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Titans Rosterology: Post-Steelers Edition

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Rosters must be cut down to 53 by Saturday at 3:00 PM CT and things are starting to come in to focus for the Titans.

NFL: Tennessee Titans at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Titans will have to cut down from the 90 players currently on the team to 53 by 3:00 PM Central on Saturday. With just the final preseason game against the Vikings left — a game that likely will feature very few starters — things are starting to come in to focus. In fact, most roster spots are probably already decided barring injuries Thursday night.

Here are the 53 players I expect to make the roster along with 10 practice squad projections below.


Quarterback

Locks: Marcus Mariota, Blaine Gabbert

Work to do: Luke Falk

Nothing Falk has done in camp or preseason action makes me think that the Titans wouldn’t be able to get him on to their practice squad. I can’t imagine some other NFL team is looking to use a roster spot on a 3rd QB who doesn’t know their system and hasn’t looked very good in preseason action. This feels to me like a no-brainer.

Projection: (2) Mariota, Gabbert


Running Back

Locks: Derrick Henry, Dion Lewis, David Fluellen

Work to do: Akrum Wadley

Longshots: Dalyn Dawkins, Lenard Tillery

Welcome to the “Locks” category, David Fluellen. There is zero doubt that Flu belongs on the roster. He’s been very good in preseason action and when you factor in his ability on special teams it’s an easy decision.

The harder decision will be whether the Titans decide to keep a 4th RB. Akrum Wadley had an injury that kept him out of the Steelers game, but he returned to practice this week and will likely get a good look against Minnesota. If there is one guy on the roster who could really help himself on Thursday, it’s probably Wadley. I’m not sure he’s done enough to make it as things stand now, though I do think his ability as a pass catcher out of the backfield would be very beneficial to have around in case Dion Lewis were to get hurt for any extended amount of time.

Dawkins has had a decent preseason, but I don’t think he’s roster-worthy right now. I don’t think he’s quite as good as Wadley and they’re too similar to keep both around in my opinion even on the practice squad. Tillery is essentially here to soak up a bunch of carries in the 2nd half on Thursday when the Titans are looking to get out of the game healthy.

Projection: (4) Henry, Lewis, Fluellen, Wadley


Wide Receiver

Locks: Corey Davis, Rishard Matthews, Taywan Taylor, Tajae Sharpe

Work to do: Darius Jennings, Nick Williams, Deontay Burnett, Devin Ross

Longshots: Jordan Veasy, Brandon Shippen, Cameron Batson

Injured Reserve: Michael Campanaro

Sharpe gets bumped up to the “Locks” line as well. He’s making the roster. Rishard Matthews’ return to practice after being activated off PUP was the big news of the week and the Titans made room for his return by moving Campanaro to the injured reserve, likely ending his season before it started.

Nick Williams is the guy that seemed pegged to grab Campanaro’s roster spot, but an apparent hamstring injury suffered in Pittsburgh may put that in jeopardy depending on the severity of the injury. Mike Vrabel talked about getting a few guys who have primarily worked outside previously like Matthews, Taylor, and Jennings some work in the slot with Williams out. They likely were going to be moving either Matthews or Taylor inside at least on a part time basis anyway to get their best guys on the field together.

The Williams injury — if its more than just a tweak — really re-opens the competition for the last couple receiver spots. I’ve been slotting 6 receivers in here the last few runs through and I continue to think that’s probably the case, mainly because I feel like WR6 is a better player than QB3 or TE4 right now. Jennings seems highly likely to make it in to one spot. He’s drawn great reviews from coaches during camp/preseason and has been a plus on special teams. If Williams is going to be out a while that could be the opening that a guy like Devin Ross or Deontay Burnett need to sneak in. Thursday night will be another good showcase for those guys.

Right now I’m going to assume that Williams will be back sooner rather than later and keep him on the roster, but if he’s out a while I’d put Ross in to his spot. I think he’s been slightly more impressive than Burnett to me (though it’s very close). If Williams’ hammy is more of the 5-6 week variety, they could keep him on the 53 and then move him to IR so they have the option to bring him back later in the season. That would give them room to keep Ross or Burnett around on the 53 if they wanted to, or they could spend that roster spot elsewhere if they felt there was a more pressing need at another position.

Projection: (6) Davis, Matthews, Taylor, Sharpe, Williams, Jennings


Tight End

Locks: Delanie Walker, Jonnu Smith, Luke Stocker

Work to do: Anthony Firkser

Longshots: Tim Semisch, Ethan Wolf, Jerome Cunningham

Firkser finally came through in Pittsburgh with his big 5-catch, 69-yard, 1-touchdown performance. That was the kind of stuff I saw early in camp that caught my attention (see, I’m not crazy), but I still don’t know if that’s enough to get him on the team.

He’s not going to unseat Stocker because they are very different types of tight ends. Stocker is a big in-line blocking type while Firkser is more of an H-back/move tight end. The Titans will need Stocker’s ability as a blocker, particularly given Smith’s struggles in that aspect of the game during preseason action.

If anything, Firkser is probably battling Akrum Wadley and the WR6 (Williams or Ross or Burnett likely) for a roster spot. He helped his cause against the Steelers, but I still think he’s just a bit short here.

Projection: (3) Walker, Smith, Stocker


Offensive Line

Locks: Taylor Lewan, Ben Jones, Jack Conklin, Josh Kline, Dennis Kelly, Quinton Spain, Corey Levin, Kevin Pamphile

Work to do: Cody Wichmann, Xavier Su’a-Filo, Tyler Marz

Longshots: Aaron Stinnie, Elijah Nkansah, Nico Falah, Laurence Gibson

I’m moving Spain, Levin, and Pamphile up to the “Locks” line. Spain has locked down the starting left guard spot in camp/preseason. Levin is the team’s backup center and has put together an outstanding preseason to really show what he can do in this new offense. I also bumped up Pamphile. I get that he missed a block that led to a sack on Saturday, but he also was given some reps with the first team in place of Josh Kline who struggled early. Pamphile’s versatility — he can play all 5 offensive line positions — make him among the more valuable backups on the roster.

One of the most fascinating decisions on the roster will be what the Titans decide to do with Jack Conklin. Less than two weeks from opening day, it’s highly unlikely that the Titans starting right tackle is out there in Miami. That leaves the team with three options: 1) put Conklin on the regular season PUP which will make him eligible to return in Week 7 at the earliest, but gives them an extra roster spot to work with until then or 2) put him on the 53-man roster and make him one of the 7 inactives until he’s ready to go or 3) put him on the 53-man roster and then move him to IR to open up a roster spot, but allowing him to return after 8 weeks. Obviously Option 2 is the most optimistic. That would mean the team thinks he has a good chance to be back at least a week or two before Week 7 and want him on the field as soon as he’s available. Option 3 would be the most alarming, putting him out for a minimum of half the season.

What they choose to do will be based on Conklin’s prognosis along with how comfortable they are with Dennis Kelly filling in. Kelly has been mostly good in preseason work — though he missed an assignment that led to a Mariota sack against Pittsburgh — so that could help keep them from feeling the need to rush Conklin back. The guess here is that they put Conklin on PUP and keep Marz who can serve as a backup at tackle and guard until Conklin is eligible to come back in Week 7.

Projection: (8) Lewan, Spain, Jones, Kline, Pamphile, Kelly, Levin, Marz

PUP: Conklin


Defensive Line

Locks: Jurrell Casey, DaQuan Jones, Austin Johnson, Bennie Logan, Julius Warmsley

Work to do: David King, Matt Dickerson

Longshots: Mike Ramsay, Du’Vonta Lampkin, Francis Kallon

Warmsley gets the bump up to “Locks” this week as well. He’s been consistently excellent in camp and preseason and is easily one of the 5 best D-linemen on the roster. The guy I’m keeping an eye on right now is Matt Dickerson. He’s flashed quite a bit as well and has some juice as an interior pass rusher. I’m putting him on here as my 53rd spot even though I think 6 DL is overkill, especially for a 3-4 team.

Projection: (6) Casey, Jones, Johnson, Logan, Warmsley, Dickerson


Outside Linebacker

Locks: Brian Orakpo, Derrick Morgan, Harold Landry, Aaron Wallace, Kamalei Correa

Work to do: Sharif Finch, Josh Carraway, Tobenna Okeke

Longshots: Tony Washington

Finch moves to “Locks” this week. He’s clearly ahead of Carraway right now and he deserves to make this team. In addition to showing off a ridiculously deep toolbox of pass rush moves, he also can contribute on special teams where he blocked 5 punts during his college career at Temple. He’s too good to leave off the team and injuries to Morgan and Landry only make Finch’s spot that much safer.

I think there is a really good chance that Carraway makes it as well. He’s been showing a little more over the past couple weeks and, again, the injuries here almost make him a necessity. He’s pretty close to a lock right now to me, at least until this group gets fully healthy.

Update: The Titans traded a 6th round pick for Kamalei Correa shortly after this posting which complicates things a bit here. There is no word on Landry’s injury situation and it’s worth noting that Finch was also among the players who missed practice yesterday so there could be some news on the injury front that corresponds to this, but it could also just be the team adding depth at a critical spot where injuries seem to be piling up.

Correa already knows the defense, having played under Dean Pees for his first two seasons. He’s going to make the roster. That takes a spot away from Josh Carraway most likely, though injury news on Landry or Finch could change the view here. It will be interesting to see where the other shoe drops. The Titans must make a move by 3:00 this afternoon to make room on the roster for Correa.

Projection: (6) Orakpo, Morgan, Landry, Wallace, Correa, Finch


Inside Linebacker

Locks: Rashaan Evans, Wesley Woodyard, Jayon Brown

Work to do: Will Compton, Daren Bates, Robert Spillane

Longshots: Nyles Morgan, Deontae Skinner, Jeff Knox

Injured Reserve: Nate Palmer

Rashaan Evans appears to be easing back in to practice which is good news. He probably won’t get a chance to get on the field for Thursday’s preseason game, but at least we are seeing progress from the 1st round pick. I think Compton is pretty safe as a depth/special teams type guy.

My guess is Bates also makes it as a special teams player, but Vrabel has been extremely complimentary of Robert Spillane recently — and his play in the preseason games has warranted it — so I’d at least keep an eye on him as a possible surprise on the 53-man roster.

Projection: (5) Evans, Woodyard, Brown, Compton, Bates


Cornerback

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

Kenneth Durden really helped himself with a great game in Pittsburgh and continued to work higher in the CB rotation than Rico Gafford. He seems very likely to take that 5th cornerback spot. I don’t think the Titans will end up keeping 6 here.

Projection: (5) Butler, Jackson, Ryan, Sims, Durden


Safety

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

This is a tough spot to figure out with all the injuries. We know that Byard and Vaccaro will be the starters. Cruikshank should be safe on the 53-man roster. He returned to practice last week, but did not play against the Steelers as he continues to work back from the shoulder/arm injury suffered in Green Bay. However, he’s a guy they traded up to get (even if it was the 5th round) and seemed to have liked what they saw from him early on in camp. He has the skill set to be a core special teamer right away and has taken it upon himself to get one-on-one film sessions in with Byard during their down time between meetings.

I still think Trawick makes it as a special teams ace. He went to the Pro Bowl last season for his contributions there. Kendrick Lewis is the other guy that I think makes it despite him really struggling with injuries over the past few weeks. Terrell and Hurst have a shot if Lewis remains out for an extended period of time. I think Damon Webb has come on with a couple plays over the last two games as well. I think he’s a good practice squad candidate.

Projection: (5) Byard, Vaccaro, Cruikshank, Trawick, Lewis


Specialists

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: Nick Williams, Tyler Marz, Josh Carraway, Matt Dickerson

First Four Out: Devin Ross, Deontay Burnett, Anthony Firkser, Robert Spillane

Right now I’m a slight defense lean with 23 offensive players, 27 defenders, and 3 specialists. Last season the Titans initial roster was even more 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.


Practice Squad

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.

  1. Luke Falk, QB
  2. Deontay Burnett, WR
  3. Devin Ross, WR
  4. Anthony Firkser, TE
  5. Nico Falah, C/G
  6. Du’Vonta Lampkin, DL
  7. Tobenna Okeke, OLB
  8. Robert Spillane, ILB
  9. Rico Gafford, CB
  10. Damon Webb, S

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 update this one more time on Friday after the final preseason game before cuts start coming down to see how close I can get. Who did I leave out that you would have kept?