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NFL Draft

What Went Wrong With Dez Fitzpatrick?

  • The Draft Network
  • August 31, 2021
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In one of the more shocking moves of the day, the Tennessee Titans released rookie fourth-round pick Dez Fitzpatrick, according to multiple reports.

It’s a fairly astounding turn of events after the Titans traded three picks in the 2021 draft (No. 126, No. 166, and No. 232) in order to move up 17 spots to select Fitzpatrick with the 109th overall pick.

Less than four months later, Fitzpatrick was released as the team trimmed their roster down to 53 before Tuesday’s 4 p.m. ET deadline. What makes the move even more astonishing is that the Titans kept seven receivers on their initial roster, and Fitzpatrick still couldn’t make the cut. 

It begs the question: How did we get here? 

There are a few reasons. Firstly, Fitzpatrick struggled through training camp and the preseason, and I do mean struggled. The 6-foot-2 rookie grappled with consistency issues and drops all summer long. It appeared to become a confidence issue for him.

Rumors that Fitzpatrick could actually be on the roster bubble began emerging after the team’s first preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons. The Titans dressed nine receivers for that contest and eight of them saw action in the first half. Fitzpatrick was NOT one of them. Ouch. He eventually took the field in the second half and finished with zero catches on zero targets while logging 24 snaps.

Titans head coach Mike Vrabel didn’t shy away from questions regarding Fitzpatrick the next day. When asked what Fitzpatrick had to show in order to earn more playing time on a media conference call, Vrabel responded with, “A lot.”

Things improved from there, but only marginally. Fitzpatrick caught two passes for 30 yards and a touchdown in the team’s second exhibition game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In the preseason finale against the Chicago Bears, Fitzpatrick caught a single pass for a gain of 28. That wrapped up an unimpressive August for Fitzpatrick. The consistency just wasn’t there.

It wasn’t just Fitzpatrick’s lack of improvement that made this move possible. Once the Titans got to camp, they found out they had more depth at the position than anyone realized, including themselves. Of the 7 receivers on the current roster, several of them weren’t expected to make the team in early August.

For one, Chester Rogers has been a pleasant surprise. He spent the 2020 season on Tennessee’s practice squad while rehabbing an injury he suffered in 2019 as a member of the Indianapolis Colts. He showed up to camp healthy and quickly proved he belonged. He also presumably won the team’s punt returner job. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Rogers start their Week 1 contest against the Arizona Cardinals in the slot. That’s how good he’s been.

Former Texas Longhorn Marcus Johnson has been another feel-good story. Johnson also finished last year on the team’s practice squad. He’s a veteran that has caught 42 balls for 679 yards and three touchdowns in four seasons. He quickly established himself as a favorite target for Ryan Tannehill during training camp. The team likes Johnson so much that they basically treated him like a starter throughout the preseason by limiting his reps. He’s been dealing with an injury as of late, and still made the 53-man roster. They really like him.

Last but not least, Cameron Batson is on the initial 53 for the fourth season in a row. Titans fans seem to count him out every year, but all he’s done is defy the odds. He made the team as a UDFA in 2018, suffered a season-ending injury in August of 2019, came back healthy in 2020 and surprisingly earned a spot, and has now done it again in 2021. The 5-foot-8 pesky Batson just won’t go away. He’s had an excellent summer.

It’s not rare to see a fourth-round pick make a roster despite not truly earning it, but the Titans stayed true to themselves. Rogers, Johnson, and Batson proved they belonged, and Fitzpatrick simply did not.

Further proof of how expendable Fitzpatrick was can be found in the form of another release. The Titans also waived Mason Kinsey on Tuesday after he finished the preseason as the team’s leader in receiving yards with 131. Only eight NFL receivers had more yards in the exhibition than Kinsey did. If Kinsey’s production couldn’t save him, Fitzpatrick never really stood a chance.

So now you know. Fitzpatrick will likely land on the team’s practice squad Wednesday morning, so he’s likely not quite finished writing his story in Nashville, but it’s certainly off to a bad start.

Titans general manager Jon Robinson isn’t afraid to admit defeat and cut his losses. He released Kevin Dodd, a former second-round pick out of Clemson, after just two seasons. On a bigger scale, Robinson released Vic Beasley just seven games into a one-year, $9.5 million fully-guaranteed deal. Fitzpatrick’s release is yet another example of Robinson’s willingness to quickly move past a mistake.

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