Saturday, January 22, 2022

NFL Week 18 Practice Squad Power Rankings: Dazz Newsome takes home top spot to cap another memorable season

The Practice Squad Power Rankings have completed a third year. I can’t believe it. And that’s in a “I can’t believe my oldest daughter is dressed and ready for pre-K” type of way [insert Knowshon Moreno caliber tears of joy here].

The PSPR originated from the realization that as an NFL Draft analyst, had loads of knowledge — and notes — on a few hundred NFL hopefuls who, after their respective draft, would find themselves on the fringes of NFL rosters, and occasionally get thrust onto the field in a real game, oftentimes in emergency situations. 

When the PSPR was greenlighted by editors, I promised myself to never treat it as a silly idea that deserved minimal attention. I vowed to pour every last ounce of analytical ability and writing flair left in the tank at the end of each work week, and that’s what I’ve done. And your consumption of the PSPR has kept them afloat for three full seasons. I’m flattered and grateful and all those warm and fuzzy feelings. 

And it’s been a treat witnessing PSPR OGs graduate not only to permanent positions on their respective team’s 53-man roster, but how about Washington safety Jeremy Reaves — member of the PSPRP pilot — with back-to-back 10-plus tackle routes the games immediately before and after Christmas. 

Then there’s the spindly Antoine Wesley, another 2019 PSPR member, who has 17 receptions and three scores on a little under 37% of the Cardinals snaps this season. Shouts too for Dane Jackson, Buffalo’s 2020 seventh-round pick and PSPR mainstay a season ago, who’s confidently stepped into the void left by the injured Tre’Davious White, and recorded six pass breakups in six contests heading into the regular-season finale against the Jets

And long-time PSPR Jason Cabinda — then a linebacker — is now a fullback for the Lions! It’s a blast actively pulling for former draft crushes to get an opportunity on the NFL’s enormous stage, and while many have yet to get that chance and may never will, those triumphs, even as little as 2021 PSPR newcomer Phil Haynes starting at guard for the Seahawks in Week 17, make the PSPR well worth it.  

I’ve created my own team to root for every weekend. Ha! I hope a little tiny bit of you has some PSPR rooting interest, too. Nothing like seeing an “[insert Practice Squad Power Rankings member] has been elevated from the practice squad” tweet from an official team account. And when someone like Kenny Willekes chips in with a sack? Ric Flair woos all over the house. 

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Heading into the final weekend of the 2021 regular season, THE CUT — aka The Call-Up Tracker — finished at 24. Not nearly as high as 2020, and that’s completely fine. Teams felt more comfortable elevating vested veterans in such uncertain times, and I don’t blame them. 

For Year 3’s season finale, I’ve returned to the originally intended, PSPR roots. Players included are in their first three years in the NFL. I will continue to monitor the NFL’s practice squad rules entering Year 4 and will potentially readjust the PSPR rules for the start of the 2022 season. 

1. 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. 

2. 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.

3. Elijah Holyfield, RB, Bengals

Holyfield averaged 4.6 yards per carry on 20 totes this preseason in Philadelphia and 4.0 yards per with the Panthers in 2020. He’s a compactly built, decently shifty back with light feet and good vision. The Bengals are resting starters in Week 18. Give Holyfield a shot. 

4. 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. 

5. 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. 

6. 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. 

7. Antonio Williams, RB, Bills

Williams rumbled to 63 yards on 12 carries in last year’s regular-season finale against the Dolphins in Buffalo. The Bills have found their RB1 of late — Devin Singletary — but haven’t seemed to adore Zack Moss or Matt Breida this season, although both have contributed. Maybe give Williams a shot on Sunday?

8. Travis Fulgham, WR, Broncos

Fulgham was the PSPR Cover Guy in Week 1 this season. Why? Well, because he led the Eagles in receiving yards last season then didn’t make the final roster before the start of the season. With Denver eliminated, now would be the perfect time to see what Fulgham has. He’s only 26. 

9. Kerrith Whyte, RB, Packers 

Whyte has bounced around the league after being drafted in Round 7 by the Bears in 2019. He’s a bouncy burner. Green Bay is locked into the No. 1 seed in the NFC. No need to run Aaron Jones or even A.J. Dillon on Sunday. Give Whyte an opportunity.

10. Gerrid Doaks, RB, Dolphins

Doaks is the bruising back who may actually be able to excel against the Patriots‘ oversized defensive line. He’s just under 6-foot and 230 pounds and averaged over 5.0 yards per carry in his three seasons at Cincinnati. Miami has struggled running the ball all season. Why not hand Doaks the rock on Sunday?

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 the season finale 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. 

Cortez Broughton, DT, Chiefs 

Broughton was a late-round pick by the Chargers in 2019, and he possesses the first-step quickness and flexibility to produce as a rotational pass-rushing specialist when called upon. He had 7.5 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss — while playing a fair amount of his snaps out of position at defensive end — during his final year at Cincinnati. The Chiefs smartly scooped him up after their most formidable division rival let him go this August. 

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