NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The doldrums of the NFL offseason are upon us with the conclusion of this year’s draft and free-agent acquisitions slowing to a crawl. With the Tennessee Titans rookie minicamp in the books, let us make some early projections for the team’s depth chart and 53-man roster (Starters) (*Rookies):
- Quarterback (3): Marcus Mariota, Blaine Gabbert, *Luke Falk
- Barring another season-interrupting injury, there is no question that Mariota will be the guy for Tennessee; that general manager Jon Robinson elected to pick up the Heisman trophy winner’s fifth-year option this offseason, despite his statistically poor 2017-2018, speaks volumes of their belief in him. The Titans paid Gabbert as a free agent and drafted Falk in the sixth round this April, fortifying the position in the event that some unforeseen harm befalls their entrenched starter.
- Running Back/Fullback (4): Dion Lewis, Derrick Henry, David Fluellen, *Akrum Wadley
- DeMarco Murray’s departure from Nashville does not automatically make offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur’s running game the “Derrick Henry Show.” Lewis’s efficiency in systems similar to LaFleur’s should seem him take the lead role with Henry in relief. Fluellen’s skill set as a runner is similar to Henry’s put he has been a reliable special-teamer. Tennessee’s only draft pick on offense was Falk and Wadley is both a fit for the new scheme and the team’s most heralded undrafted free agent.
- Wide Receiver (6): Corey Davis, Rishard Matthews, Taywan Taylor, Tajae Sharpe, Michael Campanaro
- The logic here is that defensive coordinator Dean Pees and coach Mike Vrabel may be more inclined to keep an extra linebacker or defensive back, leaving undrafted rookie wide out Deontay Burnett as the odd man out. Under LaFleur last season, no team in the sport favored three-receiver formations more than the Los Angeles Rams (although, it’s unclear whether that is a staple of LaFleur or Rams coach Sean McVay). Operating under the three-receiver assumption, Davis will be expected to assume the No. 1 role he was drafted for and Matthews experience and route-running refinement make him the clear No. 2 over Taylor, who will undoubtedly see his role increase under LaFleur. It is unclear what Sharpe’s ceiling is coming off of last year’s season-ending injury but Robinson’s decision to not address the receiving corps in the draft shows his trust in the personnel.
- Tight End (3): Delanie Walker, Jonnu Smith, *Ethan Wolf
- Tennessee currently has six tight ends on the roster after the undrafted free agents agreed to terms Friday morning. Walker had a sneaky bad 2017 with several crucial drops in big moments and will be 34 in August but remains one of the team’s best and most reliable players. Smith, heading into his sophomore season, was drafted to eventually replace the aging vet and will become a good receiving option as his route-running becomes more polished. The third tight end is a toss up between Luke Stocker, Philip Supernaw and Wolf. But the undrafted rookie out of Knoxville possesses NFL size, makes tough catches in traffic and showed enough ability as a blocker in college to potentially make the two veterans expendable.
- Tackle (3): Taylor Lewan, Jack Conklin, Dennis Kelly
- Conklin suffered a torn ACL during the team’s 35-14 playoff loss to the New England Patriots in January and Kelly’s ability to fill in on both ends makes him a keeper. Versatility has always been a point of emphasis for Robinson, who acquired Kevin Pamphile this offseason for both added competition and his ability to play all five positions up front.
- Guard (4): Josh Kline, Quinton Spain, Kevin Pamphile, Xavier Su’a-Filo
- Kline got a new deal and the team tendered Spain as a restricted free agent this offseason. There is a chance the Titans field the same starting line for the third consecutive season, but Robinson brought in free agents Pamphile and Su’a Filo after diminished quality of play from Spain in 2017.
- Center (2): Ben Jones, Corey Levin
- Spain wasn’t the only Tennessee offensive lineman who had a down year last season but Jones’s overall consistency, durability and comfort level with Mariota will hold off any real competition. Levin, a 2017 sixth-round pick, may not make the roster if both Pamphile and Su’a-Filo are retained but his ability to play multiple positions on the interior could keep him around.
- Defensive Line (6): Jurrell Casey, Bennie Logan, DaQuan Jones, Austin Johnson, Antwaun Woods, David King
- The Titans rewarded Casey with a four-year, $60.4 million contract before last season and made a point to retain Jones this year. King and Johnson showed their ability after Jones was placed on Injured Reserve with torn biceps. Woods received rave revues at nose before being placed on the practice squad in 2017 but Logan was brought in to compete as the starter.
- Inside Linebacker (5): Wesley Woodyard, *Rashaan Evans, Jayon Brown, Will Compton, Daren Bates
- Woodyard is option No.1 and Evans wasn’t drafted in this year’s first round to be just a situational player. Compton’s experience in a starting role might give him a slight edge over Brown, who played admirably on special teams and in the team’s nickel defense as a rookie.
- Outside Linebacker (5): Brian Orakpo, Derrick Morgan, *Harold Landry, Kevin Dodd, Aaron Wallace
- Landry has been anointed the “steal of the draft” by many and possess the tools to become a difference-maker on the field in his rookie campaign. No one in this group will supplant Morgan or Orakpo on their own merit this season but Landry can rotate in to provide fresh legs. It is too soon to part ways with a player drafted as high as Dodd and perhaps the new addition of specialized coaching for outside linebackers under Mike Vrabel’s staff will help him to develop further.
- Cornerback (5): Malcolm Butler, Adoree’ Jackson, Logan Ryan, LeShaun Sims, Tye Smith
- If anyone would have asked me (they didn’t), I would have voted Ryan as an All-Pro selection in the slot. Tennessee boasts one of, if not the, deepest corner group in pro football with Jackson as a sophomore and the acquisition of Butler. Sims has shown he can step up when tested and Smith is an above-average depth option.
- Safety (5): *Kevin Byard, Johnathan Cyprien, Kendrick Lewis, *Dane Cruikshank, Brynden Trawick
- Cruikshank is thought to be a defensive back hybrid but listed as a safety on the team’s official website so that’s where we’ll put him. Lewis was signed at the beginning of May and provides an experience upgrade as a third safety and familiarity with both Pees and Vrabel from previous stops.
- Kicker (1): Ryan Succop
- The 2017-2018 campaign saw his name etched in NFL record books for making 56 consecutive field goals inside of 50 yards and the team saw fit to reward him with the second-largest kicker contract in league history.
- Punter (1): Brett Kern
- He was arguably the most impactful player on the team in 2017-2018, leading the NFL in both punting average and net average in route to his first Pro Bowl.
- Long Snapper (1): Beau Brinkley
- It is an undervalued position and one that goes entirely without glory. Brinkley has been with the team since 2012 and goes largely unnoticed because he does not make mistakes. There is no greater compliment one can give to a long snapper.
- Kick/Punt Returner: Michael Campanaro
- Adoree’ Jackson handled the bulk of returning responsibilities for the Titans in his rookie year (on top of playing defense and a little bit of offense) but has proven his worth as a full-time starter. Campanaro handled 27 of 32 punt returns for the Baltimore Ravens before coming to Nashville this offseason as a free agent and was likely signed to do the same in Tennessee.