellen is very likely to make the team again. He is a good special teams player and has looked pretty solid carrying the ball in preseason action the last few years.
The guy many people are excited to see in preseason is Akrum Wadley. The UDFA out of Iowa had a very good college career and was projected by many to be a 5th-6th round draft pick. His fall out of the draft was good fortune for the Titans who were able to add a talented young player who fits their system really well for free essentially. Wadley is undersized at just 5’-10” and 194 pounds, but quickness is his game. He also excels as a receiver out of the backfield so he ideally profiles as a good Dion Lewis stand-in.
The question becomes whether or not he can show enough to convince the Titans to keep 4 running backs or beat out Fluellen for the 3rd spot. Wadley can contribute on special teams, but he’s more of a return man than a blocking/tackling type role like Fluellen. I expect Adoree’ Jackson to remain the primary punt returner, but Wadley and others like Michael Campanaro could be used on kick returns as Eric Weems was last year.
Dalyn Dawkins is similar to Wadley, but possibly even more geared towards a pass catching role, something he did quite a bit of during his time at Colorado State. He would be a major longshot to make the roster though.
Projection: (4) Henry, Lewis, Fluellen, Wadley
Locks: Corey Davis, Rishard Matthews, Taywan Taylor
Work to do: Tajae Sharpe, Michael Campanaro,
Longshots: Darius Jennings, Deontay Burnett, Jordan Veasy, Brandon Shippen, Nick Williams, Cameron Batson, Devin Ross
Some may argue that Sharpe belongs in the “Locks” category and I thought about putting him there. The only reason he’s not there is the fact that he doesn’t play special teams. If he isn’t clearly in the top 4 among the wide receivers by cut down day, I think he could be at risk of not making the roster. I would have him at that 4th spot right now, and therefore will have him projected to make the team, but there isn’t as much margin for error for Sharpe as there is for guys like Taylor and Campanaro who can be special teams contributors even if they aren’t getting much run as pass catchers.
Speaking of Campanaro, I think he’s very likely to make the roster. He’s a very good return man if the Titans want to split those duties to help keep Adoree’ Jackson fresh and he also has experience covering kicks and punts. As a receiver, he’s realistically limited to more of a slot type role, but he’s flashed some ability there as well.
Among the “Longshots”, the Titans have a lot of very similar type players. Each of these guys are listed between 5’-8” and 6’-0” tall and between 175 pounds and 192 pounds besides the 6’-3”, 221 pound Jordan Veasy. Out of this group a few stand out for various reasons.
Nick Williams is notable because of his experience. He’s played in 22 NFL games and has 28 receptions for 263 yards and 2 touchdowns. He’s also spent 3 of his 4 NFL seasons playing on offenses coordinated by Kyle Shanahan with Matt LaFleur coaching quarterbacks (2013 Redskins, 2015-16 Falcons). Williams’ signing could have been a cheap way to get a receiver in the room that truly understands the offense that LaFleur is trying to install during camp, but that understanding could help him sneak on to the back of the roster as well.
Jennings is a guy who has been with the Titans since last training camp, hanging around on the practice squad during the season. He has earned some buzz throughout OTAs and minicamp and was clearly among the better receivers at the back of the roster last preseason and it will be interesting to see if he can build on that this year.
The two others that seem to be players to watch are Burnett and Veasy. Burnett had a productive college career at USC and was a guy that many expected to be drafted. Veasy was less productive, but his physical skills stand out thanks to his size and strength. This position group is extremely small as a group. Veasy is one of just two receivers — Corey Davis being the other — checking in over 6’-0” tall and over 200 pounds.
Projection: (5) Davis, Matthews, Taylor, Sharpe, Campanaro
Locks: Delanie Walker, Jonnu Smith
Work to do: Luke Stocker, Phillip Supernaw
Longshots: Tim Semisch, Anthony Firkser
The Titans will likely keep either 3 or 4 here with Walker and Smith being locks. That means Stocker and Supernaw are likely battling for either the 3rd spot or to force the team to keep 4. Stocker is an excellent blocking, inline type tight end and I felt like he made a difference in the run game after being picked up midseason in 2017. Supernaw is a better athlete overall with an ability to contribute in the passing game and on special teams. If it were up to me, I’d lean towards Stocker’s blocking if forced to choose.
Semisch and Firkser will need to blow the team away to sneak on to the roster.
Projection: (3) Walker, Smith, Stocker
Locks: Taylor Lewan, Ben Jones, Jack Conklin, Josh Kline
Work to do: Quinton Spain, Kevin Pamphile, Dennis Kelly, Xavier Su’a-Filo, Corey Levin, John Theus
Longshots: Aaron Stinnie, Cody Wichmann, Tyler Marz, Elijah Nkansah, Nico Falah, Matthew Diaz
One of the few starting jobs that seems to be truly up for grabs heading in to camp is left guard. Spain is the incumbent and the favorite, but with the team bringing in some experienced starting guards during the offseason in Pamphile and Su’a-Filo — and not committing to Spain long term — it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Titans try out a couple different starting combinations up front.
Pamphile’s versatility — he can play any of the 5 positions on the line — and starting experience make him very likely to make the team in my opinion. Most of his playing time has been at either left guard or right tackle which makes him a particularly good fit. I suspect that he will be Jack Conklin’s temporary replacement at right tackle to start the season instead of Dennis Kelly.
Conklin’s injury likely means the Titans going a little heavier than usual on offensive linemen for the initial 53-man roster unless they decide to start him on the PUP — which would cause him to miss a minimum of the first 6 weeks. If they think he could be ready sooner than that, the Titans could decide to keep 9 offensive linemen and just make Conklin inactive on gamedays until he is well enough to play.
One guy that I really want to see in action is 2nd year guard/center Corey Levin. He profiles as an ideal fit for a zone blocking scheme. The Titans used him exclusively at center last preseason, but I wonder if he might get a look at left guard as well.
One theme of the later signings this offseason has been getting guys who know the schemes the new coaches are trying to install. We saw it at receiver (Nick Williams), safety (Kendrick Lewis), and outside linebacker (Gimel President). That addition on the offensive line was John Theus who played under Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco last year in a scheme that will be very similar to what Matt LaFleur will be installing here. These players are good to have in camp to act as coaches on the field, but that also may give them a better chance to impress and make the roster.
Among the “Longshots”, I think Wichmann and Marz could be candidates to push for a roster spot. Marz got some extended looks with the first team line during the preseason last year before ending up back on the practice squad. He was signed off the Titans practice squad by the Chargers in September, but was eventually waived in November and ended up signing back with the Titans at the end of the season. Wichmann is a former draft pick of the Rams who has 18 career starts to his name which makes him at least intriguing as a camp player. I wouldn’t read too much in to this, but I did come across a stray photo from minicamp that appeared to show Wichmann working with the 1st team offense. Again, don’t read a ton in to that, Spain might have turned an ankle and Wichmann was the first to volunteer to jump in for a rep, but I did find it at least a little curious.
Projection: (9) Lewan, Spain, Jones, Kline, Conklin, Pamphile, Kelly, Levin, Theus
Locks: Jurrell Casey, DaQuan Jones, Austin Johnson, Bennie Logan
Work to do: David King
Longshots: Mike Ramsay, Julius Warmsley, Connor Flagel, Matt Dickerson
The top 4 here are stone cold locks, and David King seems very very very likely to make the roster. Last year the Titans kept 6 of these guys, but I don’t know if they’ll keep that many this year. They will have 2 or fewer of these guys on the field at the same time for more than 60% of snaps and with Casey getting a large share of snaps, there really aren’t a ton left to go around for the others. Jones, Johnson, and Logan can all play multiple positions in the base defense as well as moving to a true 3-tech position in sub-packages so there isn’t a need for much depth behind that.
Another factor that could keep this number lower than previous years is Kevin Dodd. He has reportedly been spending some time working with the defensive line group during this offseason and he could be a guy that gets some work as a depth player at multiple spots if he sticks around on the roster.
Out of the “Longshots” group, I would give Mike Ramsay the best shot. He was a productive player at Duke and defensive line guru Chuck Smith thinks he has a chance to become a starter in the NFL. At 6’-2”, 300 pounds, Ramsay ran a 4.89 40-yard dash and posted 5.5 sacks last season for the Blue Devils.
Projection: (5) Casey, Jones, Johnson, Logan, King
Locks: Brian Orakpo, Derrick Morgan, Harold Landry
Work to do: Aaron Wallace, Kevin Dodd, Josh Carraway, Gimel President, Sharif Finch
Longshots: Tobenna Okeke
The top 3 here are all locks for the roster, but the Titans need at least a couple of the players behind them to step up and claim a spot. Aaron Wallace seems the most likely of the next group to take a spot as long as the back injury that held him out of the 2017 season is fully healed. He did make the initial 2017 roster before the team decided to shut him down and send him to injured reserve. Prior to the injury Wallace had flashed some real pass rush ability during the preseason.
After two seasons of being a complete non-factor, Kevin Dodd is officially out of excuses. He has been healthy all offseason for the first time since being drafted by the Titans and it’s time for him to show something. Playing less as a stand up 3-4 outside linebacker and more as a hand-in-the-dirt defensive end could help him. Even when he was somewhat effective early in his rookie season, he looked completely lost and out of place trying to drop in to coverage. I don’t think it’s over for Dodd just yet, but he’s clearly on the bubble and there may be no player on the roster who needs a good camp/preseason more than him.
Carraway hung around on the roster last season, but was only active for one game. He will have some competition for his spot as well. Sharif Finch is a UDFA that the Titans paid an unusually large signing bonus to secure, so he figures to be a name to watch. They also brought over Gimel President from the Texans who Vrabel and outside linebackers coach Shane Bowen will know well from their time in Houston. Both guys are players I will be keeping an eye on during preseason action.
Projection: (6) Orakpo, Morgan, Landry, Wallace, Dodd, Finch
Locks: Rashaan Evans, Wesley Woodyard, Jayon Brown
Work to do: Will Compton, Daren Bates, Nate Palmer
Longshots: Nick DeLuca, Robert Spillane
This position could feature a battle for a starting spot with a vacancy available next to Woodyard. Evans is the clear favorite here and will be the full-time starter eventually, but you can’t rule out Brown or even Compton getting the nod at least for the first few weeks while the rookie gets up to speed.
Compton seems very likely to make the roster in my opinion. He has lots of starting experience and is, by all accounts, a great leader and locker room presence. Plus he and Lewan are already besties.
Daren Bates likely makes the team too in my opinion. He was a core special teams player last year and brings a lot of energy to that unit. I hope he returns for another year.
Projection: (5) Evans, Woodyard, Brown, Compton, Bates
Locks: Malcolm Butler, Adoree’ Jackson, Logan Ryan, LeShaun Sims
Work to do: Tye Smith, Kalan Reed
Longshots: Demontre Hurst, Jarell Carter, Joseph Este, Rico Gafford, Joshua Kalu
The top 4 are a lock and it’s unlikely that anyone else sees the field barring injuries so this may be among the more boring groups in terms of roster positioning. The only real question is how many additional corners make it on the team.
My guess is that the Titans only keep 5 total here and the last spot comes down to Smith or Reed. Part of my reasoning is that the team has already hinted at the idea that Dane Cruikshank could play multiple roles in the secondary which lessens the need for a 6th corner.
Projection: (5) Butler, Jackson, Ryan, Sims, Smith
Locks: Kevin Byard, Johnathan Cyprien, Dane Cruikshank
Work to do: Kendrick Lewis, Brynden Trawick, Damon Webb
Beyond the top 3, this is among the more difficult spots for me to figure out. Trawick earned a Pro Bowl nod with his special teams work last season, but he’s virtually a specialist as he registered just 4 snaps on defense in 2017 despite being active for every game. Cruikshank figures to be a plus special teamer as well, but without a ton of depth at this position they can probably still afford to keep Trawick for his teams play.
Either Lewis or Webb figures to take a spot on the roster as well. Lewis was out of the league last year, but his familiarity with both Mike Vrabel and Dean Pees helped earned him a shot here. He started for the Texans in 2014 while Vrabel was a linebackers coach and was a starter for part of his two year stint under Pees in Baltimore in 2015 and 2016. For a young group trying to learn a new scheme, having an experienced vet to bounce things off of could be beneficial.
Webb is another of the Titans more prominent UDFAs. He also boasts experience under a current coach as he came from Ohio State where Kerry Coombs coached him for the last 4 years. Webb was a starter for the last 2 seasons in Columbus and picked off 5 passes in his senior season. Webb versus Lewis will be an interesting battle to watch, but due to the lack of experienced depth, I’m giving the edge to Lewis right now.
Projection: (5) Byard, Cyprien, Cruikshank, Trawick, Lewis
Kicker: Ryan Succop
Punter: Brett Kern
Long Snapper: Beau Brinkley
The Titans will also have punter Austin Barnard in camp, but clearly, the Titans are set with the same excellent group they had last year.
Last Four In, First Four Out
Borrowing from ESPN’s Bracketology, here are the eight guys that I have straddling the cut line right now. The “Last Four In” are the guys that I view as roster spots 50-53 right now, while the “First Four Out” are the guys I think are the closest among those on the outside looking in right now.
Last Four In: Wadley, Theus, Finch, Dodd
First Four Out: Supernaw, Reed, Jennings, Ramsay
Right now I’m pretty balanced between offense and defense with 24 offensive players, 26 defenders, and 3 specialists. Last season the Titans initial roster was unbalanced in favor of the defense with just 22 offensive players compared to 28 defenders. Defenders are usually better special teamers so you generally won’t see it tilt the other way.
On offense I think one of the primary roster battles is going to be a competition between QB3, RB4, WR6, TE4, and OL9 to see who can force the team to take an “extra” at their spot. Right now I have the QBs, RBs, and OL getting extras, but that could move around. We could also see them go a little heavier on defense.
I will be updating this as we get news from camp and see how these guys perform in preseason action.