Now we're *really* going to see how smart of an offensive play-caller Colts head coach Shane Steichen is.
He's been part of offenses featuring Justin Herbert and Jalen Hurts and for most of the first part of his first season as the head coach in Indianapolis, he's had athletic freakazoid Anthony Richardson at his disposal.
Now, with Richardson out for the year following shoulder surgery, Steichen's creative capabilities will be tested with Gardner Minshew at quarterback. And it's not that Minshew is brutal. Not at all. He's one of the more experienced, capable backups in football. It's just that when it comes to physical gifts tied to the quarterback position, he's not in the same stratosphere as Herbert, Hurts, or Richardson.
I'll gladly give Steichen the blueprint. First, Indianapolis needs to run the air out of the football with Jonathan Taylor and Zack Moss, the latter of whom, now fully healthy, is toting the rock as ferociously as he did at Utah.
After that, flood the roster with receivers. Alec Pierce is dinged up. For as nice as Michael Pittman seems in interviews and despite the occasional big game he has, the idea of Michael Pittman is much better than Michael Pittman the week-to-week receiver. He's yet to have a season with a yards-per-route run of 2.0, and most of the time, he hovers around 1.50 YPRR; very pedestrian for a player labeled as a No. 1 receiver.
Therefore, Tyrie Cleveland, a 6-foot-2, 200-plus pound wideout from the University of Florida, who just so happens to boast 4.46 speed and 39.5 vertical explosiveness should be elevated to the active roster. Also, burner K.J. Hamler too.
No, neither are established commodities. When it comes to Hamler, he's dealt with a rash of injuries early in his professional career. Both dudes can absolutely fly, and if the Colts aren't going to pass it that often, when they do throw it, the occasional splash play would be incredibly valuable. If anything, Cleveland and/or Hamler should be able to lift the lid on defenses and at the very least, open space in the underneath passing game for Downs, McKenzie, and the nine million tight ends the Colts throw to on a regular basis.
Along with my push for Cleveland and Hamler to get snaps on offense in the Minshew-led Colts offense, we must pay homage to Practice Squad Power Ranking alums like Saints TE Juwan Johnson, 49ers wideout Jauan Jennings, Ravens cornerback/safety Ar'Darius Washington, Buccaneers wideout Deven Thompkins, Seahawks guard Phil Haynes, Cardinals center Hjalte Froholdt, and Giants receiver Isaiah Hodgins (among many others) who have all graduated to become important mainstays on their clubs' respective 53-man rosters and contribute in their own ways each weekend.
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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 and write about 16 individuals every Friday, 10 officially in the rankings and six honorable mentions.
The CUT (Call Up Tracker) now comfortable sits at six after the Patriots took my advice and elevated Malik Cunningham to the active roster for last week's game against the Raiders. He only got six snaps, but at least New England has started to get him acclimated.
Further: To get back to the true origins of the PSPR, which were to highlight young players, I won't be featuring "veterans" this season. Selecting someone like Phillip Dorsett -- currently on the Broncos 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 2020 on. That's it.
What I'm asking of you as a loyal PSPR patron -- alert me on X/Twitter @ChrisTrapasso if you see a tweet about a PSPR getting The Call so I can add to The CUT.
Here's to an electric season here at The Practice Squad Power Rankings as we continue to carve our own niche in the internet's ever-expanding football-media industry.
10. Tyrie Cleveland, WR, Colts
Cleveland has a mere 91 yards on eight catches in his NFL career to date. His appeal is more about the size and speed combination he brings to the field. Clearly, he's the Colts type, given the presence of Pittman and Pierce on the roster. He deserves a chance given the circumstances in Indianapolis.
9. Lonnie Phelps, EDGE, Browns
The Browns don't appear to need defensive line help whatsoever after their demolition of the Bengals offensive front to start the season. But if they do so happen to want an outside pass-rushing jolt, Phelps is waiting patiently on the practice squad. At Kansas in 2022, after amazing quarterback-disrupting productivity at Miami of Ohio, Phelps was again a menace around the corner. I love his ability to use powerful hands while bending the edge.
8. Seth Williams, WR, Jaguars
Williams is a classic, big-bodied, physical boundary wideout who saw a plethora of future NFL cornerbacks in the SEC while at Auburn. While he did flame out at Denver -- with brutal quarterback play there, I must add -- he had seven grabs for 109 yards in the preseason with Jacksonville this August and registered 10 catches for 104 yards with a score with the Broncos in three exhibition games a year ago.
7. Raymond Johnson III, EDGE, Lions
Of course, the PSPR were born out of an innate desire to highlight underappreciated players, and it's hard to get more underappreciated than Johnson. A Georgia Southern alum, he's right around 6-2 and 260 pounds and went undrafted in 2021. Since then, he's rocked in three-consecutive preseasons with eight pressures in each of them. In 2023, the wins were outrageously good. The Bengals decided against keeping him and, astutely, the Lions jumped on the chance to obtain his services. Johnson simply knows how to beat blockers with calculated pass-rush moves and leveraged power.
6. Matt Landers, WR, Panthers
Carolina needs all the receiving reinforcements it can get, especially after the Laviska Shenault injury. Adam Thielen can't carry the passing offense every week like he did last Sunday. Landers is a field-stretcher with enough power through press coverage to combat physicality at the line. Call him up, Frank. Then you'll have a nice little Sunday in Week 4.
5. Luiji Vilain, EDGE, Vikings
Marcus Davenport is hurt. The Vikings are 2-4 but in the NFC, certainly have life. However, Danielle Hunter can't be the only capable pass rusher in Minnesota. And Vilain should be a fun asset for defensive coordinator Brian Flores, who loves designing a variety of blitz packages that feature rushers attacking from different angles and various pre-snap alignments.
4. K.J. Hamler, WR, Colts
With 42 receptions for 620 yards and three rookie-year touchdowns, Hamler is more accomplished as a professional than Cleveland. But at his size, he's dealt with a billion injuries that've hindered his development. On film, Hamler clearly can scoot. Get him on the field, Indy.
3. Shaka Heyward, LB, Bengals
Heyward was one of the defensive pieces to a Duke program that went 9-4 in 2022. His supreme length allowed him to disrupt the football often in coverage -- six pass breakups and two interceptions -- and he was one of the more sure-tackling linebackers in the entire 2023 class. He ran 4.53 at nearly 6-foot-3 and 235 pounds, and those 34-inch arms provide Heyward with a tackling radius most second-level defenders would dream of. The coverage will take time. It always does. For every linebacker. But he can be a useful sideline-to-sideline tackler ... right now.
2. Darius Rush, CB, Chiefs
Do the Chiefs need cornerback help right now? No, not necessarily. Did I love Rush as a prospect? Majorly. I can feel the adrenaline surging through my body as I'm preparing to type this sentence -- Rush is a 6-foot-2, 200-pound SEC cornerback with arms nearly 34 inches long who boasts 4.36 speed. Deep breaths. Deep breaths. OK, so he allowed some catches in the preseason. I do not care. In his last two seasons at South Carolina, Rush countered the six touchdowns credited to his coverage area with 15 pass breakups and three interceptions. He was built to play boundary corner in the NFL.
1. DeWayne McBride, RB, Vikings
After the Cam Akers trade, I essentially lost all hope for McBride being elevated to the Vikings' 53-man roster, which, to me, could still use a jolt of fresh rushing talent. After a five-carry, 40-yard debut for the Vikings, Akers accumulated 15 yards on five more totes in the loss to the Chiefs in Week 5 and just one carry in Week 6. Basically, it wouldn't hurt the run game to give McBride The Call, would it? No. Now, McBride isn't going to hit 90-yard touchdowns, but there are only a select few legitimate game-breakers at the running back position in today's NFL. He's naturally elusive with light feet and sturdy contact balance.
I vividly recall scouting Ojemudia at Iowa, and he felt like the next in an incredibly long line of well-coached future NFL starters from that program. While he never fully materialized into that in Denver, his rookie season wasn't a total waste -- 62 tackles and six pass breakups -- he was injured all last season. In a zone-based role, Ojemudia can return to his Hawkeye roots as a playmaker. At Iowa, he defended 15 passes and had six interceptions in his final two seasons.
Brown was a late add to the Bills roster during training camp and -- poof! -- he started making plays in practice right away. Then, in the preseason, the former Akron Zip made his presence felt on the 53 exhibition snaps he played. He had five tackles and a pass breakup while only allowing 14 yards on three receptions in his coverage area. Brown is a 6-foot-1 corner with plus instincts.
Cropper was a tiny, bouncy, big-play waiting to happen at Fresno State in 2022. He had 80-plus grabs in each of his final seasons for the Bulldogs and scored 16 touchdowns. Being that productive of a touchdown-creator at 5-foot-11 and 172 pounds indicates Cropper is a gifted separator. That indication is correct. He's sudden at all three levels.
Rayshad Nichols, DT, Ravens
Nichols is a wide-bodied force on the interior. He just feels like a Ravens defensive tackle. He did miss some tackles in the preseason, but I love his ability to shed blocks and get upfield when needed at 6-foot-3 and 305-310 pounds.
Patmon was a seventh-round pick by the Colts a few years ago, and has an intriguing size-speed profile at 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds with 4.48 speed. In Buffalo this summer, Patmon enjoyed a strong camp, as he had three grabs for 35 yards and touchdown against his former team to begin the preseason.
Austin Watkins Jr., WR, Browns
Watkins led all players in receiving yards during the regular season, and I remember him being a blast at UAB. Decently twitchy -- despite a blah workout -- Watkins can eventually contribute for someone this season. He's strong in contested-catch scenarios, too.