In a normal year, this would be the week of the fourth preseason game. Last year’s final tune-up against the Bears offered some pretty strong hints with regards to which players were safe on the 53-man roster as all of the Titans starters and most key backups were not suited up at all.
This year we will get no such hint. A smattering of training camp reports and videos are all the context clues we have to sort out the more interesting battles for back end roster spots at wide receiver depth, defensive line, and defensive back.
Then you have the specter of potential veteran free agent signings still lingering over the proceedings. Will the Jadeveon Clowney flirtation ever lead to anything more than rumors and false reports from #FansWithSources? Do the Titans pull the trigger on a veteran kicker like Stephen Gostkowski or Stephen Hauschka.
Before we get into the roster projection, I do want to briefly touch on the roster rules under the new CBA because there seems to be a lot of confusion about the roster size and how the new rules will impact this process.
The official roster size is still 53, not 55. The confusion with 55 comes from a new rule that allows teams to elevate up to two players from the practice squad to the active roster on gamedays with those two players automatically reverting back to the practice squad on the day following the game without having to pass through the waiver system. The exact language from the CBA:
Section 4. Active and Inactive List Limit:
(a) During the regular season and postseason, a Club’s Active/Inactive List shall not exceed 53 players unless a Club has chosen to elevate either one or two players from its Practice Squad to its Active/Inactive List, in accordance with the procedures set forth in Article 33, Section 5 of this Agreement. In such instances, a Club’s Active/Inactive List shall not exceed 54 or 55 players, as may be applicable, during the period beginning with the player’s elevation to the Club’s Active/Inactive List, and ending with the player’s automatic reversion to the Club’s Practice Squad. By way of example, if a Club’s Active List is 47 players, and the Club activates two players from its Practice Squad to its Active/Inactive List, the Club’s game-day Inactive List will be eight players.
(b) In accordance with Article 33, Subsections 5(d) and 5(e), any elevation of a player from a Club’s Practice Squad to its Active/Inactive List must occur no earlier in the week than the final day for such player personnel transactions prior to the game for which the player is being elevated, but not later than the applicable player personnel transaction deadline for that day. Any player who has been elevated from a Club’s Practice Squad to its Active/Inactive List shall automatically revert to the Club’s Practice Squad on the first business day following the Club’s game. At that time, all Clubs shall be subject to the 53- player Active/Inactive List limit.
Teams are limited to being able to elevate and drop the same player using this rule just twice during the season (including postseason) so you cannot simply bump the same player up to the roster over and over again. This mechanism is simply additional flexibility for teams dealing with injuries — and this year — COVID issues, not additional roster spots.
There are two other changes to roster rules in the new CBA that are worth mentioning here as well. One is the gameday roster size. In years past, teams could only have 46 of their 53 suited up on gameday. In 2020, that number will be 48 with the caveat that at least 8 of those 48 must be offensive linemen.
Finally, the practice squad size will be much larger this year than it was in 2019. The new CBA bumped the size of the practice squad from 10 to 12, but a special exception for 2020 was added to increase that number to 16 to help teams deal with potential COVID outbreaks.
The roster cutdown deadline is Saturday, September 5th at 3:00 p.m. CT so expect releases to start trickling out later this week. The Titans will go from 80 — where the roster currently sits if you include Vic Beasley who remains on the reserve/NFI list — to 53 before that deadline. After a 24-hour waiver period, they will then begin to assemble their 16-man practice squad.
Chances are that they will end up adding at least a player or two from other rosters to either the 53-man team or the practice squad, but there are likely about 64 to 68 guys that will stick in Tennessee in some capacity.
With that out of the way, let’s get to the projections.
(Players that I expect to make the 53-man roster are listed in bold)
- Ryan Tannehill
- Trevor Siemian
- Logan Woodside
I’ve been on the three quarterbacks train all offseason and I don’t see any reason to change that now. By all reports, Siemian versus Woodside is a legitimate competition for the QB2 spot behind Ryan Tannehill, but I don’t think it is necessarily a “loser leaves town” scenario.
The question of how many quarterbacks the Titans keep likely comes down to how confident they are that A) they could pass Woodside through waivers and get him on the practice squad or B) whether they think they’d be OK grabbing Cole McDonald — or another young QB — if they choose to release Siemian.
The Woodside waiver question is an interesting one. On one hand, he passed through waivers last year and there is no new tape for teams to evaluate that might significantly change their opinion of him. On the other hand, Luke Falk got claimed off waivers after one of the worst preseasons I’ve ever seen two years ago.
Putting Woodside on waivers would be a pretty significant risk with a relatively minor reward in my opinion. While I don’t think he’s some unique talent that is going to blossom into a future starter, I just don’t think you want to be one positive COVID test away from having one quarterback on the roster for two weeks. Having Woodside around is more valuable this year than getting a sixth wide receiver on the roster in my opinion.
Running Backs (4)
- Derrick Henry
- Darrynton Evans
- Khari Blasingame
- Jeremy McNichols
- Senorise Perry
- Marcus Marshall
There is good news and bad news with Darrynton Evans. The good news, via Peter King’s latest Football Morning in America piece, is that there are people close to the Titans that are saying Evans will be one of the most interesting rookies in the NFL and that he has a chance to be a “poor man’s Alvin Kamara”. The buzz around the third-round pick has been almost universally positive coming out of camp.
The bad news is that Evans has missed the last six practices with an undisclosed injury, leading the team to bring in 2019 training camp darling Jeremy McNichols. Whether that injury ends up threatening Evans’ Week 1 status remains to be seen, but given what we know today, I think McNichols ends up sneaking onto the 53-man roster because of it.
Wide Receiver (5)
- A.J. Brown
- Corey Davis
- Adam Humphries
- Kalif Raymond
- Cody Hollister
- Rashard Davis
- Cameron Batson
- Mason Kinsey
- Kristian Wilkerson
- Nick Westbrook-Ikhine
- Krishawn Hogan
I’m sticking with five here, though it’s certainly possible that a sixth receiver makes it if the Titans choose to go lighter at quarterback or running back than I have.
Brown, Davis, Humphries, and Raymond are mortal locks. I wasn’t sure that Raymond would make it into that category at the outset of camp, but his strong performance over the last month should solidify his standing as the team’s fourth wide receiver.
The battle for the WR5 spot remains open, but the primary competitors seem to be Rashard Davis, Cameron Batson, and Cody Hollister. Davis and Batson are similar to Raymond as smaller, speedier options with some special teams ability while Hollister offers a size element at 6′-4″ and 209 pounds.
I think that size gives Hollister the edge over Batson and Davis despite the coaching staff’s high praise for Davis throughout camp. It’s just hard for me to see Raymond and Davis, who go 5′-8″, 182 pounds and 5′-9″, 175 pounds, respectively, being the two primary backups at the receiver position.
Tight End (4)
- Jonnu Smith
- Anthony Firkser
- MyCole Pruitt
- Geoff Swaim
- Tommy Hudson
As I mentioned during my last run through the roster, the Titans play their tight ends… a lot. Despite being without Delanie Walker for most of the year, Tennessee led the NFL in three tight end sets last year and were third in the league in the use of two tight ends in 2019.
For that reason, I think Swaim ends up making the 53-man roster as a fourth tight end. His size and ability as an inline blocker gives the Titans a viable backup/sidekick to MyCole Pruitt in the blocking tight end role and frees up Smith and Firkser to focus more on their strengths as pass catchers.
I think Hudson is a prime candidate for the practice squad. Like Swaim, he’s a bigger tight end at 6′-5″ and 255 pounds and his ability as a run blocker was the primary reason he was brought in as a UDFA to begin with. With all four of the other tight ends currently on contracts that expire after this season, the Titans could look to Hudson to be a guy who they can stash and develop into a rotational tight end for 2021 and beyond.
Offensive Line (9)
- Taylor Lewan
- Rodger Saffold
- Ben Jones
- Nate Davis
- Dennis Kelly
- Isaiah Wilson
- Ty Sambrailo
- Jamil Douglas
- David Quessenberry
- Daniel Munyer
- Avery Gennesy
- Zac Kerin
- Brandon Kemp
- Aaron Brewer
This position group almost got an ugly shakeup as reports of starting right guard Nate Davis getting carted off sent Titans Twitter into a panic Tuesday afternoon, but the good news is that Terry McCormick is reporting that Davis’ injury was just a cramp and not considered serious.
Ty Sambrailo likely slots in as the eighth offensive lineman, which leaves the biggest question about whether or not the Titans keep nine players here, and if so, who that ninth player is. I think there are a few viable options with some NFL experience in Munyer, Quessenberry, Kerin, and Gennesy, but I’m going with Quessenberry narrowly over Munyer due to his experience in the Titans system over the past couple seasons.
Defensive Line (5)
- Jeffery Simmons
- DaQuan Jones
- Jack Crawford
- Larrell Murchison
- Isaiah Mack
- Matt Dickerson
- Joey Ivie
- Kobe Smith
- Teair Tart
The top four still feel like locks to me at defensive line. Jack Crawford has gotten very positive reviews since coming off the reserve/COVID list last week and Larrell Murchison has seemingly flashed enough to get a longer look as a fifth-round pick.
That leaves guys like Dickerson, Ivie, and Mack battling for what is probably the fifth and final defensive line spot. I am torn here. I think Mack offers the most upside, but Dickerson and Ivie might be more consistent. I am giving a slight edge to Mack and hoping that he can continue to unlock some of that potential in year two, but I don’t think it would be a huge upset to see him miss out.
Outside Linebacker (5)
- Harold Landry
- Vic Beasley Jr.
- Kamalei Correa
- D’Andre Walker
- Wyatt Ray
- Jamal Davis
*PUP/IR: Derick Roberson (assumed)
No position group has been more scrutinized this offseason than outside linebacker. From the Beasley signing — and subsequent drama — to the Clowney speculation and hand wringing over where the pass rush will come from in 2020, the edge rushers have soaked up a ridiculous amount attention on this team.
Vic Beasley remains on the reserve/NFI list, which means that he does not currently count against the Titans roster numbers, but that doesn’t really matter a ton right now because he can be removed from the list at any time. It will matter if Beasley gets put on the regular season NFI list on September 5th though. Like PUP, a player that is put on the NFI list at the start of the season is ineligible to return to the active roster until Week 7 at the earliest.
I highly doubt that Beasley will be put on the regular season NFI list, and by process of elimination, that means that I do think that Beasley will be activated and finally practicing with his Titans teammates by this weekend at the latest. Is that enough time for him to get up to speed on the new defense and ready for a full complement of snaps in Denver? Doubtful, but my guess is that we do see him used in specific pass rush packages.
Outside of Beasley — and setting any Clowney projections aside — there is plenty to be interested in among the Titans young pass rush options. Second-year OLB D’Andre Walker has drawn positive reviews in camp and seems poised to be a part of the rotation on defense in addition to some special teams duties.
The bad news on Tuesday afternoon was Derick Roberson being carted off with a leg injury that sounds like it could be serious. If it is, in fact, a long term injury, we will likely see Roberson go to either IR or PUP — depending on the expected recovery time — and Wyatt Ray or Jamal Davis get a chance to grab that fifth outside linebacker spot.
Ray and Davis have flashed during their short stays on the roster with outside linebackers coach Shane Bowen calling Davis’ get-off “special” during his recent chat with the media.
I am going with Ray for now based on the assumption that Roberson will be out for a while, but if Beasley’s situation has the potential to linger into the season, that certainly ups the urgency to pull the trigger on Clowney.
Inside Linebacker (5)
- Rashaan Evans
- Jayon Brown
- David Long
- Nick Dzubnar
- Will Compton
- Cale Garrett
The big news here, of course, is the return of “The Boy” Will Compton. The popular backup linebacker drew praise from Bowen during the media session linked above as well and you’d suspect that he gets the fifth inside linebacker spot over UDFA Cale Garrett.
Compton was really solid for the Raiders last season and brings a lot of experience and special teams ability to the table. Already knowing the Titans defense helps his case as well.
In a season where getting rookies ready to play is harder than ever, it’s not surprising at all for me to see the Titans go get Compton instead of leaning on an inexperienced guy like Garrett.
- Adoree’ Jackson
- Malcolm Butler
- Kristian Fulton
- Johnathan Joseph
- Kareem Orr
- Tye Smith
- Chris Milton
- Kenneth Durden
Again, the top four feel like locks to me. After that group, it’s anyone’s guess though. I have had Orr slotted as the fifth corner for most of the offseason, but a recent injury has forced him to sit out several practices, opening the door for others to push ahead.
However, if Orr’s injury was serious enough that it would cost him a chunk of the season, I suspect that the team would have already waived him. I’m sticking with him as my fifth corner for now, but Smith and Milton are both really good on special teams and have been around long enough for the team to feel comfortable with them as depth pieces.
- Kevin Byard
- Kenny Vaccaro
- Amani Hooker
- Dane Cruikshank
- Chris Jackson
- Joshua Kalu
- Ibraheim Campbell
Chris Jackson has made enough plays in camp for me to feel like he’s going to make the roster. Not a lock, but I have a hunch that he’s going to be there on Saturday.
Kalu is a tough cut here. He can play corner and safety and is good on special teams. That’s exactly the kind of guy that you want on the back end of the roster, but he’s the guy who gets bumped for a sixth outside linebacker on my projection.
- Brett Kern
- Beau Brinkley
- Greg Joseph
- Tucker McCann
The Titans kicker competition has gotten interesting in the last week. Greg Joseph and Tucker McCann are both hitting kicks at a reasonably high rate with Joseph connecting on 42 of 49 (85.7%) kicks that the media has seen at camp and McCann hitting 42 of 48 (87.5%).
However, reports came out over the weekend that the Titans were going to bring in former Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski and recently released Bills kicker Stephen Hauschka for workouts, further muddying the placekicking waters in Tennessee.
Despite the past tense verbiage from Schefter, these work outs had not yet happened according to Mike Vrabel, who on Sunday said that they had not cleared the COVID testing protocol required before free agents can enter the facility.
Gostkowski (87.4%, 5th) and Hauschka (85.7%, 12th) both rank among the twelve most accurate NFL kickers of all time (minimum 100 attempts), but both are also coming off sub-par seasons. Gostkowski — a 36-year old veteran who recently bought a home in Franklin, TN, a suburb of Nashville — was 7 for 8 on field goals, but just 11 of 15 on extra points in 2019 before being shut down with a season-ending hip injury that required surgery.
Hauschka, 35, was released last week after losing his camp battle with rookie kicker Tyler Bass. His field goal percentage dipped below 80% in 2018 and 2019 for the first time since 2010. Those two seasons pushed the Bills to look elsewhere.
Relying on an older veteran kicker coming off an injury is an experience that the Titans might not be eager to repeat after last season’s debacle, but that’s the scenario they would be signing up for with Gostkowski.
So while these are two well-known names, I’m not sure they are actually better options than Joseph, who has a career field goal conversion rate of 85.7% and was perfect in his five games as the Titans kicker late last year. Granted, those were mostly extra points, but you can only make the kicks you get to take and Joseph made them all. My guess is that Joseph still wins this job, but we will get a good idea of how the team sees things in the next couple days as we wait for news from the tryouts with Gostkowski and Hauschka.
Last Four In, First Four Out
I like to borrow this format from ESPN “Bracketologist” Joe Lunardi when projecting 53-man rosters to give you an idea of who I think is on the bubble. The “last four in” are the four guys that I feel are currently included in my 53, but are on the most shaky ground. The “first four out” are guys that I came close to including and could see swapping with a “last four in” guy.
Last Four In: Orr, Mack, Quessenberry, Hollister
First Four Out: Kalu, Milton, Dickerson, R. Davis
As mentioned above, there will be 16 available practice squad spots this season so about half of the guys that get cut on Saturday will likely be re-signed to the practice squad on Sunday. Here are the 16 that I would have in that group as of now:
- WR Cameron Batson
- WR Rashard Davis
- WR Mason Kinsey
- WR Krishawn Hogan
- WR Kristian Wilkerson
- TE Tommy Hudson
- OL Daniel Munyer
- OL Aaron Brewer
- DL Matt Dickerson
- DL Joey Ivie
- OLB Jamal Davis
- ILB Cale Garrett
- CB Chris Milton
- CB Tye Smith
- S Joshua Kalu
Lots of wide receivers, but that’s not a bad place to have big numbers from a practice reps standpoint.
Jump in the comments and leave the changes you would make to my 53!