They used to say it'll take until Year 3 for a receiver to break out, but we all know that's changed. A litany of wideouts in the NFL hit instantly. Coaches, GMs, and fans aren't ready to wait around until a pass catcher's third year before he produces at a high level.
In fact, Year 3 now represents the beginning of a receiver's prime.
The same is true for an article series. No editor will let one perform badly for years before finally pulling it from the shelves. But thanks to you, The Practice Squad Power Rankings' rookie season can be likened to James Robinson's, a rousing success no one saw coming.
Year 2's growth was almost palpable -- steadier production and the invigorating feeling we weren't a flash in the plan but legitimately belonged. And now the PSPR triumphantly enters Year 3, not as a lovable Cinderella, but an established, playmaking star going early in fantasy drafts.
And I'm glad you're back. I'm pumped. I hope you are too. Now let's get to the specifics.
The NFL decided -- rightfully, I may add -- to carry over its loosened practice-squad rules from 2020. 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 this 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 those 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. And, yes, he's on Baltimore's practice squad right now.
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To continue to maintain PSPR's sterling integrity, I'll only be including practice squaders who are rookies, second-year players, or third-year players. That's it.
Of course I'll keep track of the highly dignified PSPR members who get The Call -- aka elevated to 53-man rosters. This running count will be known as the "Call Up Tally" or "The CUT" for short. Yes, I watched Outer Banks over the summer.
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.
Here's to not just living up to the hype but exceeding heightened expectations this season and a loud joyous return of the Practice Squad Power Rankings. After all this receiver talk, it's fitting Eagles wideout Travis Fulgham is Week 1's PSPR Cover Guy.
1. Travis Fulgham, WR, Eagles
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 over 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.
2. 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 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.
3. 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.
4. Antoine Brooks, S, Rams
Brooks was the most surprising Steelers cuts a few weeks ago, but it was mostly because he spent most of the preseason on the sideline after getting injured in the Hall of Fame game.
The former sixth-round pick out of Maryland is the perfect safety-to-linebacker convert at 5-foot-11 and 220 pounds with lightning-quick run-play diagnosing skills and athleticism that allows him to hold his own in coverage.
5. 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. 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.
6. 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.
7. Cade Johnson, WR, Seahawks
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?
8. William Bradley-King, EDGE, Washington Football Team
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.
9. 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.
10. Curtis Weaver, EDGE, Browns
On the surface, Weaver feels like your classic fifth-round underachiever who was generally liked much more by #DraftTwitter than the NFL. And maybe that was the case -- I had a first-round grade on him. However, a broken foot before the start of his rookie season provided Weaver with a gigantic setback he was never able to recover from as a member of the Dolphins.
He looked a touch less explosive in the preseason in Cleveland, but I will not forget about the bend, toolbox of pass-rush moves, and tremendous production he had in three seasons at Boise State.
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.
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.
Pooka Williams, RB, Bengals
Williams is little. Under 5-10 and 170 pounds at the Kansas Pro Day. But the former Jayhawk star was not a pleasant dude to try to tackle during his time in Lawrence. While his yards-per-carry average dropped in each of his three collegiate seasons, that 7.0 YPC masterpiece as a freshman in 2018 will not soon be forgotten. He's the definition of an "air back" with awesome vision and deceptive 4.46 speed.
Joe Reed, WR, Chargers
Reed isn't built for today's NFL. Well, not really. He's not a separation-based wideout. He's in the Deebo Samuel, A.J. Brown mold, a big body who legitimately could handle running back duties thanks to his compact frame, phenomenal contact balance, and vision in space. He was tackle-breaking machine during his career at Virginia. Reed just needs an opportunity. He will turn three-yard passes into 10-yard gains. He ran 4.47 with a 38-inch vertical at an awesome stocky 6-0 and 224 at the 2020 combine.
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
Hodgins has been injured for most of his first two seasons in the NFL. The talent is undeniably there though. At 6-4 and 210 pounds, he's sleek and runs sharp routes. His speciality? Catching everything thrown in his general vicinity. At Oregon State, he rarely dropped the football and a flair for the acrobatic reception. Hodgins production steadily improved in college and when healthy, he can be a quality WR4 with major upside.