With Matthew Stafford in the shotgun and Cooper Kupp already accumulating something like 1,000 yards on 250 targets through two games, I will not blame you, avid NFL fan and Practice Squad Power Rankings reader, for being completely enamored with the Los Angeles Rams pass game.
Because of the shininess of the Rams’ aerial attack, you probably wouldn’t believe me when I tell you that Los Angeles has finished in the top 10 in rushing attempts in three of Sean McVay’s first four seasons. [Dwight Schrute voice] It’s true. While analytics have tipped the scales toward passing more (and rightfully so), we mustn’t forget that any Mike Shanahan disciple (like McVay) has offensive roots that reside in the run game. Shanahanians — I’m officially trademarking that word — want to call stretch runs over and over and over then play-action off them with offensive line movement that looks identical to that of those inside and outside zone plays.
More so than anything else, the Shanahan system is famous for maximizing the efficiency of ANY running back. The quarterback friendliness of the offense is a useful byproduct.
#NeverForget — the NFC champion Rams of 2018 did have prime Todd Gurley but got 4.9 yards per carry from Malcolm Brown and 7.0 yards per from #thiccc Hall of Famer C.J. Anderson out of absolute nowhere.
You know what’s missing from Los Angeles’ ground-game, though? The next evolution of it that McVay’s direct mentor, Kyle Shanahan, has adopted to his offense — speed. If you trust your blocking system that much, you might as well get running backs who generate splash plays when everything’s gorgeously blocked in front of them.
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Since the start of the 2020 season, the Rams have just nine rushes of 20 or more yards, which is tied for the 10th-lowest figure in football. In 2018 alone, when Gurley still had deceptive, game-breaking speed, the Rams hit 14 run plays of 20-plus yards.
Darrell Henderson is a reasonably quality, compact back. He’s not a burner. The same is true for newly acquired run-game option Sony Michel. Plus, Henderson’s battling a rib cartilage injury.
And McVay hinted at a sudden need for speed in the ground game when he signed Javian Hawkins to the practice squad on Monday. Remember how you couldn’t see Sonic the Hedgehog’s feet because he ran so fast? His lower half was just a spinning circle. That’s how I felt evaluating Hawkins at Louisville. He’s built low to the ground and an absolute blur. He had six runs of 40-plus yards in 2019 and had runs of 70, 75 and 90 yards in 2020 for the Cardinal. Dude can go.
In a time-tested running system that produces amazing running-back efficiency with insane on-field speed, Hawkins can be precisely what McVay and the Rams offense needs to round itself in a complete unit. Trust me, Sean.
As for the Call Up Tally — The CUT — don’t get me started. No Practice Squad Power Rankings alumni call ups to date as we enter the third weekend of the regular season. What I have noticed, and am not totally shocked by — teams are leaning on veterans on their practice squad to begin the year. And that’s sensible. The young guns will get their opportunities in time. Don’t you worry.
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. Last week, I shouted out PSPR alum Juwan Johnson for his two-touchdown masterpiece in Week 1. This week’s shout goes to Bills defensive tackle and longtime PSPR member Justin Zimmer for his sack of Jacoby Brissett in the Bills shutout win in Miami.
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 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.” 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.
To continue to maintain the 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. Javian Hawkins, RB, Rams
In the preseason, he accumulated 97 yards on 20 carries with a score, and three of those 20 carries went over 10 yards. And it’s not as if he’s only a low-volume, scat back with fantastic speed. Hawkins toted the rock 264 times at a 5.8 yards-per-carry clip in 2019 at Louisville. He plays bigger than his size.
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.
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.
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.
5. Derek Tuszka, EDGE, Steelers
Tuszka is back. He was a 2020 PSPR alum who was called up early in the season but rarely got a chance to actually rush the passer in Denver on a team that didn’t have Von Miller all season. Weird. Now he’s on another club with a menacing pass rush. The former North Dakota State star of course rocked the FCS ranks during his time with the Bison — 19 tackles for loss, 13.5 sacks in his final season — then had a three-cone time of 6.78 at the combine. There are some pass-rush moves in his arsenal too, and now he’s had time to add strength to his game.
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. 6 this week simply due to the veteran edge-rushing talent in front of him on the Cardinals’ 53-man roster right now.
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.
The Bills grabbed Lewis from nearby University at Buffalo during the undrafted free-agency frenzy immediately following the 2019 draft. And he’s quietly gone about his business in two preseasons by allowing just 91 yards on 10 receptions, and he’s clung to a practice-squad spot in Buffalo because he’s a super-steady tackler in space. Head coach Sean McDermott loves that from his corners.
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?
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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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.