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Breaking down the Titans’ 2014 UDFA signings

Programming note: As you may have noticed, new content has been sparse here lately. I’m currently in the midst of Football Outsiders Almanac 2014 writing season, which is taking up all of the football-writing time that otherwise mostly gets devoted here. Posts will continue to be irregular until mid-late June, though I’ll try to chime in every week or ten days (N.B. I wrote two posts between May 24 and June 24 last year).

A.k.a., the annual exercise in which Glass-Mostly-Empty Tom anticipatorily crushes the nascent dreams of unheralded aspiring NFLers. List courtesy of the Titans, though this post contains a complete list of all the current rookie UDFAs.

Admittedly Glass-Mostly-Empty as I am, this pessimism has mostly been merited when it comes to UDFAs and the Titans. As I like to harp on, since 2006 the Titans have been extraordinarily hard for a rookie undrafted free agent fresh out of college to make. I could be forgetting somebody, but I recall three in seven seasons-wideout Biren Ealy, defensive tackle DaJohn Harris, and long snapper Beau Brinkley-of whom only Brinkley made it to Week 1 of his second NFL season with the Titans. The continued presence of Ruston Webster at general manager makes me think things will be unchanged, though it is possible new schemes on both sides of the ball create opportunities for players other than the usual suspects of veterans and draft picks.

I should note this post, as with all the others I do, comes with a perma-disclaimer: All these guys are way, way, … way, way better football players than I ever was and tougher and stronger and could probably beat me up without breaking a sweat. The 53-man roster is far from set in stone at this point, and it’s not out of the question one or more of these guys could impress and make the team. I’ll be watching with interest this August to see if any can surpass my expectations and make an impact. But I’m still probably taking the Under on 0.5 of these guys on the Week 1 roster.

Ri’Shard Anderson, CB, Syracuse-Some size at 5’11, 194 pounds, and his college coach liked his speed and physical tackling as well. On the other hand, I didn’t see any of those “Player X puts it all together” stories and inconsistency seems to have been a hallmark of his career. He was Dane Brugler’s 105th-ranked cornerback. Probably just a camp body unless he becomes a guy who earns one of those stories.
Antonio Andrews, RB, Western Kentucky-Senior Bowl invite, so he got a certain level of pub. Has a Draft Breakdown profile, so watch him yourself if you want. Looked okay at times, with some big gains, powering through tackles thanks to good size at 5’10, 225, and good work on screens. On the other hand, his big gains almost all came on excellently-blocked plays, he may be a below-average pass protector even by the woeful standards of collegiate running backs, I didn’t see a second gear, the power wasn’t evident on some key short yardage runs, and he didn’t stand out against lesser competition the way I want a I-AA back to. Return experience. Camp body in my opinion, though others had him rated higher.
Travis Coons, K, Washington-I don’t scout kickers. Very erratic field goal accuracy in 2012, but was very good in 2013. I wonder about his leg strength-he never made (or possibly even attempted) a field goal over 48 yards, and the Huskies’ other kickoff man had a much higher touchback percentage. The Titans seemed to like him a lot more than anybody else, and maybe they’re seeing something everybody else and the numbers are missing. He has a shot, but I’d rate Maikon Bonani as a heavy favorite and put Coons behind “Field” in my informal, made-up-on-the-spot odds of being the Week 1 kicker.
James Gayle, OLB/DE, Virginia Tech-I wrote about him in the visits post. Some people liked him and thought he could go early on Day 3. I saw a player with a decent first step, but one whose production came against below average college right tackles and was generally not draftable. Considering the Titans have four veterans at his position, maybe a practice squad candidate.
David Gilbert, OLB, Miami (FL)-Signed after rookie minicamp. Collegiate DE. Spent his first three seasons at Wisconsin before transferring home to Miami, where he was not that productive. History of foot injuries. As with Gayle, upside is probably the practice squad, but there probably should be a practice squad spot for a developmental outside linebacker given the questions with the incumbents.
Julian Horton, WR, Arkansas-Signed after rookie minicamp. Caught 12 passes as a senior. I didn’t spend as much time on him as I did on other guys, but I have nothing remotely interesting, even to me, to say about him.
Gabe Ikard, C, Oklahoma-Per Lance Zierlein, foot quickness is apparently a positive, but perhaps lacking in NFL functional strength. The former suggests he could be something, the latter the practice squad as his only potential NFL landing spot. More likely, he’s somebody else to snap the ball to the four quarterbacks in camp.
Waymon James, RB, TCU-Signed after rookie minicamp. Short at 5’8. At times explosive runner who led TCU in rushing in the Rose Bowl and finished with the top yards per carry average in school history. Disappointing 2013 season following on a 2012 season that ended with a torn ACL, even before a season-ending suspension for unspecified reasons.
Justin McCray, G, Central Florida-Dane Brugler’s 107th-ranked guard. Team captain. Played both right guard and right tackle. Potential developmental body, though given the recent investments at the position there’s no need for a starter anywhere on the line until 2017 at earliest (barring a recognition event on Michael Oher).
Viondy Merisma, G/T, American International-Signed after rookie minicamp. With the Titans listing him at 6’2, I’d say he’s definitely a guard. His highlight video contains evidence the abomination that is blue turf has spread beyond Boise to the Northeastern-10.
Jamal Merrell, LB, Rutgers-Waived after rookie minicamp. Included only for completeness’ sake.
Will Poehls, OT, Montana-Signed after rookie minicamp. Great size at 6’8, 334 pounds. Played guard for the Grizzlies, though the length means he’s an NFL tackle. With Taylor Lewan in the field, there’s no reason other than conservatism for Byron Stingily to be the fourth tackle, but Poehls’ 2014 upside is more likely the practice squad. (Yes, I expect Stingily to be the fourth tackle in 2014.)
Jaz Reynolds, WR, Oklahoma-Decent size, 6’2, 201. Dane Brugler’s 73rd-ranked wideout. Jalen Saunders was the only Sooners wide receiver I noticed in my very casual watching of them this year, though with only 14 catches I don’t blame myself for missing Reynolds. Played a bigger role in 2011, though he was still a distant third to Ryan Broyles (Landry Jones’ go-to guy) and Kenny Stills. Fits right into the Character Draft, with multiple suspensions, including for the entire 2012 season; reading between the interview lines, I see knuckleheaded kid rather than real problems, though. Probably a camp body, though WR4 and beyond is so wide open.
Hakeem Smith, S, Louisville-The only visitor/workout I didn’t watch, so naturally they picked him up. Ran a 4.77 40 at 194 pounds; I try not to put too much stock in pure measurables, but that screams non-prospect to me. Maybe he has better range on the back end than his timed speed suggests and could play single high; if he doesn’t and can’t, I’m not sure what his NFL role is.
Josh Stewart, WR, Oklahoma State-Brugler and Optimum Scouting both had him with draftable grades. Watching him, I’d compare his potential role to that of Lavelle Hawkins-replacement-level slot receiver with some return ability. Not to say that he and Hawkins are identical players, by any means (Hawkins was bigger and had better lateral quickness, I think), but that’s the basic type. The Titans are really, really serious about having a returner this year, I guess.
Derel Walker, WR, Texas A&M-Ran a 4.65 at 6’1, 188 at his pro day. Had 31 catches for the Aggies. Former juco player. Made no impression on me when I watched Johnny Manziel do his thing last year.  Probable camp body.
Eric Ward, WR, Texas Tech-Decent size at 5’11, 203. Dane Brugler’s 52nd-ranked wideout. Injured in rookie minicamp and on injured reserve. I’ll cover him in the 2015 offseason positional analysis if they don’t reach an injury settlement to terminate him from injured reserve.
David Wright, TE, Westminster-Second-team All-PAC as a fifth-year senior, granted an extra year of eligibility after a broken ankle; a video documentary of his recovery is available on YouTube (not for the squeamish). From that and the highlight video, he looks minor-D3-big and -fast, though at pro day workout he apparently came in at 6’5, 252 and ran a wind-aided 4.58 40. There’s a chance there’s something here. Part of the Character Draft with a 2013 AFCA Good Works Team nomination.
Winston Wright, CB, South Dakota State-Signed after rookie minicamp. Part of the Character Draft with a 2013 AFCA Good Works Team nomination. Started his career at Missouri, where he redshirted; transfer may have been to play with his brother. Team captain.

More on these players as their play on field I see merits.