Friday, January 28, 2022

Week 17 NFL Practice Squad Power Rankings: Former draft crush lands at No. 1 with Bengals

The Bengals have now experienced two stints of being the “it” team this NFL season, and both instances occurred after convincing victories over the Ravens. The national recognition has to be rewarding for a young, upstart team that hasn’t finished above .500 since 2015. 

But now the Bengals are jockeying for playoff-seed positioning, and the Chiefs are coming to town. They’re a little less friendly than Santa. Of course, when playing Kansas City — in each of the past three seasons and over the past two months — the name of the game is simply trying to outscore Patrick Mahomes and Co. And the magic number is probably 30 points. 

Yet we have seen the Chiefs struggle offensively mostly in September in October. And altogether, it’s not been an offense clicking at the normal Mahomesian rate. So defensive stops — multiple — seem realistic against Kansas City now. The Bengals don’t have to simply settle for a shootout. 

And calling upon practice squad defenders for a date with the Chiefs is not recommended, but if the Bengals do need more quickness and instinctive play at the linebacker spot, they have one of my former draft crushes available.

Tegray Scales was actually one of my first draft crushes when I started at CBS Sports. Entering the 2017 college football season — my first with the company — I watched Scales’ film from a 2016 campaign in which he amassed 125 total tackles, 24 tackles for loss, seven sacks, with a pick and a forced fumble. 

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His productivity dipped in his final season, but finished his Hoosiers career with 46 tackles behind the line, 17 sacks, eight interceptions and six pass breakups. At 6-foot-0 and 230 pounds, Scales felt like the sleek, new-age linebacker that was popping up on every defense across the league. 

He hardly generated draft buzz after running 4.77 at the 2018 combine. But he always appeared faster on the field. Actually, his short-area quickness and old-school block-shedding skills initially caught my eye. 

Heading into the weekend, THE CUT — aka The Call-Up Tracker — is clicking at a torrid pace. Dazz Newsome got called up again by the Bears. Bills wideout Isaiah Hodgins played four snaps against the Patriots. That makes 15 call-ups this season. Pharoh Cooper, Tony Jefferson, and Jeremy Reaves got The Call, too. We’ve hit 20. Amazing. I’m ecstatic. 

If I’ve missed anyone, or 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. 

With COVID-19 running rampant, I’ve decided to continue the more accepting PSPR. All players, regardless of how many seasons they’ve been in the league, are eligible, although I will lean toward those in their first three seasons as professionals. 

1. Tegray Scales, LB, Bengals

Cincinnati is probably going to get second-year linebacker Logan Wilson back from injury for the monstrous clash with the Chiefs, but I had to jump at the opportunity to put Scales at No. 1. The Bengals’ young and athletic linebackers have been an underrated facet in their rise to the top of the AFC North this season. 

2. 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. He recovered from a broken collarbone early in the offseason to get limited reps in the preseason. Get Newsome in the slot and let him work, Nagy. 

3. Kenny Willekes, EDGE, Vikings

Willekes was the PSPR Cover Guy just a few weeks ago. Dude can get after the quarterback. I’m telling you! Against the Ravens in Week 9, the former Michigan State standout had four pressures of Lamar Jackson. Minnesota is in the thick of the NFC wild card hunt and needs as much pass-rush productivity it can get.

4. Golden Tate, WR, Titans

Yes, Tate is employed by the Titans in the year 2021. Awesome. The 33-year-old was useful the past two years with the Giants, and while he’s not as explosive as he once was, he still has some YAC specialization to his game.

5. Willie Snead, WR, Panthers

In New Orleans and Baltimore, Snead was that possession slot receiver I believe every team needs. Because he’s never been an intimidating athletic specimen, he’s bounced around a bit. And with the Panthers’ current two-quarterback system that includes Cam Newton and Sam Darnold, who will start on Sunday, they could use more talent at receiver to complement D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson.

6. 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 pressure 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. 

7. Cade Johnson, WR, Seahawks

The Seahawks are out of playoff contention, and it feels like an end of an era. Now’s the perfect time to see if Johnson can be a useful part of the future. At South Dakota State he was a routine winner at all three levels and excelled after the catch. 

8. Hjalte Froholdt, OG, Browns 

Froholdt is strong, balanced, and equally as good as a pass-blocker as he is for the run. Plus, when he got his audition at guard when COVID-19 gashed the Browns roster, Froholdt looked the part. 

9. Pharoh Cooper, WR, Giants

I remember loving Cooper’s film at South Carolina back in the day (see: six years ago). He’s bounced around the league, and was even an All-Pro return man in 2017 with the Rams. Cooper still has some juice as a returner. 

10. Tony Jefferson, S, Ravens

Jefferson’s been around forever, and he’s always been productive when on the field. The Ravens are reeling slightly after back-to-back AFC North defeats. Given his vast experience and athleticism, Jefferson can be a valuable piece in Wink Martindale’s blitz-happy defenses that adore the blitz. 

Honorable mention

Rodney Smith, RB, Lions 

Smith had two 1,000-yard seasons in college, all the way back in 2016 and 2019. While his career was injury-riddled at Minnesota, he demonstrated his persistence by returning each time and always playing with power and bounce between the tackles. Small sample size, but in October, against Dallas, Smith carried the ball five times for 48 yards. He deserves a shot in these final two games of the 2021 season for the Lions. 

Kawaan Baker, WR, Saints

Baker had three years of solid-albeit-unspectacular production at South Alabama but failed to get named to the hometown Senior Bowl. But at his pro day, he got everyone’s attention, running 4.45 with a 39.5-inch vertical and 129-inch broad jump. His slow three-cone placed him in the second percentile among receivers over the past 21 years, but the explosion that was evident on vertical routes and in contested-catch situations in college was clear at his pre-draft workout. 

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 

With Emmanuel Sanders nursing a knee injury, the Bills may be looking for more receiver help, and while they have Isaiah McKenzie and Marquez Stevenson technically ahead of Hodgins on the roster, the former Oregon State star would provide Buffalo with the size and large catch radius its high-level receiver group doesn’t have right now. 

Luq Barcoo, CB, 49ers

Barcoo had nine interceptions and 16 pass breakups in his final season at San Diego State. That’s otherworldly ball production. He’s a little lanky but plays with good burst and, as evidenced by that masterful campaign in 2019, is very aware when the ball is arriving. The 49ers could use more productivity in their secondary. 

Jeremy Reaves, S, Washington Football Team 

Reaves is a PSPR OG, as I remember placing him on the list many times during its inaugural season in 2019. He’s gotten a few calls in his day, and has mostly impressed. The Football Team could do a lot worse at safety, and that position has been a problem this year. 

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