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Titans Open Door for Talented Undrafted Free Agents

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. – This year's entire Titans draft class could fit comfortably in a mid-size car.

Well, maybe not comfortably, given the fact that 6-4 quarterback Luke Falk might have some legroom issues.

But the point is that the Titans' four-man class is the smallest in franchise history, the result of the team trading up three times to land coveted targets like Rashaan Evans, Harold Landry and Dane Cruikshank.

On the other side of the coin, however, is the Titans' 22-man undrafted free-agent class, which is the team's largest in at least the last 12 years – and the only group to top 16 players during that stretch.

So if ever there was a time for an undrafted free agent – or two or three – to shine bright enough to make the Titans' 53-man roster, this would seem an excellent opportunity.

It's no guarantee, of course, considering the Titans have also signed a dozen veteran free agents this offseason, all of whom will add to the competition on a team that reached the second round of the playoffs last season.

But keep in mind the Titans have averaged nearly eight rookies on their opening-week roster in each of the past five seasons. So why would this year be any different?

“You would think there are going to be more than four first-year players on the roster, if you just look at it historically,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said. “So I don't know if that gives those (undrafted) guys an advantage, whether they're here or somewhere else. But it is kind of unique just having the four picks.”

Try to argue that undrafted free agents never make much of an impact and I will counter with a bucket-full of names from last season.

Undrafted free agents accounted for 11 players on the Titans' 53-man roster at the end of the 2017 season, and that group included: the team's leading tackler (Wesley Woodyard); two of five starting offensive linemen (Quinton Spain, Josh Kline); two special-team Pro Bowlers (Brett Kern, Brynden Trawick); the team's veteran long snapper (Beau Brinkley); and five of its six top special-teams tacklers (Trawick, Darren Bates, Eric Weems, Phillip Supernaw, David Fluellen).

Go back a few more years and recall that former Western Kentucky standout Antonio Andrew – another undrafted free agent – was the Titans' leading rusher in 2015.

And longtime Titans fans can certainly recall other names like wide receiver Drew Bennett, quarterback Billy Volek and fullback Ahmard Hall who left their mark over the years, all among the undrafted free agents specifically signed by Tennessee.

This year's batch of undrafted free agents brings quality in addition to its quantity.

There is, for instance, Iowa running back Akrum Wadley, ranked seventh by ESPN among undrafted free agents and also among Pro Football Focus' top 10 undrafted free agents. The 5-10, 194-pounder ran for more than 1,000 yards in each of the past two seasons. But he's equally as intriguing for his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, where he grabbed a combined 71 passes the last two years.

Then there's USC wide receiver Deontay Burnett, ESPN's ninth-ranked undrafted free agent after catching 86 passes for 1,114 yards and six touchdowns last season. Nobody here knows Burnett better than cornerback Adoree Jackson, who went to the same California high school (Junipero Serra) and college as his new teammate.

“I just called him the savior after those three touchdowns he gave (USC) in the Rose Bowl game,” Jackson said, referencing the 2017 contest that saw Burnett catch 13 passes for 164 yards in a 52-49 win over Penn State.

“He was outstanding. You can just watch his film and let that speak for itself. You can decide on him from that.”

If defense is your preference, linebacker Sharif Finch, ranked the fifth-best undrafted defensive lineman by NFL.com, is among the players worth keeping tabs on. The 6-5, 250-pound Temple product recorded 14.5 sacks, five blocked punts and five forced fumbles during his college career.

The Titans put together their impressive undrafted free-agent haul using a variety of techniques, perhaps taking a cue from Vrabel, who was named the Big Ten's 2012 recruiter of the year during his time at Ohio State.

One of the draws, of course, was the fact the Titans only drafted four players.

“I think there's a lot of things you use (to sign undrafted players), and I'm sure that's part of it,” Vrabel said. “Each guy has his own spin on it, whether it's, Here's how many guys we have at this position,' orYou're going to have an opportunity to work and get reps,' or `Hey, we only drafted four guys, and we didn't draft anyone at your position.'

“Whatever it may be, those scouts and those coaches all had a recruiting pitch, so to speak.”

The door for those undrafted free agents to make the Titans' roster is now open, perhaps cracked a little wider than in years past.

-- Reach John Glennon at glennonsports@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @glennonsports.

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