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Evaluating the Titans post-draft roster and the potential for more veteran reinforcements

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The depth chart is looking pretty healthy, but there are still a couple spots that could send Jon Robinson back to the free agent market. m

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

The Titans six man draft class has received mixed reviews from the football media landscape so far. NextGen Stats had them as the 4th best class in the league, PFF gave them a C+, Mel Kiper gave them a C+, and others have grades ranging from D+ to A- around the internet.

The most universally loved pick, of course, was Kristian Fulton at 61, but Larrell Murchison at 174 was widely viewed as good value on Day 3 as well. Mileage varied considerably on the Isaiah Wilson selection at 29, though there is a strong consensus that Wilson makes more sense for the Titans specifically than he might have for other teams.

I have already given some thoughts on each pick individually that you can check out through the links below:

Day 1 — Isaiah Wilson

Day 2 — Kristian Fulton and Darrynton Evans

Day 3 — Larrell Murchison, Cole McDonald, and Chris Jackson

If I was grading the class as a whole, I’d give the Titans a solid B+. They filled needs with good players, but they didn’t have the wild value selections across the board that they did in 2019.

Isaiah Wilson: B-

Wilson might have been a slight reach based on most media evaluations, but Daniel Jeremiah said he was told by two GMs prior to the draft that they thought he’d go in the first round so it seems the league was higher on him than the media big boards were. The Titans clearly had a big grade on him and the odds of Wilson dropping to 61 was very low. It would have been better if they could have moved down a few picks and still grabbed him, that would have been better, but they got their guy and it seems likely that he’ll be the starting right tackle in relatively short order.

Wilson is confirmation that the Titans bullyball approach to offense isn’t changing anytime soon. The 6’-6”, 350-pounder will join Taylor Lewan (6’-7”, 309 lbs), Rodger Saffold (6’-5”, 323 lbs), Ben Jones (6’-3”, 308 lbs), and Nate Davis (6’-3”, 316 lbs) to form one of the biggest lines in the NFL. Throw in a 247-pound running back and two big, physical starting receivers in A.J. Brown (6’-0”, 226 lbs) and Corey Davis (6’-3”, 209 lbs) and you have an offense that is going to be unique in a league where defenses are getting smaller every year.

I like the player and the fit a lot, but the value is just mediocre so that brings the grade down a bit.

Kristian Fulton: A+

Love the player, love the value here. Fulton was my CB3 thanks to his premier cover skills and elite production against top notch competition during his career at LSU. Possibly the best press man corner in the draft, Fulton will start right away and gives the Titans the extremely valuable ability to match up in man coverage more frequently.

Darrynton Evans: B

Again, the fit here makes perfect sense. Evans has homerun 4.41 speed and was hyper productive at Appalachian State in a wide zone scheme very similar to what the Titans use as their bread and butter offensively. Evans should slot in right away in the Dion Lewis role, playing on third downs and spelling Henry for a series here and there. While he didn’t catch a ton of passes in college, Evans was a slot receiver for App State initially before moving to running back and he showed natural hands in the limited targets he did see. He also brings value in special teams as a three year kick returner who took three kicks back for touchdowns in his college career.

Evans was solid value at the back of the third round, especially given the run on running backs we saw on Day 2 of the draft. Nine backs went off the board between pick 32 and pick 93, including a couple that weren’t expected to go until Day 3 like Ke’shawn Vaughn and A.J. Dillon. Evans fills a need and makes a ton of sense as a complement to Derrick Henry.

Larrell Murchison: A-

Murchison is probably the second most widely praised pick of this haul behind Fulton. He’s a productive, versatile defensive lineman with a tireless motor who should factor into the Titans rotation right away behind starters Jeffery Simmons and DaQuan Jones.

The Titans needed a rotational DL after sending Jurrell Casey off to Denver in a salary cap dump earlier this offseason. Murchison won’t replace Casey’s production by himself obviously, but he does have some similar traits that could help him become a long term starter in Tennessee. That’s good value late in the 5th round.

Cole McDonald: B-

With Ryan Tannehill effectively under contract for at least the next three years, the Titans could afford to wait and grab a development prospect at QB and that’s just what they did grabbing McDonald at the top of the 7th round. He’s a great athlete with good size and arm talent and a boatload of production at Hawaii, but there are a bunch of mechanical issues that need to be worked out for him to stick in the league.

McDonald was largely slotted as a 7th round prospect so this is right where he was expected to go. He will compete with third year quarterback Logan Woodside — and possibly a veteran QB to be named later — for the backup job. Late round QBs are low percentage plays, but McDonald at least has the upside to make him a worthwhile gamble.

Chris Jackson: D+

This grade is mostly about a lack of familiarity with Jackson. He wasn’t even listed on most big boards, and those that he did land on — like Dane Brugler’s Beast at The Athletic — he was ranked at or near the bottom of the defensive backs.

There are reasons to be intrigued by him though and Mike Vrabel said after the draft that Jackson was “an easy one for us” to identify as a guy they wanted to bring in so clearly the Titans saw something they liked. It’s just hard to get too excited about the value relative to some of the other more well known players that remained on the board at that point.

With the draft class on board, let’s take a look at the roster and see where the Titans might look to continue to add.


Quarterback

  • Ryan Tannehill
  • Logan Woodside
  • Cole McDonald

The COVID-19 shortened offseason probably increases the likelihood that Woodside the QB2 to start the season. The Titans like him a lot, and as strange as it seems, he’s the quarterback with the most experience in this offense heading into 2020.

McDonald will have a chance to compete and should make the end of preseason games a lot more fun than usual, but I think he’s more of a long range project for QB coach Pat O’Hara than a ready made backup. I wouldn’t be surprised if he sticks around on the roster as a third quarterback if he doesn’t beat out Woodside. The new CBA gives teams a little more roster flexibility, allowing them to promote two players from the practice squad to the active roster each week.

If the Titans do add a veteran, expect it to be a player with some experience working in a system similar to this one to minimize the learning curve in a shortened offseason.


Running Back

  • Derrick Henry
  • Darrynton Evans
  • Khari Blasingame
  • Dalyn Dawkins
  • Shaun Wilson

It sounds like the Titans are adding Stanford running back Cameron Scarlett — younger brother of Texans linebacker Brennan Scarlett — as a UDFA signing, though the team has yet to confirm any of those signings. Regardless, the Titans running back depth chart looks much better with the addition of Evans who, as mentioned above, should slot into the third down role as well as vying for kick return duties right away.

Blasingame will serve as the primary fullback with some versatility to fill in as a ball carrier as a former college tailback if the team were to suffer a rash of injuries at the position.

The Titans may or may not keep a fourth back on the 53 man roster. Last season they frequently only had three — Henry, Lewis, and Blasingame — but if they do keep four, Dawkins is the clear favorite for that spot. Undersized, but tough and quick, he has been on the fringe of the roster for a couple seasons now. Like Woodside, he also benefits from experience in the system and a shortened offseason.

I think it’s pretty unlikely that the Titans make a veteran addition here after spending big money on Henry and drafting Evans with a top-100 pick.


Wide Receiver

  • A.J. Brown
  • Corey Davis
  • Adam Humphries
  • Kalif Raymond
  • Cameron Batson
  • Cody Hollister
  • Rashard Davis
  • Trevion Thompson

The Titans are reportedly signing Mason Kinsey, Kristian Wilkerson, and Kyle Williams out of the undrafted free agent pool at receiver. Wilkerson (Southeast Missouri) and Kinsey (Berry College) are both small school guys with good production and interesting measurables. Kinsey put up a ridiculous 3,343 yards and 52 touchdowns during his career, admittedly against a low level of competition.

Wide receiver is possibly the position that I was most surprised to see the Titans pass on during the draft. Brown, Davis, and Humphries are a solid group of starters, but behind those three there are question marks.

Kalif Raymond was one of the most fun stories of the season, emerging as an occasional deep threat who seemed to have a knack for coming up with the big play when it mattered most. However, he still has just 10 career catches and at 5’-8” and 182 pounds, it’s hard to see him proving to be more than a complementary piece.

Cameron Batson is another guy who flashed back in 2018 before missing last season with a broken collarbone suffered in camp. Like Raymond, he’s an undersized burner with sub-4.4 speed and some toughness.

Raymond and Batson are interesting players. Similar build and speed, but Raymond has a bit more of a vertical game while Batson seems better suited to work from the slot catching screens and using his short area quickness to get open. They could co-exist on the roster, but I really wonder about how comfortable the Titans are with the prospect of them being the WR4 and WR5 going into camp.

There are still some interesting veteran receivers available that could be brought in. Rashard Higgins, Taylor Gabriel, and Paul Richardson are all guys who have some legitimate NFL experience and could be added to compete for a roster spot.

The Titans will probably keep either five or six players here, but it’s hard to find six NFL receivers on the roster at the moment unless one of the undrafted players shows out in camp. I think this is a spot to watch for a free agent addition or even a low level trade.


Tight End

  • Jonnu Smith
  • MyCole Pruitt
  • Anthony Firkser
  • Parker Hesse
  • Cole Herdman

The Titans are reportedly signing Arizona State blocking tight end Tommy Hudson as a UDFA here. At 6’-5” and 255 pounds with just 8 catches last season, Hudson is a pure inline blocking tight end.

The Titans have three virtual locks to make the roster in Smith, Pruitt, and Firkser. All three of them have defined roles in the offense and executed at a pretty high level in 2019. Smith seems like a candidate for a pre-training camp contract extension this summer.

It would be a relative surprise if they kept four tight ends, especially with Blasingame serving the fullback role that the Titans had used a tight end for in previous years.


Offensive Line

  • Taylor Lewan (LT)
  • Rodger Saffold (LG)
  • Ben Jones (C)
  • Nate Davis (RG)
  • Dennis Kelly (RT)
  • Isaiah Wilson (T)
  • Jamil Douglas (G/C)
  • Ty Sambrailo (T)
  • David Quessenberry (G/T)
  • Daniel Munyer (C)
  • Avery Gennesy (G/T)

The Titans have reportedly added Texas State center Aaron Brewer, TCU tackle Anthony McKinney, and Valdosta State tackle Brandon Kemp as UDFAs to this group.

The only real mysteries here are 1) who wins the starting right tackle spot between Wilson and Kelly and 2) whether anyone can push Douglas out of the backup IOL spot.

I’d be surprised if they added an outside veteran to this group. The team seems to like Douglas more than the majority of the fan base. Part of that is his versatility, functioning as a backup guard and backup center. That being said, he feels like a prime player to be bumped off the roster if the team could find a better option. Finding a young center or guard prospect that they could develop as a potential successor to Jones and/or Saffold seems like a growing priority over the next year.


Defensive Line

  • Jeffery Simmons
  • DaQuan Jones
  • Jack Crawford
  • Larrell Murchison
  • Isaiah Mack
  • Matt Dickerson
  • Joey Ivie
  • Amani Bledsoe

The Titans are reportedly adding South Carolina defensive tackle Kobe Smith as a UDFA.

Simmons is the key to the success of this group. We know what we’re getting from Jones at this point in his career — excellent run defense, ability to hold up two blockers, and very little pass rush — but what we don’t know is whether Simmons will be able to make the leap from occasional flash player to consistent dominator.

If he can make that next step, it’ll completely change the ceiling for this group. There are some reasons to believe that he will get there this year too. For one, he returned to play just 8 months after ACL surgery and some estimates from around the team were that he was around 70% physically for most of the year. Despite the physical limitations, he still showed big time flashes of disruptive ability.

Simmons is also expected to move into the 3-technique role in the Titans defense that Jurrell Casey occupied last season. That deployment should allow him to be more aggressive attacking up field and reduce the number of double teams that he will see. Being responsible for just one gap in run defense on most snaps will give him a chance to penetrate and disrupt more freely.

The Titans will only have two of these guys on the field for most snaps, so labeling three as “starters” is misleading. However, the competition for the third “starting” spot in the base defense likely comes down to newcomers Jack Crawford and Larrell Murchison with an outside shot for Matt Dickerson to get in the mix.


Outside Linebacker

  • Harold Landry
  • Vic Beasley
  • Kamalei Correa
  • Derick Roberson
  • D’Andre Walker
  • Reggie Gilbert
  • Josh Smith
  • Jordan Williams

The Titans didn’t add any draft picks here and they haven’t been attached to any undrafted free agents either.

Harold Landry took a meaningful step forward in 2019, registering 9 sacks and 12 tackles for loss in his second season. He also ranked in the top ten in the NFL in sacks created for others, showing his impact went beyond just the number of times he pulled down an opposing QB.

Landry faded a bit down the stretch, possibly a side effect of a whopping 86% snap rate and a lack of threat on the opposite edge after Cameron Wake went down, but he’s a high quality edge defender. Easing his burden could help him get over the double digit sack threshold in 2020.

To that end, the Titans went out and signed Vic Beasley in the first wave of free agency. He’s a bit of a reclamation project having fizzled out in Atlanta after a massive 15.5-sack season in 2016. However, his 8 sacks in 2019 would have comfortably ranked second on the Titans roster so even if he doesn’t return to his top form, he will still likely qualify as an upgrade over what they got from the guys who lined up opposite Landry last year.

Still, it feels like there is one more move that could be made here to put this group over the top as a clear upgrade over the 2019 version of the Titans front seven. The idea of signing Jadeveon Clowney has been floating for months now, but the closing of the compensatory pick window tomorrow at 3:00 PM CT is significant for the Titans with regards to Clowney. Signing him after that deadline would allow the Titans to keep the projected 3rd round compensatory pick that they are set to receive in the 2021 draft as a result of Jack Conklin signing for big money in Cleveland. Signing Clowney before that deadline would have resulted in him cancelling out that pick and left the Titans with no comp picks for the 2021 draft.

The combination of that window closing and the Titans passing on edge help in the draft make me think that Jon Robinson will be more motivated than ever to get this done. Adding Clowney would give Tennessee an impressive and diverse collection of athletes along the defensive front.

If the Titans don’t end up signing Clowney, they’ll be relying on Landry and Beasley to carry the pass. Both guys have a lot of upside, but neither is a sure bet. There are other edge rushers on the market — Markus Golden and Everson Griffen — but neither of those guys have the familiarity and versatility that make Clowney such an attractive option for the Titans.

From a roster battle standpoint, I’d expect Roberson, Walker, and Gilbert to compete for spots behind Landry, Beasley, and Correa. Walker — their 2019 5th round pick — will be interesting to keep an eye on. An early injury that ended his season in training camp make him a complete unknown.


Inside Linebacker

  • Rashaan Evans
  • Jayon Brown
  • David Long
  • Nick Dzubnar
  • Nigel Harris

The Titans are reportedly bringing in UDFA linebacker Cole Garrett from Missouri.

This is a spot where a veteran addition could make sense. David Long impressed enough in limited action as a rookie to feel pretty good about him as a primary backup to starters Evans and Brown. However, Dzubnar is just a special teams guy and Harris has never really stuck on the active roster for long.

Wesley Woodyard says he wants to keep playing, but hasn’t found a deal yet. It could make sense to bring him back. They could also look at Preston Brown, a former pupil of new Titans inside linebackers coach Jim Haslett. It’s hard to see them entering camp with this group as is though.


Cornerback

  • Adoree’ Jackson
  • Malcolm Butler
  • Kristian Fulton
  • Tye Smith
  • Chris Milton
  • Josh Kalu
  • Kareem Orr
  • Kenneth Durden

There is some gray area between corner and safety on this team so don’t take these labels as hard lines.

The newly drafted Chris Jackson is a good example. He played both safety and corner at times at Marshall and the Titans brass said that he’d get looks at both spots here to see where he fit best in their defense. For now, I’ll list him as a safety since that’s how he was announced on the draft card that the team filled out.

Fulton is the big addition here. He should step right into a top three role and be on the field a lot as a rookie. Whether he starts off in the slot or the Titans choose to bump either Adoree’ Jackson or Malcolm Butler inside remains to be seen. We could even see that be a week by week determination based on matchup.

Bringing back Tye Smith gives them an experienced backup, but I wonder if they won’t still look to upgrade depth here. A Logan Ryan reunion is likely off the table after the Fulton pick — you’re not going to pay the $10 million a year that Ryan wants just to move Fulton to the bench — but I wonder if Johnathan Joseph might be a guy they bring in on a cheap one year contract.

The long time Texan knows Vrabel, the defense, and new secondary coach Anthony Midget very well and he’d command a fraction of Ryan’s cost. Sure, at 36 he isn’t the player he once was, but he’s a great locker room presence and still believes he can play at the NFL level.

Even if it isn’t Joseph, I wouldn’t completely rule out a veteran addition here.


Safety

  • Kevin Byard
  • Kenny Vaccaro
  • Amani Hooker
  • Dane Cruikshank
  • Chris Jackson

As mentioned above, there is some cross over between this spot and corner so the numbers probably aren’t as bad as they look listed here.

However, this is a position that’s rock solid for the Titans. Two good starters, two quality backups, and a new draft pick who should come in and compete on special teams right away.


Specialists

  • Brett Kern
  • Greg Joseph
  • Beau Brinkley

The Titans are reportedly bringing in former Missouri kicker Tucker McCann as a UDFA.

I was in favor of spending one of their 7th round picks on a more established kicker like Rodrigo Blankenship, but instead he went to the Colts as a UDFA and the Titans ended up with McCann, whose 72.6% career field goal rate leaves quite a bit to be desired, as does his 94.1% PAT conversion rate (remember the college PAT is still lined up from the 3-yard line, not 15 yards out like the NFL).

If you want to look for positives with McCann, he does have a big leg as demonstrated by a 57-yard field goal that he hit against South Carolina in 2018. He also was pulling double duty last year as Missouri’s punter, kicker, and kickoff specialist. Spreading your practice time between multiple disciplines can sometimes result in decreased effectiveness overall.

That being said, it’s not a particularly inspiring kicker competition as things stand today. Last season’s debacle can’t happen again so the Titans better hope that either Joseph or McCann prove to be the answer that they couldn’t find in 2019.


Outside of Clowney, the positions that I’d keep an eye on for veteran additions would be wide receiver, inside linebacker, and cornerback with an outside chance of a quarterback.

Adding Clowney would make this a pretty complete roster in my view. He’d give them enough high upside bets in the pass rush to feel reasonably confident that at least one would hit. Without Clowney, the Titans will be banking on development from Landry and Simmons along with the addition of Beasley to get them over the top and improve on last year’s pass rush effort.