Always a matchups-over-concrete-scheme coach, Belichick saw the Orchard Park weather forecast, took a look at his trustworthy, bulldozing offensive line and his rookie quarterback who doesn't exactly have a cannon and said, "Let's run it." And the Patriots did. Over and over and over again. And not many of the 46 attempts were successful. In fact, 27 of them went for three or fewer yards. But one perfectly blocked play sprung a 64-yard touchdown run by Damien Harris, which was ultimately the difference in New England's incredibly unique victory.
In the three yards and a cloud of dust contest, Harris tweaked his hamstring, and was even visibly limping on a second-half run. Crushing blow to a team entering Week 14 with the fourth-most rushing attempts in football, right? Nope.
Throughout his coaching tenure in New England, Belichick has famously tapped running backs from obscurity and gotten monstrous performances out of them like Jonas Gray, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Sammy Morris, Dion Lewis, and LeGarrette Blount.
And they're going to continue to be run-heavy. Maybe not 46 times per game to three Mac Jones passes run heavy, but three of their final opponents are currently in the top half of the league in Football Outsiders' pass defense DVOA. Colts are 14th. Dolphins are 15th, and the Bills are first.
At Nebraska, Ozigbo ran for over 1,000 yards at 7.0 yards per in his final season in Lincoln but was a combine snub. He only ran 4.65 at his pro day, but had a 37-inch vertical and a quick 6.95 three cone at 5-foot-10 and 222 pounds. And we know Belichick won't hesitate to call him up and give him crucial carries down the stretch.
Heading into the weekend, Kenny Willekes has become the recent savior of THE CUT -- aka The Call-Up Tracker. He was the eighth call up of the season when he was elevated in Week 13. Use The Practice Squad Power Rankings as a resource, NFL front offices. 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.
In a 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 "veterans." To continue to maintain the PSPR's sterling integrity, I'll only be including practice-squadders 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. 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. Minnesota is in the thick of the NFC wild card hunt and needs as much pass-rush productivity it can get.
3. Phil Haynes, OG, Seahawks
Haynes is a thick, springy athlete with about as much collegiate experience as humanly possible. I'm actually surprised he's on the Seahawks' practice squad, but Seattle did sign Gabe Jackson this offseason to elevate the floor of its guard position.
4. Javaris Davis, CB, Dolphins
Davis, the cousin of Vontae and Vernon Davis, was a four-star recruit and actually had seven pass breakups as a redshirt freshman in 2017. He played with a variety of future early-round picks in the Auburn secondary during his time with the Tigers -- Jamel Dean, Carlton Davis, Noah Igbinoghene, Jamien Sherwood -- but for some reason unbeknownst to me, Davis was the one ultimately overlooked.
5. 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.
6. Rodney Smith, RB, Titans
Smith battled in his college career that spanned six seasons at Minnesota. He stayed for his super senior year in 2019 and ran for over 1,000 yards at 5.1 yards per. He actually eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark all the way back in 2016, too. A boulder of a back, Smith is a powerful one-cut runner.
7. Adrian Ealy, OT, Broncos
Ealy didn't test well at Oklahoma's pro day during the 2021 pre-draft process, which is probably why he went undrafted after a solid career with the Sooners along with a quality week at the Senior Bowl. He's your classic oversized, mashing blocker from that program.
8. Ron'Dell Carter, EDGE, Cardinals
With J.J. Watt out for the remainder of the season, the Cardinals could use more pass-rush help on the outside, right? Carter has the girth, leverage, burst, and just enough pass-rush moves to be a productive contributor for Arizona. I'm very high on him.
9. Devine Ozigbo, RB, Patriots
Ozigbo isn't super twitched up, and he won't sink his hips and jump cut a linebacker in the hole. But behind a powerful, lead-block-heavy Patriots offensive line, he can be a runaway train for those inclement weather games in Foxboro.
10. Easop Winston Jr., WR, Saints
Winston Jr. had 137 receptions for 1,624 yards with 19 touchdowns in two seasons at Washington State. And he was so good getting open. To this day, I'm not sure why he was barely on the draft radar in 2020 and why he's yet to appear in an NFL game. He's pretty quick and ran a variety of intricate routes in college. And New Orleans needs a pick-me-up offensively.
Thomas Graham Jr., CB, Bears
Graham Jr. 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 Oregon. What Graham lacks in size and pure explosion, he more than makes up for with speedy processing and tenacity.
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.
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.
Jalen Camp, WR, Texans
Camp is about as raw as they come at the receiver position. He spent his collegiate years in Georgia Tech's triple-option based offense and posted solid numbers in 2020 as the program transitioned to a more traditional offensive style. But Camp was picked because of his athletic attributes. At just under 6-2 and 226 pounds -- love that stocky build -- he had a 39.5-inch vertical and ran 4.48. At this point in the season, the Texans should give him an opportunity.
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.
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