For most, it is difficult to earn an NFL roster spot. For those Tennessee Titans at one particular position, it got a little harder in recent days.
Wide receiver was one of the most unsettled spots throughout much of the offseason, but Sunday’s trade that brought Julio Jones from the Atlanta Falcons (the deal officially was executed Wednesday) created much more clarity.
Jones, a seven-time Pro Bowler, is one of three locks to be on the 53-man roster at the start of the regular season (barring injury, of course). The others are A.J. Brown, Tennessee’s leading receiver each of the past two years, and Josh Reynolds, a free agent addition in March.
Typically, the season-opening roster includes five or six wide receivers. That means there are 10 players who will battle for two or three spots over the remainder of the offseason, which concludes with next week’s mandatory minicamp, training camp and the preseason.
A look at the wide receivers in the mix for one of those spots and the chances that they actually will secure one:
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Dez Fitzpatrick: Management felt strongly enough about Fitzpatrick that it traded to move up 17 spots in the fourth round in order to select him. That is a strong statement about his chances, and he will have to fail miserably not to make it. There are questions about whether he has the physical skills to succeed in the NFL, but you can expect him to see a ton of playing time in the preseason with the idea that it will prepare him for the regular season.
Racey McMath: In three years at LSU, he could not carve out a regular role for himself on offense. Granted, those Tigers teams were loaded with talent, but he only faces stiffer competition at this level. If he is going to be on the roster, he will have to beat out a linebacker or defensive back for a role on special teams and expand his opportunities on offense from there.
Cameron Batson: He has been a favorite of coach Mike Vrabel for his competitiveness and toughness. As training camp approaches, he has the opportunity to be the primary slot receiver and the best option in the return game. Undrafted out of Texas Tech in 2018, this is his chance to establish himself as a full-time NFL player, and he looks like the best bet among this group to secure a roster spot.
Chester Rogers: He is the great X factor in this whole equation. The 27-year-old spent nearly all of last season on the Titans’ practice squad, but before that he played 53 games (22 starts) in four seasons with the Indianapolis Colts. He has caught 111 passes for 1,221 yards and five touchdowns in his career and has caught more passes in a single season (53 in 2018) than Reynolds has (52 in 2020). At 6-foot, 184 pounds, he lacks the size of the majority of Titans wideouts.
Marcus Johnson: Similar to Rogers, he played 24 games (nine starts) over three seasons with the Colts before he languished on Tennessee’s practice squad for parts of 2020. He started his career with one year in Philadelphia. Johnson has 42 receptions for 679 yards in his career, and at 6-foot-1, 207 pounds offers a bit more bulk than Rogers.
Nick Westbrook-Ikhine: He was one of last season’s real success stories as an undrafted rookie who eventually played in 14 games. He caught just three passes for 33 yards but was a significant contributor on special teams and, at 6-foot-2, 211 pounds, a capable blocker in the run game. The reality of life in the NFL is that he will have to prove himself all over again this year.
Cody Hollister: He has spent two full seasons with Tennessee, but the majority of that time has been on the practice squad. Hollister has appeared in seven games and has caught three passes for 25 yards in limited opportunities (37 total snaps with the offense). Given the current state of things, he will have to show marked improvement if he wants to remain a depth option, let alone claim a roster spot.
Mason Kinsey: A product of Division III Berry College, he is an intriguing prospect who spent all of training camp with the Titans and did two stints on New England’s practice squad in 2020. Because of the caliber of competition that he faced in college he will remain nothing more than an intriguing prospect until he gets the chance to show what he can do in preseason games, where he finally can prove that he can measure up at this level.
Fred Brown: He is a 27-year-old who entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent in 2017 and spent time with two other teams (Indianapolis, L.A. Rams) before he made his NFL debut with Denver in 2019. He played 13 games that year, primarily as a special teams performer, and then got on the field just once for the Broncos in 2020. For his career, he has just two receptions for 27 yards. It will take something unexpected for him to make the roster.
Kalija Lipscomb: A highly productive receiver during four seasons at Vanderbilt, he was undrafted last season and eventually spent time on Kansas City’s practice squad plus one week on Green Bay’s practice squad. Tennessee signed him following a tryout during last month’s rookie orientation, but it is a long way – almost certainly too long – from there to a roster spot.