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Setting early roster expectations

In the run-up to last year’s draft, I wrote a post going through the roster as it stood prior to the draft and questioning whether the Titans had room for all of their draft picks.  While my prediction that the Titans would package together picks and move up proved, shall I say, inaccurate, I think the roster prediction part proved relatively useful and worth repeating.

Now, my point in this exercise is not to definitely categorize players one way or the other.  I will once again try to be relatively conservative in describing players as locks and will avoid listing the Ricky Schmitts and Jay Moores of the world that I don’t see as having a particularly realistic chance of making the roster.  But, the following players all played in at least one NFL game last year and thus must be regarded as candidates for the active roster.

This list is by position.  The number in (parentheses) for each position is the number of players on the Titans’ opening day roster at that position the last two seasons.  Players in bold are the ones I consider locks.

QB (2-3): Kerry Collins, Vince Young
RB (4): Chris Johnson, Javon Ringer, LenDale White
FB (1): Ahmard Hall
TE (4): Jared Cook, Bo Scaife, Craig Stevens
WR (4-6): Kenny Britt, Dominique Edison, Justin Gage, Lavelle Hawkins, Nate Washington
OL (8): Eugene Amano, Leroy Harris, Troy Kropog, Mike Otto, Michael Roos, Jake Scott, David Stewart, Fernando Velasco

DT (4-5): Tony Brown, Jovan Haye, Jason Jones, Sen’Derrick Marks, Kevin Vickerson
DE (5): Jason Babin, Eric Bakhtiari, Dave Ball, Jacob Ford, William Hayes
LB (7-8): Colin Allred, Ken Amato (LS), Stanford Keglar, Gerald McRath, Pago Togafau, David Thornton, Stephen Tulloch, Will Witherspoon
CB (5): Cortland Finnegan, Tye Hill, Rod Hood, Jason McCourty, Ryan Mouton
S (4): Vinny Fuller, Michael Griffin, Chris Hope, Donnie Nickey

K (1): Rob Bironas
P (1): Brett Kern

So, that’s 28 players I consider absolute locks, and a further 23 players who I believe have a very good chance of making the team.  Some of them have better chances than others; I’d rate Kropog and Otto as both very near lock status.  Similarly, Ahmard Hall not being a lock may be extreme conservatism on my part, and even if he’s not kept there will be another fullback who makes the team.  I’d also wager money at least one of Tye Hill and Rod Hood, if not both, will make the team.

This also isn’t every player on the roster who has a shot; last year’s 7th round draft picks, Ryan Durand and Nick Schommer, both spent all year on the practice squad and thus aren’t eligible under the restrictions I imposed on myself.  Another player who I think may have an even better shot of making the roster is linebacker Mike Rivera.  Adding those three to the above list would give you a full 53-man roster, and surprisingly enough one that is fairly close to one that looks like an actual opening day roster.

From this list, there are a couple positions that look like needs.  The depth at linebacker, especially if Thornton and his hefty salary are deemed expendable, is questionable, especially on the outside.  I’m also very down on the defensive ends; declaring Hayes the only lock is overly conservative on my part, as at least two of the other four will be there, but it wouldn’t completely shock me to see them cut anybody not in bold.  I think there’s almost no chance the Titans will carry 10 defensive linemen, as they did last year, and even 9 like they did in 2008 was unusual based on past practice.

Offensively, I think they’re likely to carry three tight ends again, but may scour the waiver wire for an experienced blocker as insurance for Stevens.  They definitely do have the slot available, based on past practice, for a wideout with return experience, and a running back for the same task is another possibility.  It’s unlikely they’ll carry the 8 linebackers listed above plus Rivera, so they have the room for a developmental quarterback.  One position I would not really expect them to address in the draft is offensive line; Otto and Kropog should provide good depth for the outside positions, and some combination of Velasco, Durand, and the possible return of Kevin Mawae covers interior backups.

One thing I also ask you do is to consider the current state of the roster when you decide whether a free agent would be a good fit for the Titans.  In a way, Alex Brown was the inspiration for this post.  Paul Kuharsky wrote about him this past weekend, and he’s since signed with the Saints; to me, I simply didn’t seem him as a fit given what the Titans have already, as his likely level of current production could be matched by a Ford/Ball tandem and his likely future production is less than that, and per Jim Wyatt the Titans’ evaluation was along the same lines.  Ken Hamlin is another name I’ve seen, and given Hope, Fuller, and Griffin, I simply don’t see a spot available for him.  While the Titans have been looking at veteran safeties, if they do add one, I expect it to be somebody younger, who may be able to replace Hope next season at a cost less than the $6.5-7 million Chris will be due.  For that reason, if a defensive end they like is not available at #16, don’t be too surprised if former Texas Longhorn Earl Thomas is the pick.