The second in an irregular series of posts about the Tennessee Titans.
For the past eleven seasons, around the start of training camp I have predicted which players the Tennessee Titans would keep when they cut down the roster to 53. Quitting regular team blogging in March was not sufficient to keep me away from that task, so here goes nothing.
The intro, largely cribbed from last year’s attempt at the task:
Each season, the day the Tennessee Titans players report to training camp, 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 44 of the 53 players who would be on the roster Week 1. Subsequent personnel moves explained some of those misses, as did not getting the shape of the roster right (though I still maintain keeping 4 WR, 5 TE, and 8 DL was insane and should not have been predicted (or done) by anybody).
To guide me in this exercise, it’s useful to take a look at what the Titans looked like Week 1 of last year in terms of number of players at each position:
But that was with Ken Whisenhunt running the offense and Ray Horton (still) running the defense. There’s no guarantee a roster led by Mike Mularkey and Dick LeBeau will look the same. As I mentioned last year, LeBeau has tended to keep more defensive backs than Horton had. Mularkey has his own roster trends that have affected my judgment (the Titans are probably likelier to keep 5 WR than you might think, though I’ll get into that below).
With a new general manager, new head coach, and new defensive coordinator, this year I am probably more likely to be wrong on which specific players the Titans value. I also expect there to be several additions to the roster, to fill some obvious (and maybe not as obvious) currently unfilled needs. I’d be perfectly happy to get 45 players this year.
With that in mind, here’s my 53:
QB (2): Matt Cassel, Marcus Mariota
Analysis: Chalk, chalk. Whatever qualms you may have about Cassel as a backup quarterback, he’s the veteran in camp. It doesn’t make sense to keep a third quarterback.
RB/FB (5): Antonio Andrews, Jalston Fowler (FB), Derrick Henry, Dexter McCluster, DeMarco Murray
Analysis: Four easy names (Fowler, Henry, McCluster, Murray), then the question becomes if they keep a fifth and who it would be. Bishop Sankey would make sense if they want a passing game back, since he filled that role in McCluster’s absence last year. But Murray’s a three-down back and the Titans have praised Henry’s work there. David Cobb would make sense if they wanted a lead back type. But they went out and acquired Murray and Henry this offseason to fill that job. Andrews offers the best mix of versatility in both categories and plays special teams, making him the favorite for the fifth back in my eyes.
WR (5): Dorial Green-Beckham, Andre Johnson, Rishard Matthews, Tajae Sharpe, Kendall Wright.
Analysis: Anyone outside, or maybe even inside, St. Thomas Sports Park who’s absolutely confident in how the Titans will handle their receivers this season is probably nuts. I’d have to write the full positional analysis to get into all the details, but here’s the basic breakdown:
Reliable but can’t separate: Harry Douglas, Johnson
Known unreliables: Green-Beckham, Justin Hunter, Wright
Offseason acquisitions: Matthews, Sharpe
Likely roster longshots, must beat out other players in camp: Everybody else
I’ve tried parsing this different ways, trying to think of the 46-man active roster, inside, outside, whatever have you, and have made no significant progress on how this is likely to go. A fifth player who’s up on gameday will likely have to play special teams. I don’t know who, aside from maybe Tre McBride (probably the 8th guy), does.
My initial draft of this post had Douglas as the token veteran on the team; when news of the Johnson signing broke 15 minutes before it was scheduled, it was pretty easy for me to make a one-for-one substitution. I think Johnson is mostly done and cannot separate, but Douglas can’t separate either and Johnson is more of an outside receiver. The slot is settled with Wright and Sharpe, and ceteris paribus outside over more of a slot type is a preference the Titans should have had.
TE (4): Anthony Fasano, Craig Stevens, Phillip Supernaw, Delanie Walker
Analysis: Three chalk names, and Supernaw gets one of the (RB5, WR6, TE4, OL9) roster spots. Special teams matters, and they’ve consistently privileged him.
OL (8): Jack Conklin, Ben Jones, Taylor Lewan, Will Poehls, Jeremiah Poutasi, Brian Schwenke, Quinton Spain, Chance Warmack
Analysis: Two areas here, and both have major question marks. At tackle, Lewan and Conklin are set at starter, but who backs them up? Poehls gets my nod here, based on the current roster and his experience, but (a) they could prefer one of the UDFA tackles like Nick Ritcher, (b) they could go with a veteran not on the roster right now for the backup OT spot, and/or (c) Mularkey has kept 9 OL before so with youth plus Lewan’s injury history, it could be Poehls/Ritcher AND a veteran.
Interior offensive line: who and how many do they keep? LG winner, Jones, Warmack, and swing gameday backup are locks. LG winner is penciled in as Spain. The swing gameday backup must be able to play center, so I’m giving that job to Schwenke (over Andy Gallik). I don’t think it makes sense to keep three backup interior OL, and Poutasi’s pedigree, plus experience playing tackle (it was insane to ask him to play RT day one as young as he was) gives him the clear edge over Sebastian Tretola.
I’d be surprised if I don’t get at least one name wrong here.
DL (7): Angelo Blackson, Jurrell Casey, Austin Johnson, DaQuan Jones, Karl Klug, Ropati Pitoitua, Al Woods
Analysis: One of the positions I feel worst about. Blackson, Casey, Johnson, Jones, and Woods are locks. LeBeau hasn’t traditionally placed much value on a 3-tech, so Klug may not be nearly as much of a lock as you think he is. It wouldn’t surprise me to see them keep Pitoitua over him, and I almost did that here. I didn’t keep any UDFAs, but maybe Antwaun Woods has a shot. N.B. LeBeau from 2005-14 kept only 6 DL 7 of 10 seasons, so any body elsewhere could easily come from here.
LB (9): Kevin Dodd, Derrick Morgan, Deiontrez Mount, Brian Orakpo, Nate Palmer, Sean Spence, Aaron Wallace, Avery Williamson, Wesley Woodyard
Analysis: I feel pretty good about seven names here, and Palmer and Wallace get the last two spots. In his recent linebackers article, Jim Wyatt mentioned Palmer’s ability to play inside and out. That could help keep him up on gameday and helped convince me to give him the ILB4 spot where I’d had Justin Staples as a placeholder. Wallace has some athleticism and seems like a good candidate for LeBeau’s defensive academy.
DB (10): Antwon Blake, Kevin Byard, Perrish Cox, Rashad Johnson, Brice McCain, Jason McCourty, Da’Norris Searcy, LeShaun Sims, Daimion Stafford, Blidi Wreh-Wilson
Analysis: I feel pretty good about seven names here-the four safeties in Byard, Johnson, Searcy, and Stafford-and the top three corners (Cox, McCain, McCourty). The other three are just guesses and should not be privileged. Kalan Reed over Blake, or Sims, or Wreh-Wilson? Sure. Instead of six corners and four safeties, a fifth safety like Josh Aubrey, Marqueston Huff, or Curtis Riley? Absolutely a possibility. Cody Riggs at corner? Eh, he may be limited to the slot, and I can’t see him higher than third there with Cox and McCain on the roster. Am I overrating Antwon Blake’s edge because of his scheme familiarity? I’m fine there, because I think other people are underrating that.
If I get two of the three non-locks right, I’m happy.
ST (3): Beau Brinkley, Brett Kern, Ryan Succop
Analysis: Chalk, chalk, chalk. The interesting job is kick returner (McCluster returns punts).
On my roster, not on Paul Kuharsky’s: RB Antonio Andrews, DL Ropati Pitoitua, WR Andre Johnson, OL Will Poehls, OL Jeremiah Poutasi, TE Phillip Supernaw, LB Aaron Wallace, DB Blidi Wreh-Wilson
On Paul’s roster, not on mine: LB Curtis Grant, WR Harry Douglas, WR Justin Hunter, OL Josue Matias, DB Kalan Reed, DB Cody Riggs, RB Bishop Sankey, OL Sebastian Tretola
Huh, that’s more than I would have guessed. But we did both keep 24 offensive players and 26 defensive ones.