The latest of my occasional posts about the Tennessee Titans.
For the past decade-plus, around the start of training camp, I have predicted which players the Tennessee Titans would keep when they cut down the roster to 53. I may only be writing a couple posts a year about the Titans, but this is an interesting enough exercise, and one that allows me to comment on enough parts of the team, to keep it up.
The intro, cribbed from past attempts at the task:
Each season, the day the Tennessee Titans players report to training camp (or thereabouts), I attempt to predict which players they will keep after the cutdown all the way to 53. Some years this goes kind of okay, while in other years I end up on quixotic quests and stick on them long after it becomes obvious they are indeed quixotic quests. Most years, I’m happy to get 48 of the 53 right at this stage of the game, as the inevitable injuries, surprises, and attempts to be clever that don’t work out happen.
Last year, I got 43 of the 53 players who would be on the roster Week 1. Subsequent personnel moves explained some of the misses, Kamalei Correa was acquired via trade after my roster prediction, while injuries screwed me up in the defensive backfield, with Johnathan Cyprien, Kalan Reed, and Tye Smith all going on injured reserve after I made my prediction. But my guessing at positional mix elsewhere was off and I also flubbed my WR analysis. So, here’s a chance to do better.
This task is complicated by a first-time offensive coordinator in Arthur Smith, who unlike Matt LaFleur does not have strong connections to a specific coaching tree whose history may assist in making predictions. There’s a lot more continuity on defense in the second year of Mike Vrabel and Dean Pees, but offense is more guesswork. Here’s what last year’s Titans offense looked like as of Week 1:
And here’s the defense as of Week 1 of last year:
Looking at Pees’ prior numbers, that’s a lot of LBs in particular and not as many DBs as he as many kept some seasons. These numbers, especially on offense, are meant as rough guidelines to keep us from going crazy, not set in stone.
First-round pick Jeffery Simmons is current on the Non-Football Injury list, recovering from his pre-draft ACL tear. I am assuming he will not be on the 53-man roster to start the season. I am also assuming that Taylor Lewan will be suspended for the first game. Thus, there will be 55 names on this list to account for the 53 spots. On with the show.
QB (2): Marcus Mariota, Ryan Tannehill
Analysis: Is there room for a third quarterback, and will the Titans be compelled to keep Logan Woodside? Not without either Marcus or Tannehill carrying an injury at the time, in my view.
RB (3): David Fluellen, Derrick Henry, Dion Lewis
Analysis: What happens if Derrick Henry gets hurt, and who becomes to lead ball carrier if that happens, especially if Fluellen is much bigger for playing more of a hybrid FB-type role? Is there a need for a fourth back on the roster for that purpose? I thought there might be a spot last year for a Lewis replacement, but I don’t see enough of a pedigree for a back on the roster unless, say, Alex Barnes has a spectacular camp and preseason. (I’ve never been a Jeremy McNichols fan.)
WR (6): A.J. Brown, Corey Davis, Adam Humphries, Darius Jennings, Tajae Sharpe, Taywan Taylor
Analysis: Ideally, the top three will be Brown, Davis, and Humphries. Who gets the fourth spot? My view is that Taylor is the best fit there, to give them the vertical stretch element if Smith is keeping that aspect of LaFleur’s offense. Jennings is primarily a special teams player, and while kickoff returner isn’t as valuable as it used to be, he was really good at it last year. Sharpe’s versatility earns him likely an inactive fill-in role.
TE (4): Ryan Hewitt, MyCole Pruitt, Jonnu Smith, Delanie Walker
Analysis: First question: just what kind of shape is Jonnu Smith in? MCL injuries don’t normally take this long. Cory Curtis reported it was actually a torn ACL, but I don’t believe that’s been seconded. Jim Wyatt’s indications haven’t been optimistic about his early readiness. I’m leaving him on the 53 Week 1 because the alternative is missing the first six weeks, but keeping Hewitt over Anthony Firkser as a more experienced and better blocker in the H-back role. Pruitt is penciled in for the Luke Stocker mini-tackle role that Lee Smith should’ve been signed to fill, goshdarnit.
OL (9+1): Jack Conklin, Nate Davis, Ben Jones, Dennis Kelly, Corey Levin, Taylor Lewan (suspended), Tyler Marz, Kevin Pamphile, Austin Pasztor, Rodger Saffold
Analysis: Starters: [Kelly/Lewan]-Saffold-Jones-Pamphile-Conklin looks like the combination. With Kelly in the starting lineup, you need a veteran tackle as the gameday backup. I have Austin Pasztor as the favorite for that spot. The interior swing backup is Corey Levin, whom they seem to like, though Hroniss Grasu might have a chance to beat him out. Nate Davis will replace Pamphile as a starter eventually. They added two starting guards in the offseason, so I see no need to create a roster spot for Aaron Stinnie. The question then is whether there’s room for a ninth. I decided there was, and give it to Tyler Marz.
DL (5): Jurrell Casey, Matt Dickerson, Austin Johnson, DaQuan Jones, Jeffery Simmons (not on 53), Brent Urban
Analysis: I won’t be concerned about Casey being on PUP for another month, unless I hear new reason to be. I hadn’t bought into the reports that Austin Johnson may be on the roster bubble until Jim Wyatt’s DL preview recently, where he listed Johnson v. others as a battle to watch. That’s partly because the other names are a bunch of scrubs I’d typically file under roster flotsam and jetsam, some more intriguing to other people UDFAs past and present. Cutting a second-round pick heading into his fourth season, when he should be one of your most valuable players relative to his cap cost, would be awful. Maybe, and that’s the kind of area where I was wrong last year.
LB (11): Daren Bates, Jayon Brown, Kamalei Correa, Rashaan Evans, Sharif Finch, Harold Landry, David Long, Derick Roberson, Cameron Wake, D’Andre Walker, Wesley Woodyard
Analysis: As in the past, I’m grouping inside and outside linebackers together even though they’re separate positions (though OLB Correa did play ILB for Pees in Baltimore).
The Titans went heavier here last year, and I’m relatively heavy again. At the time of the draft, I speculated Bates and Long might be in a battle for one roster spot, but I’m keeping both of them. Part of that is because I’m down on other candidates like Riley Bullough, but I think they could find room.
At OLB, it feels like there are four locks in Finch, Landry, Wake, and Walker. I’m bothered by inexperience with a rookie and two second-year players, so I gave the fifth spot to Correa while also keeping Roberson.
I don’t need to solve the “how do you distribute snaps between Jayon, Evans, and Woodyard” for purposes of this post, so I won’t address that.
DB (10): Malcolm Butler, Just A Well-Paid Fan Who Gets To Wear #31 And Make The All-Pro Team For Some Reason, Dane Cruikshank, Kenneth Durden, Amani Hooker, Adoree Jackson, Logan Ryan, LeShaun Sims, Tye Smith, Kenny Vaccaro
Analysis: Four locks at safety between Byard, Cruikshank (primarily a special teams player), Hooker, and Vaccaro. I don’t see a need to find a spot for a fifth.
Butler, Jackson, Ryan, and Sims feel like locks. The other spots are mostly guesswork. Smith was one of the injured players from last year’s season prediction, while Durden was a surprise make.
ST (3): Beau Brinkley, Brett Kern, Ryan Succop
Analysis: Chalk, chalk, and I’ll start worrying about Succop if he’s still on PUP in a month.
Where will I be wrong?
1. Positional mix. I’m off by a spot or two at a position or two most seasons.
2. Uncertainty on offense, in terms of positional mix, evaluations of current players, and desired attributes at particular positions.
3. Special teams. I may not have the right number of R2/R3 v. R4/R5.
4. They’ll inevitably make a roster move or four, whether because of injury or to add depth at one position or another.
5. I haven’t seen any of these players play since December, and some not since last preseason or hardly at all even then. I read media reports, but I don’t have the same insight into which players have improved much outside of the public eye as coaches do.
6. There are a number of positions where they could plausibly keep one of several players I have as borderline, preferring say Josh Kalu’s versatility to play both corner and safety over Durden’s special teams ability.
7. As noted, last year indicated I overvalued experienced veterans over thinly experienced players. I’ve tried to correct for that here, but there are precisely the sorts of players that need to be seen next to each other to be evaluated most correctly, so I’m probably still doing it.
8. I’m a guy who sits on his couch and makes stuff up. People who talk to people who work inside St. Thomas Sports Park may know important things I do not. I also do not think like Jon Robinson and Mike Vrabel but they’re the ones in charge of this project, so I try to think like I think they might think, and without that “talking to people” check, so I end up going on quixotic crusades no matter how much I try not to. Thus, getting 48 of 53 right is a performance I would be very happy with given all the other stuff.
On my roster prediction, not on Turron Davenport’s (pre-Lewan suspension): Daren Bates, Kenneth Durden, Austin Pasztor, MyCole Pruitt
On Davenport’s, not on mine: Anthony Firkser, Isaiah Mack, Aaron Stinnie
On my roster prediction, not on Eric Bacharach’s (post-Lewan suspension but 53 + Simmons anyway?): Daren Bates, Kenneth Durden, Ryan Hewitt, Austin Pasztor, Derick Roberson
On Bacharach’s, not on mine: Alex Barnes, Riley Bullough, Anthony Firkser, Aaron Stinnie