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Checking in on the status of the Titans roster as we wait for more free agency news

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Taking inventory of the current Titans roster.

Jacksonville Jaguars v Tennessee Titans Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Things continue to be eerily quiet in free agency for the Titans, much to the chagrin of the fan base. The last signing announced by the team was potential swing tackle Ty Sambrailo on Wednesday and we still haven’t “officially” heard from the team regarding Vic Beasley’s signing.

So while we wait on the next piece of news to trickle out, I wanted to take a look at the current state of the Titans roster and see where additions are needed. However, before we get into that, we need to touch on the new roster rules set forth in the new CBA.

The roster size will remain at 53 officially, but teams can elevate two players from the practice squad on gamedays to get to 55. It’s important to note that players elevated from the practice squad to the active roster can only be sent back to the practice squad two times without being sent through the waiver process.

The number of actual active players suited up for games rises from 46 to 48 with the stipulation that the team must have at least 8 offensive linemen active if they want to use the second “extra” spot. The practice squad size jumps from 10 to 12 (and will jump to 14 in 2022) and the limits on the number of years a player can serve on a practice squad has been removed.

For cap space purposes, the active roster limit is still 53 with an additional 12 practice squad spots, so while they can technically get 55 active if they want on gamedays, this is still effectively a 53-man roster league.

With that out of the way, let’s jump into the roster review.


Quarterback

Under Contract (2): Ryan Tannehill, Logan Woodside

Number Entering Camp in 2019: 3

Number on Initial 53-man Roster in 2019: 2

The only question here is who gets the backup job behind Tannehill. The team seems to like Logan Woodside a good bit, but there is no doubt that he will have competition for the QB2 role in training camp. Whether that comes from a cheap veteran — Trevor Siemian, Blake Bortles, or Kyle Sloter are among the potential realistic options there — or a draft pick is still to be determined, but you can safely bet that there is an addition to be made here in the next month.


Running Back

Under Contract (4): Derrick Henry, Khari Blasingame, Dalyn Dawkins, Shaun Wilson

Number Entering Camp in 2019: 6

Number on Initial 53-man Roster in 2019: 4

The Titans moved on from the failed Dion Lewis experiment so they’ll need to find a new backup/third down back to pair with Henry. That player probably isn’t on the roster at this moment.

Blasingame did a nice job at fullback last year after being poached off the Vikings practice squad and I’d say he’s a virtual lock to take a roster spot again this year. His ability to contribute as a pass catcher out of the backfield is a major plus.

Dawkins has been around the team for a couple years now, mostly as part of the practice squad, but despite his stature, he doesn’t really fit the mold of a receiving back. A rookie makes a lot of sense with a strong draft class for backs coming in and Henry’s long term future uncertain under the franchise tag. The team probably only keeps three players here, though four isn’t totally out of the question.


Wide Receiver

Under Contract (8): A.J. Brown, Corey Davis, Adam Humphries, Kalif Raymond, Cameron Batson, Cody Hollister, Rashard Davis, Trevion Thompson

Number Entering Camp in 2019: 13

Number on Initial 53-man Roster in 2019: 6

There is no doubt about who the Titans top three receivers will be when 2020 kicks off. A.J. Brown’s incredible rookie campaign sets the stage for a potential step into superstardom in year two. A second season jump is virtually universal among top level receivers, and given Brown’s drive and work ethic combined with a growing connection with Tannehill, it wouldn’t be surprising at all to see him raise his game to a Pro Bowl level this fall.

Davis and Humphries will hold down the other two starting receiver spots. Neither played to their potential last season — Davis was hampered by a turf toe injury and Humphries missed a big chunk of games with a hamstring — but both guys were 800-plus yard pass catchers in 2018 and should benefit from additional time with Tannehill as well.

Beyond the top three is where the questions begin. Tajae Sharpe has moved on to Minnesota in search of a bigger role in the offense so that leaves Kalif Raymond or Cameron Batson as the next man up behind the starters. Raymond impressed in a limited role last year and Batson did the same in 2018, but neither is a known entity as anything more than a gadget player.

My guess is one of those two make the roster — maybe both, but their similar skill sets make them a bit redundant — and that the Titans select a player from a stacked rookie draft class to both serve as a rotational receiver in the short term and potentially serve as a Corey Davis replacement if he ends up heading elsewhere next offseason.


Tight End

Under Contract (5): Jonnu Smith, MyCole Pruitt, Anthony Firkser, Parker Hesse, Cole Herdman

Number Entering Camp in 2019: 7

Number on Initial 53-man Roster in 2019: 4

The Titans feel pretty set here with Smith, Pruitt, and Firkser returning. Those three served as the team’s only tight ends during the entirety of their red hot offensive stretch in the back half of 2019. While the team technically lost Delanie Walker, he wasn’t a big part of what worked for them last season and I’m not sure the team will feel a big need to replace him with someone outside the roster.

That being said, the Titans don’t have any of Smith, Pruitt, or Firkser under contract beyond 2020, so there is some long term uncertainty here. My guess is that Smith gets a long term extension before this season starts. He’s improved each and every year both statistically and based on the eye test and Mike Vrabel hasn’t been shy about letting people know how much he loves his young tight end.

“Jonnu’s one of my favorite players on this team,” Vrabel said. ”I don’t have favorites, but he’s one of my favorite players on this team. I just love him to death. I love the way he works and his attitude.

Vrabel is often reluctant to give praise to his players in the media, so when he does gush about a guy, it’s probably worth paying attention.

The Titans will likely add some competition at the back of the roster here, but don’t expect a big move at tight end.


Offensive Line

Under Contract (9): Taylor Lewan, Rodger Saffold, Ben Jones, Nate Davis, Dennis Kelly, Ty Sambrailo, Jamil Douglas, David Quessenberry, Daniel Munyer

Number Entering Camp in 2019: 16

Number on Initial 53-man Roster in 2019: 8

Like virtually the entire offense, the Titans are set along the offensive line with regards to starters. Among the four returning starters, Lewan and Saffold make up one of the best tackle-guard combos in the NFL on the left side, Jones is coming off his best year as a pro, and Davis finished very strong after a shaky start early in his rookie season.

The only newcomer is Kelly. He’s been with the team for four years and has started 16 games for the Titans as their swing tackle behind Lewan and Conklin. Now he steps into a full time starting role for the first time since 2012. There is reason to believe that he will be successful — his best run of play with the Titans came when he got extended snaps as a starter at right tackle during the end of the 2018 season — but a step back from Conklin’s level of play should be expected.

Sambrailo figures to get the first crack at replacing Kelly’s swing tackle spot. He has 13 career starts under his belt from backup stints with the Broncos and Falcons. It stands to reason that the Titans might spend a relatively high draft pick on a tackle to compete for this spot and become the long term replacement for Kelly (whose contract offers very little guaranteed money beyond this season), but if they don’t draft a tackle early, they at least have a reasonable plan here.

We may be underselling the chances that the Titans draft an interior offensive lineman early though. About to turn 32, Rodger Saffold is the oldest player on the offense and Ben Jones is just a year behind him. Offensive linemen can play well into their mid-30’s, but with two starters getting into that range, finding a high upside replacement could be a high priority.

Jamil Douglas remains under contract and his positional flexibility makes him a candidate to make the roster again, but he’s 28, and frankly, not very good. The Titans need to try to find a better backup alternative than Douglas, and if that player could also be a young developmental player that could eventually succeed Saffold or Jones in the starting lineup, even better.


Defensive Line

Under Contract (6): DaQuan Jones, Jeffery Simmons, Matt Dickerson, Isaiah Mack, Joey Ivie, Amani Bledsoe

Number Entering Camp in 2019: 10

Number on Initial 53-man Roster in 2019: 6

Switching to the defensive side of the ball, the defensive line has two players that you can currently count on playing a lot of snaps in Jones and Simmons. After those two things get dicey in a hurry though.

Isaiah Mack was a pleasant UDFA surprise early last year, but he saw his snaps dwindle as the season wore on and was a healthy inactive for the playoffs. Did he hit the rookie wall or did the Titans not like what they saw on tape from the snaps he got early on?

Ivie and Dickerson were both active for a few games last season as well, but neither one stands out as a guy who is ready to take the next step into a heavy rotational role at the moment.

Bledsoe got some looks high in the pecking order during training camp and preseason action last year, but didn’t do much with them. He spent all of last season on the practice squad and will return to compete for a spot in camp again this year. Having just turned 22 years old, the UDFA out of Oklahoma is still younger than much of the upcoming draft class and does offer some upside, but he’s a complete unknown at the NFL level at the moment.

The defensive line group often gets misrepresented as a position with three starting spots due to the fact that they’re labeled as a “3-4 base” defense. As we all know at this point, NFL teams spend far more time in their nickel and dime “subpackages” than they actually do in their base fronts.

For the Titans, those packages usually consist of two defensive linemen, two outside linebackers, two inside linebackers, and five defensive backs. Sometimes they’ll go heavy and use a defensive linemen in the defensive end spot instead of an outside linebacker — they did this a lot late in the season with Jurrell Casey due to a lack of reliable outside linebackers beyond Harold Landry — but the majority of the time, they want just two defensive linemen on the field at a time. In third down pass rush situations, that number drops to one as Rashaan Evans or a third outside linebacker often lines up to rush from an interior spot.

That being said, depth behind Jones and Simmons is clearly lacking, and with Jones entering the final year of his current contract, there are questions both long and short term at this position. This is among the biggest need spots on the roster as things stand today with the Titans needing at least one, probably two, additional players who can make an instant impact on the defensive line rotation.


Outside Linebacker

Under Contract (7): Harold Landry, Vic Beasley, Reggie Gilbert, Derick Roberson, D’Andre Walker, Josh Smith, Jordan Williams

Number Entering Camp in 2019: 8

Number on Initial 53-man Roster in 2019: 5

Let’s start by noting that Beasley’s reported one year, $9.5 million free agent contract has yet to be finalized, and while there is certainly no reason to believe that it won’t happen right now, we have seen enough examples of deals falling apart after they were reported to know that nothing is truly official until physicals are done and contracts are signed.

Assuming Beasley is, in fact, going to be joining the Titans as reported, the outside linebacker position seems relatively settled compared to the rest of the defense. Landry and Beasley would be the starters while Gilbert, Roberson, and Walker offer backup/rotational options behind them.

Is Gilbert-Roberson-Walker enough depth? I’m not totally sure. Gilbert is very much “just a guy” and he really seemed to fall out of favor with the coaching staff as the year went on in 2019. Roberson flashed and his athletic profile make his ceiling pretty high. I’d be surprised if he didn’t make the roster out of camp this fall. Walker is a complete unknown after missing his entire rookie season with an injury.

There is certainly room for an addition here, but depending on the coaching staff’s view of Roberson and Walker, this might not be a massive need necessarily.


Inside Linebacker

Under Contract (5): Rashaan Evans, Jayon Brown, David Long, Nick Dzubnar, Nigel Harris

Number Entering Camp in 2019: 7

Number on Initial 53-man Roster in 2019: 5

Evans and Brown are locked in as the starters here heading into 2020 with second year linebacker David Long likely to move into the top backup spot after some strong showings off the bench during his rookie season. Brown is heading into the final year of his rookie contract and seems like a likely pre-training camp extension candidate along with Jonnu Smith.

Dzubnar was signed as a free agent after spending the last five years with the Chargers. He’s been a special teams only type linebacker similar to the role that Daren Bates filled over the past three years in Tennessee. I’d imagine that he’s likely ticketed for a roster spot and a big special teams role.

The Titans kept five inside linebackers last year, so there might be another add or two here. Wesley Woodyard could still be brought back for a depth/special teams role. It’s unlikely that we see significant resources spent here.


Cornerback

Under Contract (5): Adoree’ Jackson, Malcolm Butler, Chris Milton, Kareem Orr, Kenneth Durden

Number Entering Camp in 2019: 10

Number on Initial 53-man Roster in 2019: 5

This is the biggest need spot on the roster right now. Adoree’ Jackson and Malcolm Butler are quality starters, but beyond those two the cupboard is very very bare.

Milton is a good special teams contributor, but he’s not someone that you want playing snaps on defense. Orr was relatively impressive in camp/preseason and got a little regular season action when Butler and Jackson were both injured late in the season, but he’s far from a sure thing to make the roster, much less take a top three spot.

Logan Ryan is still floating in free agency so the door isn’t completely closed for a return to Tennessee, but the team may be wanting to go in a different direction anyway. With Butler at 30 years old and Ryan at 29, the Titans would be pretty old at a position that is harsh on aging players.

The wildcard here is Amani Hooker. He was billed as a safety/slot corner coming out of Iowa last season and received PFF’s top slot coverage grade in 2018. His combine testing numbers suggest that he has the requisite movement skills to keep up with NFL receivers and his size at 5’-11” and 210 pounds make him intriguing as a guy who can both cover slot receivers and perform linebacker duties in the run game.

It is unclear whether the Titans view Hooker as an option here or not. Last year, he lined up in the slot for just 44 of his 394 defensive snaps per PFF charting. That could simply be due to Logan Ryan — who soaked up 854 snaps in the slot — dominating the workload and rarely coming off the field. If the team likes Hooker in the slot, that certainly reduces the need a bit, but it doesn’t erase it altogether.

A strong cornerback draft class offers some relief, but the Titans can’t enter training camp with Jackson, Butler, and a bunch of rookies as their only options at this position. I expect to see a free agent addition at some point. If not Ryan, a younger free agent option like Daryl Worley could make some sense.


Safety

Under Contract (5): Kevin Byard, Kenny Vaccaro, Amani Hooker, Dane Cruikshank, Joshua Kalu

Number Entering Camp in 2019: 7

Number on Initial 53-man Roster in 2019: 5

Safety looks like one of the strongest positions on the roster with Byard and Vaccaro locked in as starters for the third straight year together and solid backups in Hooker and Cruikshank. Even Kalu, who offers some versatility as a corner option as well, is a solid special teams player who seems worthy of a roster spot.

If Hooker is going to bump to the slot as discussed above, that would obviously result in an increased role for Cruikshank. He was active for all 19 games last season, but didn’t get any snaps on defense until late in the year.


Specialists

Under Contract (3): Brett Kern, Greg Joseph, Beau Brinkley

Number Entering Camp in 2019: 4

Number on Initial 53-man Roster in 2019: 3

The Titans are set with their All-Pro punter in Brett Kern and his long time long snapper Beau Brinkley paired together for the ninth consecutive year.

Joseph was perfect for the Titans late in the season, converting 18 of 18 extra point attempts and making his lone field goal from 30 yards out. He didn’t have to hit any difficult kicks, but he did what was asked of him and was better on kickoffs than any of the kickers that the Titans had used throughout the season.

It would be shocking if the team didn’t bring in some competition for Joseph in training camp. That could be a veteran kicker who doesn’t have a job right now like Cody Parkey or it could be a rookie like Rodrigo Blankenship or Tyler Bass.


The Titans currently have 59 players under contract. Shortly after the draft, that number will be 90. That’s 31 football players who are currently free agents or potential draftees that will be added to the roster in the next month or so.

By my count, the team has 39 that are likely — better than 50-50 odds — to make the roster as it sits right now:

  1. Tannehill
  2. Henry
  3. Blasingame
  4. A.J. Brown
  5. C. Davis
  6. Humphries
  7. Raymond
  8. J. Smith
  9. Pruitt
  10. Firkser
  11. Lewan
  12. Saffold
  13. B. Jones
  14. N. Davis
  15. Kelly
  16. Sambrailo
  17. Douglas
  18. D. Jones
  19. Simmons
  20. Mack
  21. Landry
  22. Beasley
  23. Roberson
  24. Walker
  25. Evans
  26. Brown
  27. Long
  28. Dzubnar
  29. Jackson
  30. Butler
  31. Milton
  32. Byard
  33. Vaccaro
  34. Hooker
  35. Cruikshank
  36. Kalu
  37. Kern
  38. Brinkley
  39. Joseph

Some of those — like Douglas, Mack, Walker, Dzubnar, and Milton — are borderline and could be pushed off if the Titans have a big influx of talent at their positions, but they’re reasonable to expect to be in the mix for roster spots at the very least.

That leaves about 14 spots left to be filled. You can bank on at least three draft picks from the 2020 class making the roster and I’d guess that they end up with at least five or six rookies on the roster via the draft or UDFAs. Tennessee brought 13 UDFAs into camp last year. The remainder will be filled by free agent additions and/or some of the other guys not included on my list that are currently on the fringe of the roster like Batson, Dickerson, Ivie, Bledsoe, Gilbert, and Orr.

The COVID-19 outbreak has slowed the free agency process tremendously and the Titans seem to be among the teams that have been the slowest to move. Whether they’re working behind the scenes with verbal agreements that have yet to be reported or simply biding their time and waiting for prices to come down on the free agents they like, I’d still expect several more deals to be done in the coming weeks.

The biggest need spots remaining are pretty clearly cornerback and defensive line. Those positions lack any reliable depth behind the top couple players. Depth at quarterback, running back, receiver, and offensive line are on the next tier, and if the team could find an impact pass rusher, that would be nice too. All of those needs can’t be addressed in the draft — especially since the Titans only have four picks before the 7th round — so more free agency moves are certainly coming... at some point.