Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Week 2 NFL Practice Squad Power Rankings 2021: Ron’Dell Carter learning from the best in Arizona

When it comes to career success, having a strong mentor is the ultimate luxury. Steve Young had Joe Montana. Kyle Brandt had Jim Rome. Luke Skywalker had Obi Wan. One can acquire invaluable knowledge from his or her mentor. 

And Ron’Dell Carter couldn’t be in a better learning environment. I’m talking Ivy League-esque situation here. The second-year edge rusher is on the Cardinals practice squad with future Hall of Famer J.J. Watt and Chandler Jones — the Hall’s possible for Jones, too — fresh off a ho-hum five-sack masterpiece against the Titans in Week 1. 

Both Watt and Jones are strapping physical specimens, but they’ve separated themselves from other strapping physical specimens during their careers with striking finesse elements to their games. It can be reasonably argued that, still, to this day, Watt and Jones have the most expansive arsenal of pass-rushing moves at the edge rusher spot in NFL.

Carter should be picking the brains of both Watt and Jones every single day in practice, learning the intricacies of the craft of beating 320-pound human beings on the way to devouring quarterbacks. How did Carter land on the Cardinals practice squad, anyway? Well, they saw him devastate their offensive line in the preseason with four pressures — including one sack — on 28 pass-rushing snaps. Some of the wins were of the matador variety. 

In fact, I sent the below TikTok — yes, you need to get on there, trust me — when news dropped that the Cowboys released Carter on cutdown day, and it showcased how fantastic he was in Dallas’ exhibition outing in the desert. 

I’m enamored with Carter’s frame, too — nearly 6-foot-3 and around 270 pounds with long, 33 1/2-inch arms. He has the natural low center of gravity to play with deceptive power but also can win with burst, agility, and bend to the quarterback. His pass-rush move toolbox isn’t bare either. 

And in college, Carter was unblockable. Yes, he was playing James Madison’s CAA schedule, but he couldn’t have been much more productive — 40 tackles for loss and 19.5 sacks in his final two season for the Dukes. HELLO. 

Regarding its pass rush, Arizona should feel like Trey Young at Madison Square Garden right now. But the Cardinals might just be grooming the next great undrafted free agent edge rusher in Carter. 

As for the Call Up Tally — The CUT — no Week 1 Practice Squad Power Rankings members have received the call before Week 2 (yet). But things can start slow on this front. NFL GMs will gradually start peeking at the PSPR while taking notes before beginning to pluck PSPR members. Just wait. It’ll happen.

If you hear of a PSPR member getting The Call, alert me @ChrisTrapasso on Twitter, and feel free to use the hashtag #PSPR. Thank you in advance. Your next drink’s on me. Also, quickly, I want to give a shout to 2020 PSPR alum Juwan Johnson. The Saints hybrid receiver/tight end scored two touchdowns against the Packers Sunday. So proud. 

For those who missed the debut article last week, the NFL decided — rightfully, I may add — to carry over its loosened practice-squad rules from 2020. As a refresher, teams can have up to 16 players on the practice squad with up to six “veterans” on it, players with no limitations as to their number of accrued seasons in the NFL. 

In this sense, I’m running the Practice Squad Power Rankings parallel to the NFL. That means, as was the case last year, I’m not going to feature those veterans. Telling you Le’Veon Bell might eventually be a useful call-up for the Ravens‘ run game was certainly not the fundamental intention of the PSPR. And, yes, he’s on Baltimore’s practice squad right now. 

To continue to maintain PSPR’s sterling integrity, I’ll only be including practice-squaders who are rookies, second-year players, or third-year players. That’s it. 

And as you’ll see below, I couldn’t resist ranking more players, given the increase in practice squad sizes this season. To stay in line with the league’s figure, I hope to write about 16 individuals every Friday, 10 officially in the rankings and six honorable mentions. 

1. Travis Fulgham, WR, Eagles

Placing Fulgham on the practice squad is no way to treat your reigning team leader in receiving yards. But here we are. The kinda-sorta rebuilding Eagles waived Fulgham at the end of August, which was weird to say the least. Sure, they’ve invested heavily in young wideouts of late but, umm, Fulgham is a young wideout who made the most of his opportunity in 2020 with 539 yards and four touchdowns at more than 14 yards per grab. Do I think Fulgham is the next DeSean Jackson or Jeremy Maclin in Philly? No. He’s probably not. But he’s deserving of the top spot in the PSPR. 

2. Carson Green, OT, Texans

I had a fourth-round grade on Green just a few months ago. He checked most of the boxes I have for a mid-round blocker who can come in and start right away. And he tested like a high-caliber athlete. For reasons unbeknownst to me, Green went undrafted. But he protected like a — you guessed it — early Day 3 pick in the preseason with one allowed pressured on 43 pass-blocking snaps. Naturally, the Texans released him on cutdown day, because Houston is completely set on its offensive line and doesn’t need any young and talented blockers. Yeah right. 

3. Phil Haynes, OG, Seahawks

Haynes was Seattle’s fourth-round pick in 2019, and after beginning his rookie season on PUP due to a sports hernia surgery, he was thrust onto the field in the Seahawks’ wild card round win over the Eagles in Philadelphia. And he looked solid! He spent most of last season on IR with another injury, but he’s healthy now and was dominant — mostly against backups — in the preseason. Plus, he tested like a highly explosive guard prospect at the combine. 

4. Antoine Brooks Jr., S, Rams

Brooks was the most surprising Steelers cuts a few weeks ago, but it was mostly because he spent most of the preseason on the sideline after getting injured in the Hall of Fame game. 

The former sixth-round pick out of Maryland is the perfect safety-to-linebacker convert at 5-foot-11 and 220 pounds with lightning-quick run-play diagnosing skills and athleticism that allows him to hold his own in coverage. 

5. Ron’Dell Carter, EDGE, Cardinals

Carter has the girth, leverage, burst, and just enough pass-rush moves to be a productive contributor if he gets The Call in Arizona. I’m very high on him. 

He’s at No. 5 this week simply due to the veteran edge-rushing talent in front of him on the Cardinals’ 53-man roster right now. 

6. Dez Fitzpatrick, WR, Titans

Probably the NFL’s most egregious subsequent decisions from the draft to cutdown day, the Titans traded up in Round 4 to pick Fitzpatrick in April, and he didn’t even make the team out of camp. Now, I can’t tell you exactly why that happened. But it did. Fitzpatrick has good size, four years of solid production in college, sub 4.50 speed, keen route-running ability, and he caught three passes for 58 with a touchdown in the preseason. 

7. Dazz Newsome, WR, Bears

It’s going to take more than a first-year cut for me to drop my #TrustTheTape draft crush from the 2021 class. Newsome looked electric on film but flopped at the North Carolina Pro Day. Then, in the offseason, he broke his collarbone. So things have gone sideways for Newsome after he stepped off the field in Chapel Hill. However, on the field, he’s a slippery slot wideout with serious YAC juice who can be useful in today’s separation/YAC based NFL. 

8. Hjalte Froholdt, OG, Texans

Tell me this isn’t a name that sounds like a devastating guard. Froholdt was a fourth-round pick by the Patriots — you know how Bill Belichick adores those mid-round blockers — but spent his rookie season on IR after a shoulder injury in that pesky final preseason game. At Arkansas, the Denmark native was astounding. Stellar run-blocking and a squeaky clean pass-protection resume. He tested like an above-average athlete at the 2019 combine, too. Froholdt can play. Just wait. 

9. Cade Johnson, WR, Seahawks

The Seahawks are the Patriots of the NFC in that they adore late-round and undrafted free agent receivers. Johnson will be the next against-all-odds story in Seattle, a small, crisp route-runner who’s feisty after the catch and hauls in everything thrown in his direction. Sound like any recently productive Seahawks receiver?

10. William Bradley-King, EDGE, Washington Football Team 

Bradley-King had four pressures on 40 pass-rush snaps in the preseason. That’s not awesome. It’s also not brutal, and the sixth-round pick made an impact against the run this summer. He also indicated his arrow is pointing up on the field in college. Bradley-King was a productive rusher at Arkansas State but transferred to Baylor, and the bright lights of the Big 12 weren’t too big for him. He’s a quick, relatively bendy and stocky rusher with long arms and a nice array of pass-rushing moves. 

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Honorable Mention

David Moore, OG, Browns

Moore is a mauler with a natural center of gravity offensive line coaches dream about during REM sleep. He was just under 6-2 and 330 pounds at his pro day before the draft. After a dazzling career at Grambling State, Moore got a Senior Bowl invite and thrived in Mobile. He’s not going to be the most athletic blocker if you’re running a zone scheme, but he’s quick enough off the ball to be effective on gap runs, and he’s very close to being NFL strong already. Plus, no defensive tackle is going to get up and underneath him to drive him into the quarterback. 

Thomas Graham, CB, Bears

Graham was exposed a bit at the Senior Bowl. A lot of (mostly zone) cornerbacks are. But this is a savage defensive back who tallied eight interceptions and 32 pass breakups in his three seasons with the Ducks. What Graham lacks in size and pure explosion he more than makes up for with speedy processing and tenacity. 

Pooka Williams, RB, Bengals

Williams is little. Under 5-10 and 170 pounds at the Kansas Pro Day. But the former Jayhawks star was not a pleasant dude to try to tackle during his time in Lawrence. While his yards-per-carry average dropped in each of his three collegiate seasons, that 7.0 YPC masterpiece as a freshman in 2018 will not soon be forgotten. He’s the definition of an “air back” with awesome vision and deceptive 4.46 speed. 

Curtis Weaver, EDGE, Browns

On the surface, Weaver feels like your classic fifth-round underachiever who was generally liked much more by #DraftTwitter than the NFL. And maybe that was the case — I had a first-round grade on him. However, a broken foot before the start of his rookie season provided Weaver with a gigantic setback he was never able to recover from as a member of the Dolphins

He looked a touch less explosive in the preseason in Cleveland, but I will not forget about the bend, toolbox of pass-rush moves, and tremendous production he had in three seasons at Boise State. 

Stephen Sullivan, TE, Panthers

Sullivan was buried on the receiving pecking order at LSU, and the Seahawks tried to morph him into a defensive end after picking him in the seventh round two years ago. Back to his natural position in Carolina, Sullivan has a chance to make a splash without a bunch of stars in front of him. He’s 6-5 and 248 pounds with 4.66 speed and a catch radius the size of a Chevy Tahoe.

Isaiah Hodgins, WR, Bills

Hodgins has been injured for most of his first two seasons in the NFL. The talent is undeniably there though. At 6-4 and 210 pounds, he’s sleek and runs sharp routes. His specialty? Catching everything thrown in his general vicinity. At Oregon State, he rarely dropped the football and a flair for the acrobatic reception. Hodgins’ production steadily improved in college and when healthy, he can be a quality WR4 with major upside. 

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