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. The first preseason game helped shed some light on where certain guys are in the various pecking orders and probably helped some players earn their way on or off the roster.
Obviously, any order on the roster is a fluid situation right now though. We’ve already seen multiple players move up and down rotations based on early camp performances. The goal of this series is to give a snapshot of what the roster might look like if the 53-man roster had to be finalized today. We will continue to update this roughly once a week until cut down day.
Locks: Marcus Mariota, Blaine Gabbert
Work to do: Luke Falk
As far as the roster is concerned, this position is all about Falk. Can he do enough to make the Titans brass use a 53-man roster spot on him, or will they try to sneak him on the practice squad? Falk was up and down on Thursday night, but I keep coming back to the 6th round pick they spent on him despite the fact that they certainly could have used another wide receiver or running back there.
We all knew Falk was a developmental prospect from the beginning and so did the Titans. My guess is that they don’t get pushed off their original evaluation by September 1st, even if Falk isn’t super impressive in the remaining preseason games.
Projection: (3) Mariota, Gabbert, Falk
Locks: Derrick Henry, Dion Lewis
Work to do: David Fluellen, Akrum Wadley
Longshots: Dalyn Dawkins
Thursday night was an eventful night for the race for the roster at running back. Fluellen, as expected, was the first back in behind Henry and Lewis. He didn’t get a ton of reps, but he did a lot with the touches he did get, gaining 21 yards on just 3 carries.
Wadley was up next and easily got the most touches on the night, picking up 27 yards on 9 carries while adding 11 yards on 3 receptions through the air. While those numbers aren’t great, the eye test was rather favorable to Wadley who showed a lot of burst and wiggle along with some really natural pass catching ability out of the backfield. The downside from Wadley came from a bad lost fumble and a bobbled kickoff. The fumble was a pretty soft giveaway too. It’s not like a defender put a helmet on the ball, they just kind of smacked his elbow and the ball popped free. Unfortunately, this is a continuation of something that plagued Wadley at Iowa. His fumble rate was one every 67.4 offensive touches which falls in the “red flag” category for draft guru Dane Brugler. Ball security will certainly be a focus for him over the next few weeks.
Back on the plus side, Wadley also added a 64-yard kick return that set up the Titans final touchdown. It really was a mixed bag for the undrafted rookie, but there is no doubt that he has some ability. Right now, I think that Fluellen’s hold on the RB3 remains firm. Wadley’s ability in the passing game makes him intriguing to me, especially if running backs coach Tony Dews can find a way to cure his fumble-itis.
Projection: (4) Henry, Lewis, Fluellen, Wadley
Locks: Corey Davis, Rishard Matthews, Taywan Taylor
Work to do: Tajae Sharpe, Michael Campanaro, Darius Jennings, Nick Williams, Deontay Burnett, Devin Ross
Longshots: Jordan Veasy, Brandon Shippen, Cameron Batson
On my last roster projection, I said I was close to moving Sharpe in to the “Locks” category, but I’m glad I didn’t. One thing the preseason game cleared up was the fact that Darius Jennings is ahead of Sharpe in the pecking order right now. That means Sharpe is squarely on the bubble.
Outside of the top three, I feel like Jennings may have the best shot at the roster as things stand right now and he did nothing to hurt that status in Green Bay. However, nothing really feels settled at this point so he’s not in the clear just yet.
There are essentially two separate competitions heating up for what I’m projecting to be three remaining roster spots behind Davis, Taylor, and Matthews. The first competition is among the outside receivers and the top competitors there seem to be Jennings, Sharpe, and Ross in that order. Ross has started to gain some momentum over the last week or so.
The other competition is for a slot role and the top group there early appeared to be Campanaro, Williams, and Burnett in that order. However, Campanaro has been dealing with an injury recently — something that has been a problem with him his entire NFL career — and that opened the window for Williams to be the first man up working with the first team offense on Thursday. He took advantage of that shot and it will be interesting to see where Campanaro fits in when he gets back.
My guess is that we see three of those six make the 53-man roster, but we have a long way to go before we know which three that will be. I would all but guarantee that it will be two from one group and one from the other, but I’m not sure which group gets the two. For now, I’m going with Jennings, Williams, and Sharpe. There is no doubt that Williams made an impression both as a receiver and as a special teams player Thursday. If he keeps that up it will be hard to keep him off the 53.
Projection: (6) Davis, Matthews, Taylor, Jennings, Williams, Sharpe
Locks: Delanie Walker, Jonnu Smith, Luke Stocker
Work to do: Anthony Firkser
Longshots: Tim Semisch, Ethan Wolf, Jerome Cunningham
Since the last version of this article, the Titans released Phillip Supernaw which shakes this group up a little bit. They also added Jerome Cunningham who was in camp with the team last year as well. He’s highly unlikely to make the roster though.
The top three are realistically locked in. That leaves the remaining question whether or not they keep four here. Anthony Firkser is the clear top candidate right now, but he had a relatively rough Titans debut on Thursday as he stumbled down after a short catch despite having more room to run and then later had a bad drop. It was a tough night at the Team Firkser headquarters (my house). I wouldn’t be shocked if the Titans kept four tight ends, but Firkser is going to have to show more to earn that spot. For now I’m just sticking with the three.
Update: DeLuca was waived to clear room for the Titans to add some numbers to the defensive line and outside linebacker groups. Frankly, the writing was really on the wall for him as soon as the team asked him to change positions. It’s hard to make that transition and make a roster as an undrafted player.
Projection: (3) Walker, Smith, Stocker
Locks: Taylor Lewan, Ben Jones, Jack Conklin, Josh Kline, Dennis Kelly
Work to do: Quinton Spain, Kevin Pamphile, Cody Wichmann, Corey Levin
Longshots: Xavier Su’a-Filo, Aaron Stinnie, Tyler Marz, Elijah Nkansah, Nico Falah, Matthew Diaz, Laurence Gibson
There are seven guys that I feel like are locks or borderline locks right now: Lewan, Spain, Jones, Kline, Conklin, Kelly, and Pamphile. Pamphile’s versatility was on display in Green Bay as I saw him line up in at least three different positions during the game. He also played well overall — despite a holding call while blocking on the edge for a Wadley run — displaying quick feet and good mobility. I was impressed with him and think he remains likely to make the roster.
However, the guy that really blew me away on Thursday was Corey Levin. He played second team center and then slid over to right guard late in the game, playing well at both spots. I’m going to have a separate post on him this week, but for now, let’s just say that it was a very good night for the second year player from UT Chattanooga. That performance along with his versatility, slides him up on to the roster in this edition, bumping Wichmann off.
Seeing Jack Conklin starting to do some work outside at training camp makes me slightly more hopeful that maybe his return to practice isn’t that far off. If that’s the case, then I think there is an increasing likelihood that the Titans only keep eight here, which is probably the ideal number.
Projection: (8) Lewan, Spain, Jones, Kline, Conklin, Pamphile, Kelly, Levin
Locks: Jurrell Casey, DaQuan Jones, Austin Johnson, Bennie Logan
Work to do: David King, Julius Warmsley, Matt Dickerson
Longshots: Mike Ramsay, Du’Vonta Lampkin, Francis Kallon
Julius Warmsley continues to make plays and I believe he has passed David King on the defensive line pecking order at this point. The praise he’s earned from Vrabel over the past couple weeks makes me think he’s trending in a good direction to make the roster.
Dickerson also seems to be hanging around here and could find a way to sneak on. I think King’s roster spot could be in jeopardy, though I have him hanging on just barely here.
Update: Kallon was signed Sunday as the Titans continue to take a look at a few different options at this position. A native of London, England, Kallon only started playing football at age 18 after moving to the United States. He’s a raw, but athletic defensive lineman who has spent time with several NFL franchises over the past year and a half. Behind the Steel Curtain put together a nice write up on him if you want to learn more.
Projection: (6) Casey, Jones, Johnson, Logan, Warmsley, King
Locks: Brian Orakpo, Derrick Morgan, Harold Landry, Aaron Wallace
Work to do: Josh Carraway, Sharif Finch
Longshots: Tobenna Okeke, Tony Washington, Davond Dade
The Titans lost Gimel President to an injury on Thursday and waived him this past weekend. I hate it for a guy who had been playing well in camp and had a huge play against the Packers, forcing the Jayon Brown interception by hitting the quarterback’s arm as he threw.
When President went down, the next man up was Sharif Finch, not Josh Carraway. I had suspected that President and Finch were working above Carraway during camp, but sometimes it’s hard to know for sure, but this kind of clarified things a bit. Not only did Finch get in the game first, but he made a much bigger impact once he did, picking up a sack, a forced holding call on the offense, and multiple pressures while using a dizzying array of pass rush techniques. Finch got the day off on Saturday, but assuming he remains healthy, there is zero doubt left to me that he’s the fifth guy at this spot. He needs to be on this roster. More on him coming this week too.
Update: The Titans added two more outside linebackers — Tony Washington and Davond Dade — to the roster today. Washington has lots of Titans ties. He’s been on and off the Texans practice squad/camp roster for the past three seasons while battling multiple injuries. Mike Vrabel would have been his position coach for two of those three years. He was also a teammate of Marcus Mariota’s at Oregon.
Dade is an undrafted free agent from Portland State. He has some pretty impressive measurables at 6’-3” and 248 pounds running a 4.73 second 40 and posting a 36 1/2” vertical, but he had just 2 sacks during his senior season despite the competition level. It’s highly unlikely that either of these guys make the roster. This is more about bolstering the numbers at a position that just lost President and has been missing Orakpo for weeks now.
Projection: (5) Orakpo, Morgan, Landry, Wallace, Finch
Locks: Rashaan Evans, Wesley Woodyard, Jayon Brown, Will Compton
Work to do: Daren Bates
Longshots: Robert Spillane, Brandon Chubb
Injured Reserve: Nate Palmer
Daren Bates continued to help his chances at the roster on Thursday. He played well at linebacker, showing off some good range and finishing tied for second on the team with 6 tackles. With Nate Palmer’s season unfortunately ending on the practice field last week, it seems like Bates is in a pretty good spot now.
I did think that Robert Spillane showed up a lot against the Packers. He led the team with 8 stops on the night, but I’m not sure that’s going to be enough to really move the needle for him with regards to the 53-man roster. It might, however, he help him earn a spot on the practice squad.
Projection: (5) Evans, Woodyard, Brown, Compton, Bates
Locks: Malcolm Butler, Adoree’ Jackson, Logan Ryan, LeShaun Sims
Work to do: Kalan Reed, Rico Gafford
Longshots: Kenneth Durden, Trey Caldwell
Injured Reserve: Tye Smith
Thursday night was a rough one for this group as they were largely picked on, especially in the second half. LeShaun Sims was outstanding, including a series where he almost single-handedly stopped a Green Bay drive. Sims was already a lock to make this roster, but that was a good reminder why.
Kalan Reed had an up and down night. He had a really nice pass break up and some good coverage on other plays, but also got beat a few times. Overall, I think he did more to help than hurt though.
Rico Gafford also had an up and down night. He was called for a pass interference on a third down fade in the endzone where he didn’t get his head around, reminiscent of every Titans corner we’ve seen over the past five years it seems like. However, he also had a nice pass break up where he flashed his recovery speed and showed good timing getting his hands in there to knock the ball away. Gafford wasn’t a disaster, but he wasn’t great either.
Beyond Gafford, the rest of the corners at the bottom of the roster were flat out horrific and two of them — Joseph Este and Jarell Carter — were cut once the team got back to Saint Thomas Sports Park. The Titans added two new corners — Kenneth Durden and Trey Caldwell — to replace them. Durden is a guy they’ve seen before as he was on the Titans practice squad for part of last season. Caldwell is a former 5th round pick of the Browns. Neither guy is likely to make the roster, but hopefully they can at least make the second halves of the remaining preseason games less painful to watch.
Update: Joshua Kalu was released as the Titans continue to get rid of everyone involved in the secondary’s disaster of a second half on Thursday.
Projection: (5) Butler, Jackson, Ryan, Sims, Reed
Locks: Kevin Byard, Kenny Vaccaro
Work to do: Dane Cruikshank, Kendrick Lewis, Demontre Hurst, Brynden Trawick, Steven Terrell
Longshots: Damon Webb, Jason Thompson
Injured Reserve: Johnathan Cyprien
Dane Cruikshank’s injury throws a wrench in this position group again. The team didn’t put him immediately on IR which is a good sign, but they did turn around and sign veteran safety Steven Terrell — one of the players that came in to work out after Johnathan Cyprien went down — so that could be an indicator that they expect Cruikshank to be out for a while.
The backup safeties didn’t play great Thursday night either with the exception of Damon Webb, who I thought made some plays. Hurst really struggled in particular and Terrell’s addition may have as much to do with his struggles as Cruikshank’s injury.
This is a hard group to predict right now. The team will find a way to keep Cruikshank around either via IR or PUP if his injury is long term, but we really have no idea what kind of timeline they’re looking at with him. If Cruikshank is healthy, they will end up parting ways with one of Terrell, Trawick, or Lewis most likely. This is a total guess, but going with Cruikshank on PUP and then those three making it behind Byard and Vaccaro for right now.
Projection: (5) Byard, Vaccaro, Lewis, Trawick, Terrell
Kicker: Ryan Succop
Punter: Brett Kern
Long Snapper: Beau Brinkley
The Titans 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: King, Levin, Wadley, Falk
First Four Out: Campanaro, Wichmann, Gafford, Firkser
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, though it moved more neutral before the season actually started. 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 WRs getting extras, but that could move around. We could also see them go a little heavier on defense.
On defense I think the base line is 5 per position group with one getting an extra. Right now I’m using that spot for a defensive lineman, but you could also grab an extra cornerback or safety or edge rusher if the team feels someone really stands out.
I will continue updating this as rotations change and we get more practice reports and preseason action to evaluate. Who did I leave out that you would have kept?