Tennessee Titans: Full Position Breakdown and Depth Chart Analysis at Tight End
As we enter the final stages of offseason work, before seeing the lackluster play of preseason football, it's time to take a closer look at the Titans roster on a position by position basis.
Not much has changed for the Titans at the tight end position. Delanie Walker, Craig Stevens and Taylor Thompson remain atop the depth chart along with a few unknowns in Jason Schepler, Dorin Dickerson and Adam Schiltz.
It's a bit of a hodgepodge group of individuals with no real surprises on the horizon, but I'll give you the latest information on the position along with my analysis.
The Camp Bodies
The Titans signed Dorin Dickerson (pictured above) last week after cutting David Wright.
Dickerson appeared in five games for the Lions last season, catching two passes for 34 yards. He has some versatility as he's capable of playing both tight end and fullback—he also has experience playing wideout.
Coach Ken Whisenhunt made it clear, per Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean, that he intends to utilize the fullback position in his offense:
We will have a spot for a traditional fullback, maybe 15 to 20 snaps a game,' Whisenhunt said. If we get into a situation where we have the lead and we go into a four-minute offense, it will be an integral part of it. Now there may be some games where we don't have a lot of (fullback) snaps, so it will depend.
With four years of experience, Dickerson is now on his fourth team and lacks ideal size for the position. His blocking is very solid and he was highly regarded as a receiver coming out of high school.
Like Dickerson, Schepler is a bit of a 'tweener in that he's capable of playing tight end and fullback. After going undrafted last year, he spent the offseason with the San Francisco 49ers until he was cut during the preseason.
It's hard to say how valuable Schepler is without any playing experience, but he brings much more size to the positional competition than Dickerson.
Schiltz comes over after being one of the Houston Texans camp bodies last year, offering more prototypical tight end-size at 6'4" and 256 pounds.
He also lacks any in-game experience to gauge his true value, but he comes in on equal footing with the two previous names for a possible roster spot.
The Tennessean's Jim Wyatt noted that he expects the Titans to give Taylor Thompson a larger piece of the pie when it comes to a tight end snaps.
When the Titans drafted him two years ago and converted him from defensive end to tight end, he was compared to Rob Gronkowski after posting impressive numbers during the NFL Combine.
While it is still early on in his career, Thompson has struggled mightily with the transition to tight end and reading NFL defenses.
In two seasons, Thompson has posted a total of nine catches for 59 yards and one touchdown, per ESPN statistics.
He was given the opportunity to produce as the team's sole tight end during a Week 13 contest against the Indianapolis Colts and failed to register a single reception.
With a new coaching staff in place, Thompson is getting a fresh start. Here's what tight ends coach Mike Mularkey had to say, per Megan Grindstaff of The Daily News Journal:
My first impression is that he is raw, he hasn’t done a lot of these things a lot of times like a lot of us did in college, Titans tight ends coach Mike Mularkey said. Being converted from a defensive end, he just hasn’t seen a lot.
We all witnessed Ladarius Green make major strides with the San Diego Chargers under Whisenhunt's roster during the 2013 season.
With Craig Stevens being much more of an in-line, blocking tight end than a receiving threat, Thompson could earn a few more opportunities on two tight end sets to make some catches.
In six seasons, Craig Stevens is yet to pull down more than two touchdowns in a season and still has fewer than 50 career receptions to his name, per ESPN Statistics.
After pulling down just two catches for five yards during the 2013 season, it's safe to assume that Stevens is best used as a blocker.
However, he did prove to be an adequate—not to be confused with dynamic—receiving threat in 2012 when he posted 23 catches for 275 yards.
The new coaching staff would be wise to get Stevens reacquainted with the route tree to limit the team's predictability on offense.
While Stevens is in no way capable of making game-breaking plays, he can move the chains on short-to-mid range outlet passes.
Thompson is simply too raw a prospect, entering his third season, to surpass Stevens on the depth chart. Stevens has proven himself to be a capable route-runner with strong hands in the past, and the team will need him to prove it again in 2014.
Last season, the Titans brought in Delanie Walker to replace the disappointing Jared Cook, who bolted to St. Louis when free agency began.
However, the team was also headed in the direction of finding a more versatile talent for the position, capable of being an effective blocker and receiving threat.
The move proved to be a positive, as Walker put up career bests across the board at nowhere near the price tag that Cook was seeking from the team.
So why should we expect to see Walker improve on his career bests in receptions, yards and touchdowns?
In Pittsburgh, coach Whisenhunt got the team to spend a first-round pick on tight end Heath Miller in 2005 and made him a key cog in the team's play-it-safe offense. During his time in Arizona, he had a bevy of receivers on hand and used a more spread offense.
In San Diego, he had the opportunity to work with a declining Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates and helped Gates turn in the second-most receptions of his career and the most receiving yards in four years.
Since the Titans aren't boasting a receiving corps as talented as the one Whisenhunt had in Arizona—Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, Bryant Johnson—we should expect to see an offense similar to the one we saw in San Diego.
While Walker is nowhere near the talent that Gates is, despite Whisenhunt's comparison of the two, it's safe to say we should expect even more from Walker in the upcoming season.
"I had a lot of respect for him there, so needless to say I'm excited that he's on this team and I'll have a chance to work with him," Whisenhunt said. "Working with Antonio Gates got me excited about the position, and I think there's a lot of elements to what Delanie does that are similar in that capacity."