Rookies, quarterbacks, and players carrying an injury designation all reported for training camp on Thursday to get the first of their league-mandated two COVID tests. It’s not a traditional opening to training camp, but it was at least the first steps towards football being practiced at Saint Thomas Sports Park.
In addition to the two negative COVID tests spaced at least 72 hours apart being required before a player can actually enter the team facilities, we are also going to see a slower start to camp as teams will have an acclimation period focused on strength and conditioning work and light OTA-style practices before any pads come on. Normally, the first padded practice comes three days into the start of camp, this year it may be three weeks before full-contact work begins.
Another wrinkle thrown into the mix by COVID is a mandate from the NFL that rosters be trimmed from the normal offseason ceiling of 90 players to 80 players by August 16th. With the Titans roster currently at 81 after releasing RB Shaun Wilson, WR Trevion Thompson, TE Cole Herdman, OL Zac Kerin, DL Amani Bledsoe, and LB Nigel Harris on Sunday, they’ll still need to trim one more player in the next few weeks.
Projecting 53-man rosters will be more difficult than ever this year with no preseason action to use as a measuring stick for a player’s current position in the depth chart and less access to camp practices than normal, however we will still do our best to track the news out of camp, including updates from our own John Glennon, and provide the best projections of where the roster currently stands as we approach the September 5th deadline to trim rosters to 53 across the NFL.
- Ryan Tannehill
- Logan Woodside
- Cole McDonald
The battle for the QB2 spot was something I was really looking forward to monitoring in preseason — especially with Cole McDonald involved — but alas, we will miss out on that drama.
With no exhibition games and no joint practices, it’s hard to see McDonald proving himself to the point where the coaching staff feels comfortable entering the season with him as Ryan Tannehill’s primary backup. My guess is that his best-case outcome is that he forces the Titans to keep three quarterbacks on the roster. New roster rules that allow teams to promote two extra players to the active roster from the practice squad on gamedays could help his case, as does the looming threat of a positive COVID test taking a quarterback out for weeks.
Woodside, on the other hand, seems likely to be the QB2 at this point, though the addition of a veteran backup through free agency is still possible with experienced passers like Case Keenum, Trevor Siemian, Blake Bortles, and Colin Kaepernick currently waiting on phone calls.
My money remains on Woodside though. The coaching staff has raved about him going back to the extra work he put in to help A.J. Brown learn the offense at rookie minicamp in 2019 and has continued through his organization of throwing sessions with teammates in Nashville this summer.
In a season where practice time will be at an all-time low, having a backup who knows the offense and the personnel around him well is a huge advantage. Woodside may not have the game experience that you’d like, but he’s cheap, knows the offense, and has some legit arm talent as well. My guess is that he sticks.
Projection: 3 (Tannehill, Woodside, and McDonald)
- Derrick Henry
- Darrynton Evans
- Khari Blasingame
- Dalyn Dawkins
- Senorise Perry
- Cameron Scarlett
The top three here seem pretty set in stone. Derrick Henry will return as the lead back and try to defend his rushing crown and third round pick Darrynton Evans will replace Dion Lewis as his primary backup.
Khari Blasingame’s strong work at fullback down the stretch last season should earn him a roster spot, especially given his pass catching skill set and ability to take some carries if the need arose.
There is a pretty decent chance that the Titans only keep three backs on the 53-man roster. That’s the number they’ve carried for most of the past two years and there isn’t a player outside of those three that warrants an exception in my opinion. Dalyn Dawkins has done some nice things in preseason in recent years and is certainly a staff favorite, but I don’t know that he’s more critical to have around than a third quarterback or a sixth wide receiver, for example.
Senorise Perry has four years of NFL experience, but most of his work has been as a kick returner, a role I suspect we will see Darrynton Evans claim for himself. Shaun Wilson and rookie UDFA Cameron Scarlett — the younger brother of Texans linebacker Brennan Scarlett — figure to be big time longshots to stick on the roster.
Projection: 3 (Henry, Evans, Blasingame)
- A.J. Brown
- Corey Davis
- Adam Humphries
- Kalif Raymond
- Cameron Batson
- Rashard Davis
- Cody Hollister
- Mason Kinsey
- Kristian Wilkerson
- Kyle Williams
- Nick Westbrook-Ikhine
The Titans are in a better spot at receiver than they have been since the Derrick Mason-Justin McCareins-Drew Bennett heyday of the early-2000s.
A.J. Brown seems poised to emerge as a bonafide star coming off a 1,051-yard, 8-touchdown rookie season that saw him lead the entire league in yards and touchdowns over the final six weeks of the regular season. Joining him in the starting lineup will be Corey Davis and Adam Humphries, both of whom posted at least 800 yards as recently as 2018.
After the top three, things get a little more cloudy. Kalif Raymond had a great 2019 season in a limited role, but with just 10 career catches to his name, it remains to be seen if he can fill that WR4 role that Tajae Sharpe vacated when he left for Minnesota earlier in the offseason. I’m a big believer in Raymond and think a bigger dose of his speed could actually make this offense more dynamic, but we still need to see it.
The small-but-speedy Cameron Batson will also be in that mix after missing the entire 2019 season with a shoulder injury suffered in training camp. In fact, there is a pretty good chance that he would have taken the spot that Raymond eventually claimed had he not gotten hurt. Batson was solid in 2018 as an undrafted rookie, catching 8 passes for 82 yards in limited appearances.
The rest of this group are virtual unknowns. Rashard Davis made an impressive catch in the Week 17 game against the Texans in spot duty and also offers some return ability. Cody Hollister had some moments in preseason last year and offers a big frame that stands out among a bunch of undersized options in Raymond (5′-8″, 182 lbs), Batson (5′-8″, 175 lbs), and Rashard Davis (5′-9″, 175 lbs).
Then you have the four-man UDFA crop in Kinsey, Wilkerson, Williams, and Westbrook-Ikhine. There is a good chance that at least one of these guys doesn’t make it past the August 16th cut from 90 to 80 and reps will be harder to come by than ever, but Kinsey and Wilkerson are very intriguing from a skill set and production standpoint. It will be interesting to see what kind of look they get in camp.
For the last two spots on my 53 for now, I’m going with Batson and Wilkerson. Why Wilkerson? Well, for one, I just like what I’ve seen of his game. He’s a vertical playmaker who does a great job of attacking the football in the air, a trait that tends to translate well at the NFL level. He also brings a different size element that would be helpful to have on the roster in case A.J. Brown or Corey Davis miss time with an injury.
That being said, Wilkerson is just a guess. It’s certainly possible that he could be one of the seven or eight players that get cut as the Titans get down to the 80-man roster limit required by August 16th, but he’s the guy that I like to grab one of the last roster spots at this position.
Projection: 6 (Brown, C. Davis, Humphries, Raymond, Batson, Wilkerson)
- Jonnu Smith
- Anthony Firkser
- MyCole Pruitt
- Parker Hesse
- Tommy Hudson
The Titans will be without Delanie Walker on the roster for the first time since 2012, but things might not feel that different considering he had missed 27 of the last 35 possible games. Jonnu Smith really started to emerge as a playmaker for the Titans offense late last season. Coming off the first healthy offseason of his pro career — and a steady dose of workouts with Ryan Tannehill in Miami — he could be a breakout candidate in his 4th year out of FIU.
Anthony Firkser and his sure hands return to his role as a third down specialist for the third straight year while MyCole Pruitt continues to do the dirty work as the primary blocker of the group. These two are quality role players who can be counted on to do their jobs.
The Titans have frequently kept four tight ends in recent years, but it is hard to see where that fourth option might be on the current roster. Then again, nobody saw Firkser coming at this time two years ago.
Parker Hesse converted to tight end after playing defensive end in college and did enough to stick around on the practice squad all year as a rookie. Does he make a push for a roster spot in year two? Could rookie UDFA Tommy Hudson, a bruising blocking tight end from Arizona State, emerge as a MyCole Pruitt alternative?
Projection: 3 (Smith, Firkser, Pruitt)
- Taylor Lewan
- Rodger Saffold
- Ben Jones
- Nate Davis
- Dennis Kelly
- Isaiah Wilson
- Ty Sambrailo
- Jamil Douglas
- Avery Gennesy
- David Quessenberry
- Daniel Munyer
- Anthony McKinney
- Brandon Kemp
- Aaron Brewer
The left side of Taylor Lewan, Rodger Saffold, and Ben Jones is one of the best in the NFL. Nate Davis showed enough promise down the stretch last year that his starting job should be safe heading into 2020 as well.
The questions begin at right tackle, where Dennis Kelly and first round pick Isaiah Wilson are set to battle it out in one of the most high profile position battles on the team. However, both guys are safe when it comes to roster spots.
Outside of those six, it’s hard to find anyone that is a stone cold lock to make the 53-man roster. I would think Sambrailo would be the next man up given his experience in the league (13 career starts over his first five years), but the Titans really need a reliable backup for the interior offensive line spots and Sambrailo is more of a tackle by trade.
Jamil Douglas is the most experienced backup among the interior offensive linemen. He got four starts in 2019 for the Titans, can play both center and guard, and knows the offense. I know a lot of fans won’t like it — pretty sure Calais Campbell just beat him again — but Douglas feels likely to take a roster spot.
Undrafted rookie Aaron Brewer from Texas State is an interesting player with experience at all five positions across the offensive line, but I think he may need some time in the strength program before he’s ready to push for a roster spot. Listed at just 274 pounds, it’s hard to see a player of that size being able to compete at the NFL level.
Offensive line is a position that is uniquely impacted by the new CBA. Roster rules now allow teams to have up to 48 active players on gamedays, so long as at least 8 offensive linemen are active. If a team has fewer than OL up for a game, they may only dress 47 players. Effectively, that makes it easier for teams to have more offensive linemen active without sacrificing depth at other spots that are more likely to contribute on special teams.
Projection: 9 (Lewan, Saffold, Jones, Davis, Kelly, Wilson, Sambrailo, Douglas, Quessenberry)
- Jeffery Simmons
- DaQuan Jones
- Jack Crawford
- Larrell Murchison
- Matt Dickerson
- Joey Ivie
- Isaiah Mack
- Kobe Smith
- Teair Tart
Switching to the defensive side of the ball, the Titans defensive line is one of the bigger question marks on the roster. Expectations for Jeffery Simmons will be enormous this year after a promising rookie season. He’s now approaching the 18-month mark since his ACL injury and should be fully healthy after playing most of last season somewhere around 70%.
Joining Simmons in the starting lineup will be DaQuan Jones. The 6-year pro is one of the more underrated Titans players. He will never be a big sack producer, but he does push the pocket and provides value as one of the best run stuffers in the NFL.
The Titans had two or fewer defensive linemen on the field for more than two-thirds of their snaps last year so calling the third lineman in the base defense a “starter” is misleading. Realistically, Jack Crawford or Larrell Murchison or whoever takes that defensive end spot opposite Simmons in three-man fronts will be about a 30% snap share type player at most.
I’d peg Crawford — an 8-year veteran with 25 starts over the past three seasons — as the favorite to take that role, but it will certainly be a rotation no matter who gets the first crack at it.
The Titans have usually kept five or six players here. Simmons and Jones are locks and it would be at least a mild surprise if Crawford and fifth round pick Larrell Murchison didn’t make it onto the 53. That leaves either one or two spots for guys like Dickerson, Ivie, and Mack, all of whom have seen some snaps over the past couple years.
Projection: 5 (Simmons, Jones, Crawford, Murchison, Dickerson)
- Harold Landry
- Vic Beasley Jr.
- Kamalei Correa
- Derick Roberson
- Reggie Gilbert
- D’Andre Walker
- Josh Smith
- Jordan Williams
There is a chance that this analysis is made obsolete in the next couple days if the Titans sign a certain outside linebacker whose name rhymes with “frowny”, but we will dive in anyway.
Harold Landry returns at the Titans top edge rusher, coming off a 9-sack season in 2019. Getting him some help was always going to be a priority this offseason. While Cameron Wake didn’t put up big sack numbers himself, Landry’s production with him in the lineup (0.78 sacks per game) versus his production without Wake (0.29 sacks per game) suggest that having a viable threat across the line of scrimmage is a big help for Landry.
That help — at least at the moment — comes in the form of former 8th overall pick Vic Beasley. While the Titans may not get the 15.5-sack version of Beasley that we saw in 2016, even the 2019 version that tallied 8 sacks and 12 QB hits would be a massive improvement over anything Tennessee got from it’s non-Landry pass rushers the last couple years.
Kamalei Correa also returned after a strong close to last season that saw him record career highs in virtually every statistical category. I would expect him to still see a good number of snaps, particularly on early downs to ease some of the run stopping burden on Landry and Beasley.
After Correa, things get interesting. Derick Roberson emerged late last season, picking up 3 sacks in the final three regular season games before going quiet in the playoffs. His athleticism and pass rush juice should earn him a long look from the coaching staff for a roster spot this year, but he’ll have competition.
The Titans 2019 5th round pick, D’Andre Walker, is the most interesting of that group to me. A training camp injury ended his rookie season before even getting a single preseason snap, but he’s now healthy and expected to compete for a spot. Many considered him a potential day two pick heading into the 2019 NFL Draft.
Reggie Gilbert played lots of snaps early last season for the Titans before seemingly falling out of favor in the latter part of the season. I’d say he’s squarely on the bubble this year.
Projection: 5 (Landry, Beasley, Correa, Roberson, Walker)
- Rashaan Evans
- Jayon Brown
- David Long
- Nick Dzubnar
- Cale Garrett
- Khaylan Kearse-Thomas
Rashaan Evans and Jayon Brown make for a great starting linebacker duo. Evans plays with a ton of aggression and serves as a downhill freight train against the run, while Brown has established himself one of the best coverage backers in the game.
David Long emerged as a core special teams contributor during his rookie season as well as getting some spot duty at linebacker when Brown missed time with injuries. He showed off outstanding instincts and tackling at linebacker and I don’t think it’s crazy to consider him a potential long term starter at the NFL level. He’ll very clearly be the top backup here in 2020 and should continue to provide value on special teams as well.
After Long, things open up quite a bit here. Nick Dzubnar was signed in free agency after spending five years as a key special teams contributor for the Chargers, where he crossed paths with Titans special teams coordinator Craig Aukerman. I would expect him to take the special teams role that Daren Bates has filled in Tennessee for the past three seasons, but ideally you won’t see him taking snaps on defense.
The Titans will probably keep five at this position group unless they view Kamalei Correa as more than just a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency option at inside linebacker. That fifth spot seems completely up for grabs. Cale Garrett is one of the more interesting UDFAs in the Titans class coming off a great career at Missouri and Khaylan Kearse-Thomas brings loads of athleticism to the table.
I’m going with Garrett as my fifth inside linebacker. He was wildly productive in college and his position coach at Missouri once said that “[Cale] probably knows the defense better than I do” so I’m guessing he’s probably already made a strong impression on Jim Haslett and Mike Vrabel during virtual OTAs.
Projection: 5 (Evans, Brown, Long, Dzubnar, Garrett)
- Adoree’ Jackson
- Malcolm Butler
- Johnathan Joseph
- Kristian Fulton
- Tye Smith
- Kareem Orr
- Chris Milton
- Kenneth Durden
You can probably chisel the top four here in stone. Adoree’ Jackson and Malcolm Butler will be two of the three “starters” at corner with the third spot likely coming down to a battle between the veteran free agent addition, Johnathan Joseph, and the rookie second round pick Kristian Fulton.
After that group, things are wide open. Tye Smith has been with the team for years now, usually hanging around the bubble of the roster. He made a couple huge plays last season, returning Dane Cruikshank’s blocked kick for a touchdown in Indianapolis and punching out a fumble that Jayon Brown took to the house in Oakland. He’s also a respected player in the locker room and a good special teams player.
However, Smith has some real competition for that fifth corner spot. Chris Milton was outstanding on special teams when healthy last season and Kareem Orr flashed some real potential at corner in preseason and in some brief regular season action.
Then you have the hybrids. Tennessee loves their corner/safety hybrids. Amani Hooker, Dane Cruikshank, Joshua Kalu, Ibraheim Campbell, and Chris Jackson all carry that “DB” label on the Titans official roster for a reason — they can play both corner and safety — and that means the competition for roster spots here is quite stiff. I have the hybrids included in the safety position group below, but they will influence the numbers here to some degree.
Projection: 5 (Jackson, Butler, Joseph, Fulton, Orr)
- Kevin Byard
- Kenny Vaccaro
- Amani Hooker
- Dane Cruikshank
- Ibraheim Campbell
- Chris Jackson
- Joshua Kalu
The Titans will have one of the best safety duos in the league again with Kevin Byard and Kenny Vaccaro together for the third straight year. Amani Hooker and Dane Cruikshank figure to be good bets to serve as their primary backups as well as getting some snaps in subpackages. Cruikshank also qualifies as a bonafide special teams ace at this point in his career.
Ibraheim Campbell was a sneaky add to this group during the offseason as well. The former fourth round pick has been around the league for a while, bouncing between a handful of different rosters, but he’s logged 15 NFL starts and gives the Titans another versatile safety who can drop down in the box to play that dime linebacker role that Vaccaro often fills.
He will be competing with Joshua Kalu, who made the huge field goal block to seal the win against the Chiefs last season, and rookie seventh round pick Chris Jackson. Both Kalu and Jackson have some cornerback versatility which could help their cause.
Projection: 6 (Byard, Vaccaro, Hooker, Cruikshank, Campbell, Jackson)
- Brett Kern
- Beau Brinkley
- Greg Joseph
- Tucker McCann
All-Pro punter Brett Kern is entering his 12th season with the Titans and seems to only be getting stronger. This will be the 9th straight year that he has caught snaps from Beau Brinkley, the Titans reliable long snapper.
All the drama in the specialist group will be at kicker, where Greg Joseph and Tucker McCann appear set to battle in training camp for the right to handle field goals and kickoffs in 2020. Long time Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski buying a home in a suburb just south of Nashville certainly raises some eyebrows though.
Projection: 3 (Kern, Brinkley, Joseph)
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: Wilkerson, C. Jackson, Garrett, Quessenberry
First Four Out: Kinsey, Kalu, R. Davis, Mack
The toughest positions for me to peg were wide receiver, safety, and defensive line. Safety is tough because there are so many qualified options, while the other two are difficult because of how unproven all but the top three players at the position truly are.
We will be tracking news out of camp and reports from our own John Glennon to try and glean as much information about the pecking order of the roster over the next few weeks and updating this projection accordingly.
Jump in the comments and leave the changes you would make to my 53!