The Titans kicked off the pre season last night with an impressive 27-10 win over the Philadelphia Eagles. Several players had standout performances while some players were incredibly frustrating (*ahem* Taywan Taylor).
For those players who are trying to earn a spot on the final roster, this is there time to shine. With three more pre season games to go, there is plenty of time for players to state their case. The deadline date of August 31st at 4:00 PM Eastern is still weeks away but let’s take a look at where things stack up after yesterday's victory.
Projected Starter: Marcus Mariota
Backups/Depth: Ryan Tannehill, Logan Woodside
It was tough to properly evaluate Mariota last night and anyone who tells you differently is overreacting. He was playing without the majority of his weapons and several key offensive linemen. He also played just one drive. The rapport building between him and Humphries is however encouraging.
On the flip side, we saw plenty from Tannehill and Woodside last night. Both of them moved the second and third team offenses with ease while combining for a stat line of 26/35 good for 268 passing yards and 4 touchdowns. I’m starting to think there’s a real chance the Titans keep three quarterbacks.
Roster Projection (3): Mariota, Tannehill, Woodside
Projected Starter: Derrick Henry
Backups/Depth: Dion Lewis, David Fluellen, Jeremy McNichols, Dalyn Dawkins, Alex Barnes
There are no questions about the top of the depth chart here. Henry will be the lead back once he returns from a minor calf strain and Dion Lewis will handle most of the passing down duties. Fluellen is likely locked into the third running back job due to his special teams prowess and newly added ability to play fullback as well.
The Titans only kept three backs last year so there is no guarantee that a fourth spot will even be available. The favorite to be the fourth back should that spot exist would be McNichols who rumbled off 44 yards on 8 carries last night. He was decisive and physical. Dawkins and Barnes had rather poor showings last night, combining for just 49 yards on 20 carries. They’ll need to be a lot better if they hope to make this roster.
Roster Projection (4): Henry, Lewis, Fluellen, McNichols
Projected Starters: Corey Davis, Adam Humphries, Tajae Sharpe
Backups/Depth: A.J. Brown, Taywan Taylor, Cameron Batson*, Darius Jennings, Kalif Raymond, Anthony Ratliff-Williams, Cody Hollister, Jalen Tolliver, Tanner McEvoy, Papi White
*Placed on Injured Reserve.
This might be the most interesting group on the entire roster. Corey Davis and A.J. Brown weren’t dressed last night, leaving plenty of reps on the field for others. Some players took advantage of those reps, while others didn't.
One guy who certainly took advantage was Kalif Raymond. He lead the team in both receptions (6) and yards (80). He looked every bit of the player Titans fans hoped Taywan Taylor would become. Raymond may be small in stature but he showed plenty of toughness and solid hands throughout the night. He also returned a punt for 27 yards. Raymond’s impressive showing both as a receiver and returner gives him a chance to make this roster.
As for two players we’d expect to make the roster — Sharpe and Taylor — it was a disappointing night. Sharpe has routinely earned praise throughout practice but wasn’t even targeted last night. Taylor saw a handful of targets, but it’s what he did with them that left some disappointment out there.
After dropping a third down pass that forded a punt, Taylor later did this:
I don’t think Sharpe’s roster spot is in jeopardy, and Taylor’s isn’t yet either (but we may revisit this if he can’t get out of this funk).
Two others that stood out last night were Hollister and McEvoy. They both caught gorgeous touchdown passes late and were certainly recognized for their efforts. A couple of more performances like that and we may have something to talk about.
Roster Projection (6): Davis, Humphries, Sharpe, Brown, Taylor, Raymond
Projected Starter: Delanie Walker
Backups/Depth: Jonnu Smith*, MyCole Pruitt, Anthony Firkser, Cole Wick, Parker Hesse, Ryan Hewitt
*Currently on Physically Unable to Perform list.
Walker’s triumphant return leads this group. We may not see him in the pre season, but that doesn’t matter. Smith is still recovering from a torn ACL he suffered last year, and we probably won’t see him participate in exhibition either. Pruitt will serve as the top blocking option and he flashed some value as a receiver last night as well. Firkser is a great pass catcher and he continued to show off his ability there last night by catching a 23 yard touchdown from Tannehill.
Hewitt has some NFL experience and would appear to offer some competition for Pruitt’s spot as the blocking tight end. Wick took a silly penalty last night that certainly won’t help his chances.
Roster Projection (4): Walker, Smith, Pruitt, Firkser
Projected Starters: Taylor Lewan*, Rodger Saffold, Ben Jones, Kevin Pamphile, Jack Conklin
Backups/Depth: Dennis Kelly, Jamil Douglas, Corey Levin, Aaron Stinnie, Nate Davis, Austin Pasztor, Tyler Marz, Hroniss Grasu, David Quessenberry, A.T. Hall, Cody Conway
*Expected to begin the season with a four game suspension due to testing positive for a banned substance.
Lewan’s suspension makes this an interesting group to evaluate. He won’t take up one of the 53 roster spots during his suspension, his absence still must be considered when the Titans make their decision about who to keep on the initial 53.
There’s a good chance that Kevin Pamphile, Corey Levin, Aaron Stinnie, Jamil Douglas, and Austin Pasztor are battling for two, maybe three roster spots. The Titans have a good, deep versatile group here. I thought Levin and Stinnie looked particularly good last night. In fact, poor offensive line play usually plays a big role in what makes the pre season unbearable. That doesn’t feel like it’s going to be the case for the Titans this year thanks to the depth of this group.
Roster Projection (9*): Lewan, Saffold, Jones, Pamphile, Conklin, Kelly, Levin, Stinnie, Davis
*This will only count for 8 during Lewan’s suspension. When he returns, I’d expect the team to release one of these linemen to make room for him on the 53.
Projected Starters: Jurrell Casey*, Jeffery Simmons*
Backups/Depth: DaQuan Jones, Brent Urban, Austin Johnson, Matt Dickerson, Braxton Hoyett, Frank Herron, Isaiah Mack, Amani Bledsoe, Chris Nelson
*Currently on Physically Unable to Perform list.
This is another spot that is tough to figure out due to injury. Simmons will likely start the season on the PUP and Casey likely won’t feature in the pre season at all.
Behind those two, the rotation is pretty clear and solid. Jones has been playing nose tackle and I thought he did an excellent job versus the run last night. Urban also stood out to me last night. Johnson didn’t really pop last night, but he’ll likely continue to rotate into that group.
If there’s one surprise out of this group last night, it came in the form of Isaiah Mack. The UDFA out of Chattanooga was all over the field and even recovered a fumble.
Dickerson is a guy that didn’t really pop last night, but was rewarded with one of the coaching staff’s four offseason awards for his work in the weight room.
The team kept five defensive linemen last year and I think they’ll roll with five this season as well (not including Simmons on PUP). The final spot could come down to Dickerson versus Mack.
Roster Projection (6*): Casey, Simmons, Jones, Urban, Dickerson, Johnson
*This will only count for 5 if Simmons starts the season on the PUP (which seems highly likely).
Projected Starters: Harold Landry, Cameron Wake/Sharif Finch
Backups/Depth: Kamalei Correa, D’Andre Walker, Derick Roberson, Jordan Williams, LaTroy Lewis
The Titans have a clear top three at outside linebacker. Landry is expected to do the heavy lifting and is fully capable of having a breakout year. He was given the night off last night as was savvy veteran Cameron Wake. Finch was the team’s top edge rusher last night and had a couple of pressures to show for it. All three of these guys are going to play a lot this season. Kamalei Correa is next in line.
All four of those guys seem likely to make the roster. The team kept six here last year but I’m projecting just five for this year. Roberson, Williams or Lewis have a chance to be the sixth but they have to do more than they did last night.
Roster Projection (5): Landry, Wake, Finch, Correa, Walker
Projected Starters: Wesley Woodyard/Jayon Brown/Rashaan Evans
Backups/Depth: Daren Bates, Riley Bullough, David Long, Nigel Harris
The top three at inside linebacker are outstanding and obvious roster locks. Brown and Evans are budding starts in this league and Woodyard is a veteran leader who’s still playing at a high level. These three are going to dominate the snaps here and rightfully so.
However, the Titans will likely keep at least two more guys here. Bates is an excellent special teams player and should be back. The team also invested draft capital into David Long who was all over the field last night as an energetic presence. He’s one to watch the rest of this pre season.
Roster Projection (5): Woodyard, Brown, Evans, Bates, Long
Projected Starters: Adoree’ Jackson, Logan Ryan, Malcolm Butler
Backups/Depth: LeShaun Sims, Tye Smith, Joshua Kalu, Kenneth Durden, Kareem Orr, Mike Jordan, D’Andre Payne
Once again we have a clear top three here. Adoree’ Jackson, Logan Ryan, and Malcolm Butler form one of the more talented trios of cornerbacks in the NFL and figure to dominate the snaps on the Titans defense when they’re all healthy. LeShaun Sims continues to improve heading into year four and should make this roster once again.
Tye Smith was largely expected to be the fifth corner last season before suffering a season ending injury in training camp. He’s picked up where he left off in 2019 though, starting camp strong and asserting himself as the favorite for that fifth corner spot again.
Guys like Kenneth Durden, Joshua Kalu, and Kareem Orr will all be trying to push for a sixth spot. I like Kalu’s chances should the team decide to keep six.
Roster Projection (6): Jackson, Ryan, Butler, Sims, Smith, Kalu
Projected Starters: Kevin Byard, Kenny Vaccaro
Backups/Depth: Amani Hooker, Dane Cruikshank, LaDarius Wiley, JoJo Tillery
The Titans starters at safety are locked in with both Kevin Byard and Kenny Vaccaro getting new contracts this offseason that will keep them here for the long haul. They’re also one of the better starting duos across the league. Fourth round pick Amani Hooker will push for time as a third safety, a look that we’ve seen from the defense throughout camp. Hooker also quietly had a solid showing last night.
Dane Cruikshank figures to make the roster once again as the fourth option at safety and a quality special teams player. LaDarius Wiley appears to be the fifth safety right now Vrabel has praised how vocal he’s been in practice.
Roster Projection (5): Byard, Vaccaro, Hooker, Cruikshank, Wiley
Projected Starter: Ryan Succop*, Brett Kern, Beau Brinkley
Backups/Depth: Austin Barnard
*Currently on Physically Unable to Perform list.
Nothing to see here.
Roster Projection (3): Succop, Kern, Brinkley