The Tennessee Titans’ final 53-man roster is now set, at least for now, after making a wave of roster cuts ahead of yesterday’s league-mandated deadline.
As the team now looks ahead to Miami, we analyse and rank their final roster by position.
Please note, name recognition and prior success is not the sole criteria for this list. Overall depth, or a lack thereof, is just as important when compiling this ranking.
The group now known as MMCNB (My Man Catch No Balls) is the deepest and most talented group the Titans have heading into the season opener. And considering the resources Tennessee committed to the position…they should be.
Led by a starting pair of former Super Bowl champions in Logan Ryan and Malcolm Butler, Tennessee has their most athletic group of cornerbacks since 2008. Adoree’ Jackson, last year’s first round pick, continues to improve. His speed gives the unit the versatility it needs to handle today’s pass-happy league. LeShaun Sims has proven to be a reliable backup when called upon, and newly acquired rookie free agent Kenneth Durden earned a roster spot after turning in a solid preseason.
2. Defensive Line
The Titans’ 3-4 defense has a ton of new faces this season, but their big 3 up front return in tact. Austin Johnson and DaQuan Jones were key cogs in the middle of Tennessee’s 4th ranked run defense last season, as was reigning three-time Pro Bowler Jurrell Casey…who is quietly one of the best in the league at his position.
3. Running Back
While we’ve yet to see how Derrick Henry and newly acquired Dion Lewis will be used this year, it’s worth noting that Tennessee has their most versatile backfield since the days of Smash and Dash (LenDale White, Chris Johnson).
And that was a decade ago.
Lewis is the X-factor of this group, as he has shown to be able to run in between the tackles in addition to his pass catching prowess.
That in itself should motivate Henry, who is no stranger to carving out carries with someone breathing down his neck. He is slated to be the Titans’ bell cow, at least early on, and has shown to be capable of handling the role of feature back. Just ask Kansas City.
4. Offensive Line
A late development catapulted this unit up the list, as Tennessee activated Jack Conklin, their All Pro right tackle, from the Physically Unable to Perform list. Conklin suffered an ACL injury in January’s divisional playoff loss to New England, and his return couldn’t have come at a better time. With Conklin back in the fold, and Taylor Lewan’s contract situation in the rear view mirror, Tennessee will return one of the best young set of tackles in the league. Last year’s complimentary starters Ben Jones (center), Quinton Spain (left guard), and Josh Kline (right guard) rejoin them this season, which allows Dennis Kelly, and his ability to play multiple positions, to return to his backup role.
5. Tight End
Reigning three-time Pro Bowl tight end Delanie Walker returns for his 13th season…and has shown no signs of slowing down. The ageless wonder looks as good as ever, evidenced by Tennessee’s commitment to extend his contract last month. Mariota’s favorite target and safety blanket is back, but one has to wonder how the group would fare if he were to miss time. Second year backup Jonnu Smith has shown flashes, albeit in small dosages, and rookie free agent Anthony Frisker made the roster by proving to have great hands throughout training camp and the preseason.
Cool your jets, Mariota fans….this is not an indictment of the franchise quarterback’s overall talent. This is more of an indictment of the depth behind him. While journeyman backup Blaine Gabbert is better than his predecessor Matt Cassell, he has still failed to distinguish himself as a go-to guy should Mariota miss time….and history has shown that is a real possibility. Tennessee elected to keep just two qb’s, and recently released rookie draft pick Luke Falk did not clear waivers after being picked up by Miami, leaving the Titans without a third….at least for now.
Cool your jets, Byard fans…this is not an indictment on the All Pro and 2017 leader in turnovers recorded. Like Mariota, the ranking speaks more to what’s behind him…and that’s question marks. While Kenny Vacarro is a capable veteran replacement to injured Johnathan Cyprien, if either he or Byard were to miss time then the Titans would be forced to go to Brynden Trawick, Kendrick Lewis, or rookie 5th round pick Dane Cruikshank. None has played a regular season NFL down at safety in a Titans uniform.
While this group is mixed with veteran leadership, Pro Bowl-caliber talent, and youth with tremendous upside, injuries decimated the linebacker position this summer. Projected starting middle linebacker and rookie first round pick Rashaan Evans missed the entire preseason with an undisclosed injury, as did veteran outside starting linebacker Brian Orakpo. Derrick Morgan, who starts opposite of Orakpo, is recovering from surgery after being injured in the second preseason game. And rookie second round pick Harold Landry, who was having a great camp filling in as a starter due to injury, suffered a high ankle sprain in the third preseason game. He will miss the start of the season.
Once fully healthy this group will undoubtedly soar up this list. The question is when? And how quickly can this unit gel when all the pieces are in place?
9. Wide receiver
As with most seasons, the wide receiver position continues to have the most question marks on the roster. Rishard Matthews will enter the season without the benefit of preseason reps for the first time in his seven-year career as he nursed an offseason injury. Cory Davis, who was in that position last year, is healthy but did not register a catch in the preseason. Tajae Sharpe is looking to return from an injury that cost him the entire 2017 season, and Taywan Taylor has yet to be featured prominently during the regular season as he enters his second year. Backups Darius Jennings and Cameron Batson are virtual unknown commodities.
Let the debate begin…..