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 two preseason games have helped to 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
What do the Titans do with Luke Falk? Falk hasn’t been setting the world on fire in preseason to this point. He was a pedestrian 8 of 12 for 64 yards on Saturday night in a pretty bland performance. He severely underthrew Devin Ross on a deep ball which ended up drawing a pass interference call when the defenders clattered in to Ross who was trying to stop and come back to the ball. Besides that, it was mostly checkdowns and safe throws from Falk. I get the sense sometimes that he’s trying too hard to avoid mistakes rather than having an aggressive, attacking mentality.
The underthrow was a bit alarming as I’m not sure Falk has enough arm to be an effective NFL QB. He doesn’t need to have a Josh Allen-like rocket launcher attached to his shoulder, but he has to be able to attack downfield with enough credibility that safeties don’t start creeping up. On the plus side, Falk does appear to be a smart player with a good feel for moving within the pocket. He’s not taking his eyes down every time there is a flash of color in front of him. However, arm talent is one of those things that most quarterbacks either have it or they don’t. There isn’t really a great track record of players who got to the league and then suddenly improved their arm strength/accuracy significantly.
The question really comes down to whether the Titans think Falk can be developed long term and how likely they think it is that another team would try to poach him if they put him on the practice squad. Based on what I’ve seen so far, I would think the team should feel pretty safe putting him on the practice squad. So that’s where I have him right now — see the bottom of this post for my projected practice squad — leaving the Titans with just two QBs on the roster.
Projection: (2) Mariota, Gabbert
Locks: Derrick Henry, Dion Lewis
Work to do: David Fluellen, Akrum Wadley
Longshots: Dalyn Dawkins
At this point, I’d be pretty shocked if Fluellen doesn’t make the team. He’s run well in both preseason games, contributes on special teams, and generally does everything you’d want a RB3 to do, even if he does it in an unspectacular fashion. He should be on this team.
I’m thinking that it’s beginning to look pretty likely that the Titans keep four running backs. Falk doesn’t look like he’s going to force them to keep three quarterbacks and none of the tight ends past Stocker seem like they’re going to push for a TE4 spot. That frees up the Titans to comfortably hang on to an extra back.
Right now I would still lean Wadley over Dawkins, though it’s closer than it was a few weeks ago. Wadley’s fumble issues are a real concern, but his ability as a pass catcher is what tips the scales in his favor for me. If Dion Lewis were to go down with an injury — not exactly a far-fetched thought given his history — the Titans will need someone to step in and fill the role of passing down back and Wadley has shown far more in that regard than Dawkins. Wadley is a natural pass catcher with enough wiggle to create after the catch. They will need that skill set if Lewis were to miss extended time.
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
I feel pretty good about Sharpe making the team, especially after he was given some first team reps on Saturday night against the Bucs. I suspect they will keep six receivers which leaves two spots. Right now I don’t see how those two spots don’t belong to Nick Williams and Darius Jennings. Both guys have gotten reps with the first team and have made plays both on offense and on special teams during the preseason.
Campanaro hasn’t been healthy enough to get out there for either preseason game and has missed valuable practice time as well. Maybe he gets back on the field this week and shows what he can do, but there isn’t a ton of time left for him right now. The team is likely going to keep either him or Nick Williams for a slot receiver/special teams role and Williams has clearly done more to deserve that spot than Campanaro.
I don’t think any of the UDFAs are going to make the roster, but Devin Ross and Deontay Burnett seem like good practice squad candidates. Ross has shown some playmaking ability with the ball in his hands and he drew the big pass interference call in the 4th quarter Saturday night with his speed, but he also put the ball on the ground which is a no-no for a guy trying to make a roster. Burnett has been a consistent player in camp and made a couple plays of his own this preseason, but he left Saturday’s game with an injury that could cost him any chance at a late push for a roster spot. I really like him as a prospect though. He’s just 20 years old and has the best natural hands on the team in my opinion. He probably needs a year or two in an NFL strength program, but he seems like an ideal guy to stash and develop.
Projection: (6) Davis, Matthews, Taylor, Sharpe, Williams, Jennings
Locks: Delanie Walker, Jonnu Smith, Luke Stocker
Work to do: Anthony Firkser
Longshots: Tim Semisch, Ethan Wolf, Jerome Cunningham
I think Anthony Firkser still has an outside shot to make it as a 4th tight end, but nothing he’s done in preseason so far makes me feel like he’s a must-have on the 53-man roster. The Titans are likely going to have fewer total tight end snaps to go around this season and Jonnu Smith should be soaking up the vast majority of the multi-tight end set opportunities.
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, Xavier Su’a-Filo, Tyler Marz
Longshots: Aaron Stinnie, Elijah Nkansah, Nico Falah, Laurence Gibson
I think Corey Levin has solidified a spot on the 53-man roster over the last couple weeks. He’s been excellent and looks to provide good depth as a center/guard on a cheap rookie contract.
One of the big questions that we should get an answer to in the next couple weeks is whether or not Jack Conklin will start the season on the PUP. If he does, that opens up an extra roster spot for the first six weeks of the season. If they don’t put him on the PUP, that’s a good sign, but it could also force them to keep nine offensive linemen on the 53-man roster depending on how quickly they expect him to be ready.
I feel really confident in seven guys right now: Lewan, Spain, Jones, Kline, Conklin, Kelly, and Levin. I feel pretty good about Pamphile as well. I think his versatility is valuable and expect him to be OL8. If Conklin goes PUP or if the team decides to keep nine I think it comes down to Su’a-Filo or Marz. I’d lean Marz because of his ability to play tackle or guard while Su’a-Filo is essentially just a guard only.
Projection: (9) Lewan, Spain, Jones, Kline, Conklin, Pamphile, Kelly, Levin, Marz
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 is nearing lock territory for me. I think he’s going to make this roster. He’s played well from the start of camp and carried it in to preseason action.
David King is officially on notice. He’s fallen behind Warmsley and his injury has opened the door for Matt Dickerson to get some additional reps as well. Dickerson has been the most impressive of the UDFA options here and I think he’s likely a practice squad candidate.
It seems like overkill for the Titans to keep six in this spot. These guys aren’t generally good special teams contributors and with Derrick Morgan having the ability to slide inside, especially on passing downs, it just doesn’t make sense to hang on to big numbers on the interior defensive line.
Projection: (5) Casey, Jones, Johnson, Logan, Warmsley
Locks: Brian Orakpo, Derrick Morgan, Harold Landry, Aaron Wallace
Work to do: Josh Carraway, Sharif Finch
Longshots: Tobenna Okeke, Tony Washington
The fifth spot here seems to be Finch’s to lose right now. He’s played very well in preseason and is consistently rotating in before Carraway or any other outside linebacker besides the top four. Carraway and Okeke have both had moments, but neither has been as explosive or consistent as Finch. I think he’s making the roster and I don’t think it should really be that close.
I’ve had a hard time figuring out where to spend the 53rd spot on this pass through, but I ended up settling on Carraway. He flashed a little against Tampa Bay and can contribute on special teams. He’d be my first guy off though if another team cut a player that I liked elsewhere.
Projection: (6) Orakpo, Morgan, Landry, Wallace, Finch, Carraway
Locks: Rashaan Evans, Wesley Woodyard, Jayon Brown
Work to do: Will Compton, Daren Bates
Longshots: Robert Spillane, Nyles Morgan, Deontae Skinner, Jeff Knox
Injured Reserve: Nate Palmer
The Titans did some adding here today, signing Morgan, Skinner, and Knox to the roster while cutting offensive tackle Matthew Diaz and linebackers Davond Dade and Brandon Chubb. Skinner and Knox are both journeyman type guys who have been in and out of the NFL for several years now. Morgan is a UDFA from Notre Dame who posted over 90 tackles in two seasons as a starter for the Irish. These guys are bottom of the roster for now, but we will see what they can do.
Projection: (5) Evans, Woodyard, Brown, Compton, Bates
Locks: Malcolm Butler, Adoree’ Jackson, Logan Ryan, LeShaun Sims
Work to do: Rico Gafford, Kenneth Durden
Longshots: Trey Caldwell, Joshua Kalu
Injured Reserve: Tye Smith, Kalan Reed
The Titans picked up another season-ending injury with Kalan Reed getting put on injured reserve this week. After losing Tye Smith earlier in camp, this really opens up the CB5 competition. Rico Gafford and Kenneth Durden have to be considered the clear favorites among the current corners on the roster, but this is a spot where they may look for help off the waiver wire when cuts are made.
I like Gafford slightly better than Durden so far. Both had nice PBUs on plays Saturday night, but Durden had a terrible Cover 2 exchange where he hung Kendrick Lewis out to dry on the Bucs touchdown on 3rd and 15 at the end of the first half. Durden reportedly had a good week of practice last week after getting signed following the Packers game which earned him some early reps against Tampa Bay.
Projection: (5) Butler, Jackson, Ryan, Sims, Gafford
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
The Titans got good news with rookie Dane Cruikshank returning to practice on Monday which was far quicker than I originally expected to see him come back following the arm/shoulder injury he suffered in Green Bay. Before he was injured Cruikshank was playing high in the rotation, even getting some snaps with the first team. He should slot back in as one of the top backups behind Byard and Vaccaro along with being a key special teamer.
Kendrick Lewis played Saturday night and did a nice job, but he then left with an injury which could cloud his status as cut day approaches. If Lewis is OK, I think he makes the team. If he’s not, I think Terrell is likely the next guy up out of this group.
I think Trawick sticks around thanks to his special teams ability, but he’s likely not going to get much work as a safety.
Projection: (5) Byard, Vaccaro, Cruikshank, Trawick, Lewis
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: Williams, Marz, Gafford, Carraway
First Four Out: Campanaro, Durden, Dickerson, Burnett
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 RBs, OL, 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 Josh Carraway, but you could also grab an extra cornerback or safety or defensive lineman if the team feels someone really stands out.
Teams can add 10 players to the practice squad after cutting down from 90 to 53 on the roster. There are several rules with regards to which players are eligible to be added to this group and you can check those out in depth here. Here is my guess for the 10 that the Titans would try to keep if the cut down was today.
- Luke Falk, QB
- Deontay Burnett, WR
- Devin Ross, WR
- Anthony Firkser, TE
- Nico Falah, C/G
- Matt Dickerson, DL
- Tobenna Okeke, OLB
- Nyles Morgan, ILB
- Kenneth Durden, CB
- Damon Webb, S
I tried to find a spot for Dalyn Dawkins, who I believe to be a pretty good young back, but there just didn’t seem to be a need for a practice squad back with four backs on the 53-man roster. The issue with projecting practice squad spots is that teams can steal players off a team’s practice squad if they want them on their 53-man roster and the Titans may find other players who were cut elsewhere that they like more than one of the guys they currently have. There is almost certainly at least one player on another roster right now that will end up on the Titans roster in some form or fashion before they take a snap Week 1.
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?