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Takeaways from the Titans initial 53-man roster

There were a couple surprises on cut day, but nothing shocking.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Tennessee Titans

The Titans finalized their initial 53-man roster for the 2018 season yesterday. There weren’t any real shockers, but there were a few mild surprises among the selections. Here are the most surprising keeps and cuts according to me.

Surprising Keeps

Aaron Stinnie, G

I was pretty certain that Stinnie was going to be cut after a really bad showing against the Steelers in the preseason, but the Titans must have liked what they saw from him in practices. The 6’-3”, 312 pound UDFA guard from James Madison fits the athletic profile of a zone blocking guard though, running a 4.65-second short shuttle and a 7.63-second 3-cone during his pro day.

Stinnie is a relatively raw prospect who only played two years of high school football and began his college career as a defensive lineman. I thought Tyler Marz was likely to be the 9th offensive lineman kept, but he ended up getting added to the practice squad instead. The Titans must think Stinnie has considerable upside to use a roster spot on him.

Cameron Batson, WR/KR

Batson is another guy that I don’t think I saw on any 53-man roster projections. Most felt like the 6th wide receiver spot — if the Titans chose to keep 6 — would come down to Nick Williams or Deontay Burnett, but it ended up being the explosive Batson who got the nod. Batson played his college ball at Texas Tech, totaling 1,499 receiving yards over 50 games. He also returned kicks and punts during his Red Raider career.

Batson is undersized at 5’-8” tall and 175 pounds, but he makes up for it with his explosiveness. He ran a 4.32-second 40-yard dash at Texas Tech’s pro day which would have tied for the fastest time at the combine if he’d run it there. Batson also posted blistering 3.96-second short shuttle and 6.69-second 3-cone and a 39” vertical. In addition to being a tremendous athlete, he’s also a highly intelligent player, graduating from Tech with honors and majoring in accounting. He’s was a 2017 semi-finalist for the Campbell Award, an honor given to college football’s best scholar-athlete.

During the preseason Batson was the Titans primary kick returner, picking up 161 yards on 7 returns. He also added 19 yards on 4 punt returns and 7 catches for 74 yards in the passing game. He repeatedly earned praise from Vrabel for his fearlessness in the return game and, obviously, special teams will be his primary role on the team. My guess is that Batson is the opening day starting kick returner with Adoree’ Jackson handling punts. That’s probably what made him the choice at this spot over a guy like Deontay Burnett too.

While he likely won’t get much work as a receiver in 2018, Batson clearly profiles as a slot type player who can offer elite run after catch ability. Something he showed off on the play below.

Vrabel was very complimentary of the UDFA receivers that the team brought in right before cut day so that speaks to how much they must like Batson as he was the only one to make the roster.

Matt Dickerson, DL

Dickerson probably qualifies as a surprise, but this is one that I thought was in play. I even had him making it on my second-to-last 53-man roster projection before regrettably leaving him off on my final version.

Dickerson is a guy that Jim Wyatt first put on my radar when he mentioned him as one of the UDFAs that stood out to him during OTAs. Dickerson is a great size-weight-speed prospect at 6’-5” and 292 pounds with good movement skills.

During preseason, Dickerson flashed consistently as both a run defender and an interior pass rusher.

Dickerson figures to get some snaps a small part of the defensive line rotation for the Titans this season as the team only kept 5 at this position.

Anthony Firkser, TE

If you read my early training camp practice reports or follow me on Twitter, you know I loved Firkser from day one. I didn’t think the Titans would end up keeping him after an up and down preseason, but I’m glad to be wrong in this case.

Firkser is a 6’-2”, 246 pound move tight end who played his college ball at Harvard. He led the Crimson in receiving yards during his senior season in 2016. After going undrafted in the 2017 draft, he spent time with the Jets and Chiefs at various times last season.

During camp, Firkser made play after play in the passing game. He flashed that ability in the preseason game against the Steelers, turning in a 5 catch, 68 yard, 1 touchdown line, including this great grab up the seam.

Firkser can contribute on special teams as well which gives him a chance to be active on game days this fall. I can’t wait for NFL announcers to learn that he went to Harvard.

Surprising Cuts

Julius Warmsley, DL

The fact that Warmsley’s omission from the 53-man roster qualifies as a surprise is a testament to the work he put in during camp and preseason. As a 28 year old player who had spent the better part of the last 4 seasons on and off various practice squads Warmsley didn’t profile as a training camp darling coming in, but he ended up as one anyway.

He earned some early praise from Vrabel and quickly vaulted ahead of David King on the defensive line rotation, even getting some snaps with the first team defense from time to time. He continued his excellent play throughout the preseason which led many to think he was a borderline lock for the 53-man roster. My read on why Warmsley didn’t make the cut is that the Titans likely felt that the gap between Warmsley and Dickerson was relatively small and Dickerson is 6 years younger, offering higher long term upside.

Nick Williams, WR

Williams made some waves early in camp and preseason and looked to be a likely roster candidate as a slot receiver who could contribute on special teams as well. However, like Warmsley, Williams is an older player at 27 years old and a hamstring injury suffered during the Steelers game likely played a role in him getting left off the 53. It’s possible that the Titans wait for Williams to heal and then add him back later in the season.

Deontay Burnett, WR

This may be the least popular of all the Titans cuts. Fans loved Burnett, who showed great feel for the game and outstanding hands during preseason action. At just 20 years old, he also offered considerable upside as a long term development prospect.

I understand why people liked him, but I think his undoing was likely special teams related. He didn’t offer as much there as guys like Batson and Darius Jennings and was pretty much limited to just the slot role on offense. As a back of the roster receiver, it’s tough to make the team without offering more versatility.

He went unclaimed through the waiver process before signing on to the Jets practice squad. I’m guessing the Titans would have liked to bring him back on their practice squad, but Burnett chose to reunite with his college QB, Sam Darnold, in New York.

Akrum Wadley, RB

Wadley is a guy that many expected to compete for the third running back spot with David Fluellen, but that battle never really materialized in camp. The question then became whether he would force the Titans to keep four backs, but injuries held him back and left him on the outside looking in by cut day. The Titans signed Dalyn Dawkins to the practice squad already so it seems like they are moving on without Wadley altogether (though there are still four practice squad spots open as of this writing).

Other Takeaways

  • Luke Falk didn’t earn a spot on the 53-man roster and I agree with the decision to let him go, even if he provides some information about the offense to the Dolphins. He doesn’t have an NFL arm and that’s not something that usually develops at the professional level.
  • Keeping Firkser tells me that we are going to see plenty of 12 personnel in this offense. Matt LaFleur has commented that the Rams league-leading use of 11 personnel was more by necessity than design last season based on getting their best players on the field. I expect the Titans to use multiple tight end sets fairly often in 2018, though probably not at the level that Mike Mularkey did.
  • The Vrabel Titans will prioritize special teams. The team kept at least three players — besides specialists Ryan Succop, Brett Kern, and Beau Brinkley — for their ability to impact the game on 4th down. Batson, Daren Bates, and Brynden Trawick are all on the 53-man roster to help in the kick coverage and return games primarily. Additionally, players like Darius Jennings, LeShaun Sims, Dane Cruikshank, and Will Compton all likely had their roster odds boosted by their ability to help on special teams.
  • Jack Conklin was activated off PUP which means the team believes their starting right tackle will be ready to return at least a week or two prior to Week 7 (when he would have been eligible to return had he stayed on PUP). That’s great news for the Titans.
  • The Titans ended up keeping 4 players from their 2018 UDFA class — Stinnie, Dickerson, Batson, and Sharif Finch — even though it may not have been some of the guys fans expected to make it. Will the Titans have a Malcolm Butler/Wesley Woodyard/Quinton Spain success story out of this group?