Is it just me, or has NFL depth been tested more early in the 2022 season than ever before? OK, so maybe it's not the most injury-riddled first month of the season in league history. But it feels like it, which has a trickle-down effect that very obviously relates to the Practice Squad Power Rankings. The members are becoming increasingly important!
Here's how I view it -- the NBA is absolutely, unequivocally a superstar-driven league. There's five players on the court for each team at a given time, so that's a sensible. Amass the most superstars, win lots of games, and likely, championships.
The NFL's vastly different. Given increased precautionary measures taken by teams on the injury front, it's a "how-good-is-your-depth" league. Now, that's not an insinuation that superstars in the NFL aren't vital. They are. Yet it's logical that in the world's ultimate team sport, one with prevalent injuries as an accepted element of the game itself, roster depth is significantly critical.
Weekly injury reports are lengthier each season, and even key, featured players are being held out of competition for longer than ever despite advances in medical treatment and rehabilitation, all of which is for the betterment of the long-term health of the players. I'm a major advocate of this movement in the NFL.
And that's not simply because of my clear-cut bias as the Practice Squad Power Rankings founder. I promise. This first month of the season should have served as a serious reminder that the practice squad absolutely matters. More than you think. Especially with that extra regular-season game on the schedule for everyone.
The PSPR Call-Up Tally (The CUT) is cruising like Guy Fieri through Flavortown. The PSPR is at nine call-ups on the young season, including four members for action last weekend, and we still have Practice Squad Elevation Saturday in front of us. Let's keep it rolling, NFL front offices. How about former PSPR Cover Guy Tom Kennedy's nice little, three-catch, 54-yard outing against the Seahawks on Sunday? He got an opportunity and showed out. Not surprised.
The expanded, 16-man practice squads are about the only good thing to come out of the pandemic, and they're here to stay in the NFL. Because of this, I run the Practice Squad Power Rankings parallel to the league. I write about 16 individuals every Friday, 10 officially in the rankings and six honorable mentions.
But I'll always stay true to the origins of the PSPR, which were to highlight young players. That means I won't be featuring "veterans" this season. Selecting someone like Josh Gordon -- currently on the Titans practice squad -- would not embody the fundamental intention of the PSPR. So for the sake of the Practice Squad Power Rankings' dignity, I'll only be including practice-squaders who are rookies, second-year players, third-year players, or fourth-year pros. Players drafted from 2019 on. That's it.
As always, I'll track every single PSPR member who gets The Call -- aka elevated to his respective team's 53-man roster on gameday. At that stage, said player moves from being a PSPR member into the exclusive Practice Squad Power Ranking alumni fraternity. The running count will be known as the "Call Up Tally" or "The CUT" for short.
Here's to the Practice Squad Power Rankings flourishing this season, emerging as a legitimate superstar, earning a massive payday and starting to cement its legacy in the hallowed halls of the internet's football-media industry.
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10. Makai Polk, WR, Giants
Polk messed around and went for 1,046 yards on a whopping 105 receptions in 2021 at Mississippi State. Sure, it was in Mike Leach's wide open Air Raid offense, yet Polk showcased slippery route-running capabilities in the SEC at a lanky 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds. The Giants are hurting a bit at the receiver spot, and Polk can be a reliable underneath pass catcher who can align on the perimeter or slot and win with decent regularity.
9. Isaiah Coulter, WR, Bears
In watching Justin Fields film from Week 4, man, the Bears do not have a group of receivers who can get open consistently or be trusted to come down with the catch in a contested situation. Now, Coulter isn't necessarily a sharp, super-sudden route runner, but he's large, deceptively smooth athletically, and has bounced around the league a bit over the past few years. At this point, no idea is a bad idea for the Bears offense.
8. Netane Muti, OL, Broncos
Muti was my No. 1 interior offensive lineman in the 2020 class. Mind you, it was not a stellar draft at those positions, but the effortless people-moving capabilities and balance in pass pro and for the run game appealed to me with Muti more so than anyone else playing guard or center. He went in the sixth round and has battled injuries early in his career. However, last season, the former Fresno State stud got an opportunity and shined in his final two starts, allowing one pressure on 61 pass-blocking snaps. Muti's been twice called up by the Broncos but has yet to take the field in 2022. He deserves a chance.
7. Isaiah Hodgins, WR, Bills
Hodgins had to have been one of the Bills' final cuts after the preseason he pieced together. He had 16 grabs for 124 yards and a few of those receptions were of the highlight-reel variety. A sixth-round pick in 2020, Hodgins got early buzz as a rookie in training camp before two injuries derailed his debut NFL season. He spent the 2021 on Buffalo's practice squad, and now finally healthy, he showcased to Buffalo coaches the amazingly good ball skills he repeatedly demonstrated during his illustrious career at Oregon State. At 6-4, he'd give the Bills major size out wide. And Buffalo's receiver group is suddenly dealing with a plethora of injuries.
6. Tyler Shelvin, NT, Bengals
D.J. Reader will be on the shelf for a while with injury -- who isn't injured in the NFL today?! -- and he's been a flat-out stud in all phases for the Bengals to begin the season. Now, I'm not attempting to put massive pressure on Shelvin to replace the impact Reader has on a game. But the former LSU product is an enormous, athletic nose tackle on the Bengals practice squad ready to be called upon in this very scenario.
5. Ar'Darius Washington, DB, Ravens
Washington can be the Ravens multi-dimensional weapon in the secondary, and Baltimore's scheme asks a lot of its defensive backs. Cover the slot one play, range deep down the field the next. He can do it. And it'd help Washington's transition playing with veteran Marcus Williams at the other safety spot.
4. Zonovan Knight, RB, Jets
Knight only averaged 3.8 yards per carry in the preseason I'm fine with that. He had no business going undrafted out of NC State, where he was bounced his way to three consecutive 700-plus yard seasons at 5.5 yards per and did accumulate 31 yards on four rushes in the preseason finale for Gang Green. This is compact runner with an exquisite blend of power through contact and elusiveness to avoid said contact in tight spaces.
3. Tom Kennedy, WR, Lions
There's a saying that a team ultimately becomes an embodiment of their head coach. Kennedy is the receiver version of Dan Campbell. This is a 5-10, 190-ish pound former undrafted free agent from Bryant College who roasted NFL cornerbacks in the preseason to the tune of 16 catches for 143 yards with two touchdowns. Gritty. Football. Guy. He proved he can play in Week 4 and needs to be a regular part of the Lions receiver rotation.
2. Deven Thompkins, WR, Buccaneers
What more can I tell you about Thompkins? How about that he had five catches for 53 yards -- including two contested-catch wins! -- during the 2022 preseason. He's also a Brady-type too in that he was a 0-star recruit when he joined the Utah State program in 2018. Brady loves an underdog's underdog, and that's precisely what Thompkins is.
1. Jordan Jackson, DT, Saints
The Saints are dead-last in defensive pressure-creation rate entering Week 5. That's incredible, given the amount of resources they've invested on the defensive line of late, and the fact that Cam Jordan still resides on the roster. You know who could give New Orleans some much-needed upfield juice? Jackson, the rookie from Air Force who had six sacks and 11 tackles for loss to go along with 52 pressures and a hefty 13.5 pressure-creation rate, in 2021. Call up him, Saints!
Johnson was a stat-sheet filler at Marshall with 302 tackles, seven picks, and 19 pass breakups in five seasons. He can man the nickel corner spot. Free safety. Strong safety. He tackles well and plays with authority on every snap.
White was the No. 1 junior-college running back recruit in the class of 2020. On 88 totes for South Carolina last season, he averaged 6.6 yards per. And, on film, his juice jumps off the screen. Dynamic cuts, Tesla-like acceleration, power through contact. It's still a shock he went undrafted. I guess teams like to see more of a workload in college for a runner? I love the minimal wear on his body. The Dolphins have Raheem Mostert and Chase Edmonds in their backfield. White can step in and contribute in Year 1. He's very talented.
We have Mercer on the PSPR board! Poe, a Mercer alum, was a wrecking ball in college, and he tested like a high-caliber athlete at the Georgia Pro Day. Yeah, the Bulldogs gave him the opportunity to showcase his skills, and he thoroughly impressed. Poe feels like an athletic brawler of a guard Kyle Shanahan will eventually get the most out of in San Francisco.
The Commanders are averaging 3.5 yards per carry through two contests. No idea is a bad idea when it comes to how to fix the run game. Now, of course, a running back himself cannot single-handedly fix an NFL team's rushing attack. But it won't hurt to incorporate the small, ultra-shifty Patterson into this offense, particularly if the coaching staff is not going to trust J.D. McKissic to handle any normal running back duties. He forced four missed tackles on his 16 attempts during the preseason.
Brooks was a late-bloomer at Cincinnati but may have been the most dynamic purely pass-rushing three technique in the 2022 class. I mean that. On just 304 pass-rushing snaps, Brooks registered 43 pressures thanks to an awesome blend of first-step quickness, leverage, and power at the point of attack.
OK, Curtis. You get one more opportunity on The PSPR. An enormous draft crush of mine just a few years ago, Weaver broke his foot while training before the start of his first NFL season, and he's never been quite the same dynamic, bendy rusher he was at Boise State, when he was a fixture on the stat sheet with a litany of pressures, tackles for loss, and sacks.