Welcome to new a weekly article series that will be posted every Friday, called Fact or Fiction. I will take a narrative, theme, or player and tell you what is a fact and what is fiction. It is our duty here at Broadway Sports to separate the mess of Twitter takes and media garbage from what is actually real.
Today, I’m going to dive into Dez Fitzpatrick. No, this won’t be some hit piece about the rookie receiver, even though there will be some hurtful truths about Fitzpatrick that you may have to endure. Let’s dive in…
Fact: The odds were always stacked against him
It is no secret. I am one of the biggest haters of the Titans methods in acquiring Fitzpatrick. It’s not any fault of his own, of course, but I think everyone can safely admit that, currently, he is trending towards a waste of the draft capital used to acquire him.
In the draft, the Titans traded a fourth- and a fifth-round pick to move up to grab Fitzpatrick in the fourth round and make him the first wide receiver drafted on Day 3. It wasn’t a shock at the time that the Titans made an aggressive move for a wide receiver after not addressing it appropriately, but it was a shock who ended up being announced at the podium.
Here’s the thing: You can preach patience, and you can yell into the ether that he just had a bad quarterback at college, but great wide receivers overcome bad quarterback play all the time in college. While I do firmly believe Jon Robinson is a fantastic general manager, he is not infallible.
The Fitzpatrick pick, by most analysts and scouting standards, was a massive reach by the Titans. Fitzpatrick was considered a borderline undraftable player with most pre-draft grades projecting him as a sixth- or seventh-round value. So from the get-go, with the added pressure of being drafted way too high, and the value used to acquire him, there was a slim chance he was ever going to live up to this investment.
Again, it’s not his fault, he is what he is: a wide receiver in college who struggled with drops, mental errors, and various other negatives. Sure, he has the physical profile of an NFL wide receiver. He’s tall, has the athleticism, and is pretty stout, but he hasn’t displayed the performance of an NFL-caliber player. It’s showing now as he’s having a tough time making an impact for this team thus far.
The Titans are to blame for the value. They let his willingness to be a blocker and his Senior Bowl performance outweigh his actual ability. I know there are some out there who would said, “Well his dad said teams had him higher on their boards than what people think.” I’m super skeptical of trusting a player’s father to know anything about where a team has his son ranked.
So the value placed on Fitzpatrick had him set up to fail, but waiting that long to draft a receiver is problematic in and of itself. It’s not a good process, even if you like the player. Since 2010, 57 wide receivers have been drafted in the fourth round. Of those 57, Jamison Crowder, Travis Benjamin, Josh Reynolds, and Gabriel Davis are the only noteworthy receivers who have proven they can contribute at the NFL level. Pharaoh Cooper was also a fourth-round receiver, but at the NFL level, he’s nothing more than a special teams return man.
That is a less than 8% success rate for wide receivers drafted in the fourth round. Again, no fault of Fitzpatrick’s, he just is what he is.
Then this team went and added Julio Jones via trade, which severely dented the team’s need for Fitzpatrick to play right away. Many of us were still expecting him to contribute in some form or fashion as the team’s fourth option on the depth chart, and the fourth-round value doesn’t look too bad from that perspective, but over the last two weeks, we’re seeing him for what he’s always been: a borderline undraftable player who is struggling with mental errors and drops. He is also having a rough time contributing on special teams.
Unfortunately for Fitzpatrick, the odds were stacked against him from the get-go, through no fault of his own. Lots of players top out at different levels of play, and Fitzpatrick topped out in college. It happens to hundreds of players every year.
Fiction: It’s easy for the team to keep or stash him
If you asked me today whether the Titans are going to keep Fitzpatrick on the roster, it’d be a resounding no. What I mean by that is the fact that I do not think that he makes it through the next two round of cuts. He has plenty of time to change that, mind you, because his destiny is literally in his own hands.
The Titans are in a Super Bowl window. The staff, coaches, and players all recognize this. Every move made by Robinson this offseason indicates that. Even Ryan Tannehill has flat-out said last year wasn’t good enough, that they’re in this for a Super Bowl. That’s what makes it hard to keep Fitzpatrick on the 53-man roster.
A lot of people will say, “But he’s a fourth-round pick!” True, but that doesn’t matter. This team isn’t afraid to cut bait with a struggling player who is failing to put it all together. When you start running through names for a 53-man roster, Fitzpatrick, if you’re being objective, doesn’t even sniff that ‘last in, first out’ portion.
Based on past actions, draft capital invested doesn’t really matter in Robinson’s mind when it comes to constructing a roster. Look at players like Isaiah Wilson and Kevin Dodd. He cut bait with both fairly quick, and they were much higher draft picks than Fitzpatrick. He cut Cole McDonald, a former seventh-round pick, just a few days into his first training camp. So with the team being in a Super Bowl window, you can’t waste a spot on patience and hope, especially when you have players that are performing way better, and other players that can contribute on special teams.
So is it easy for the Titans to keep him somehow? Yes, but it will depend on what the 31 other teams do. Currently, the most obvious choice is to cut him. Contrary to what some believe, Fitzpatrick can’t just be moved from the active roster to the practice squad. He would have to be released by the team and clear waivers – where other NFL teams would have the option to claim Fitzpatrick and add him to their active rosters – to then be eligible for the Titans practice squad.
That’s right, in order for Fitzpatrick to be practice squad eligible, he has to be cut and not picked up by another team. He of course can be elevated to his team’s 53-man roster at any time; however, if he is later released from that team’s 53-man roster, he must clear waivers before he can be added back onto that team’s practice squad. It’s convoluted, sure, but it’s not just as simple as “let’s just put him on the practice squad.”
What you typically see is Week 1 opponents or even divisional opponents pick up a rival’s cut players to try and gain a competitive advantage. I don’t think there is much you can really learn, but if Fitzpatrick is cut, you can expect at least one wide receiver-needy team to see a fourth-round pick hit the waiver wire and take a flyer on him.
Today on the 104.5 The Zone morning show J-Mart and Ramon, in the second hour of their podcast (21:00 minute mark), JMart said he truly thinks Fitzpatrick will end up on the Titans’ Injured Reserve. In fact, he said it twice and also said that while on IR, Fitzpatrick can basically prove himself. Again, it’s not that simple, unless a Titans’ staffer drops a weight on Fitzpatrick’s foot (or they hire the Chargers’ team doctor to stab him in the lungs).
Only injured players can go on IR. While on IR a player can’t “prove themselves” because they can’t even practice. On top of that, if the NFL discovers that a healthy player is on IR illegally, they can fine you and dock you draft picks. As Mike Herndon said today: “The only thing worse than cutting a 4th round pick would be getting additional picks docked because you tried to skirt the IR rules to hide your crappy 4th rounder.”
The odds have been stacked against Fitzpatrick from day one, and right now there is no realistic way he makes the final 53-man roster. This of course can change, he has two weeks to convince the staff and team he deserves the spot, and the draft value this team placed on him.
However, it’s not going to be easy for him to just be stashed away on the practice squad or illegally placed on a list he can’t go on. This a Super Bowl contender with a Super Bowl roster, and there isn’t a spot for a wide receiver who can’t put it together.
Does this make Robinson look bad? Sure. Does this mean Robinson deserves to be fired? No.
What are your thoughts on Dez Fitzpatrick? Have Fact or Fictions of your own? Drop them in the replies below.