The Bills need more kick in their sauce. Nothing against the original, but it's time for Buffalo to upgrade to Frank's Hot.
The perennially spicy Bills have had their last six games go as follows: win-loss-win-loss-win-loss, making it the first 3-3 stretch during the regular season for Sean McDermott's squad since an identical lull occurred at almost exactly the same portion of the season in 2021.
There's been a strange and in some ways entertaining debate on the NFL interwebs this week sparked by Buffalo's Expected Points Added (EPA). The TLDR; version of this argument is that Buffalo's offensive EPA is still very high, so need not worry, Bills Mafia. While I adore EPA and am the opposite of an analytics hater, anyone who's watched every Bills snap since the calendars flipped to October -- when Buffalo traveled to London to face the Jaguars -- can plainly see things have mostly gone astray and currently remain astray on offense and defense.
Now, have the Bills been an absolute abomination? As the 3-3 record in that time frame would clearly indicate -- no. While the three losses have not been equal in their ugliness, those Buffalo defeats have come by a grand total of 15 points and two of the losses were at the hands of clubs that advanced at least beyond the first round of the playoffs a year ago (Jaguars and Bengals). So, as EPA is suggesting, Bills fans everywhere shouldn't be in the-sky-is-falling mode.
Having said all that, the Bills have to make widespread alterations or that sky will drop. Buffalonians can deal with snow descending from the sky in December and January. The sky figuratively falling on another Bills season would be much harder to stomach.
Which unit is to blame for Buffalo's recent stagnancy, the offense or the defense?
This fascinating nugget discovered by Mike Sando of The Athletic sums it up despite my acknowledgement that the Bills offense has to get out of the gates faster than it has recently:
"Even counting Allen's implosion game against the New York Jets in Week 1, Buffalo ranks second in offensive EPA per play during defeats this season."
Context is always critical in any analysis, but that's about as loud of a one-sentence mic drop as you're going to read in a case like this.
Now, I will say -- Buffalo's defense is currently as patchwork as that quilt strewn over your grandma's living room couch with Tre'Davious White, Matt Milano, Daquan Jones out and Greg Rousseau, Ed Oliver, Shaq Lawson missing some time while others have been dinged in-game and been unavailable for second-half action of late.
So, as the GM of the Practice Squad Power Rankings, if I had to choose which of the Bills units was in more need of a boost, it'd be the defense. Which is why I'm calling on cornerback Kyron Brown, who's been with the team since training camp, to get elevated before Buffalo's Week 10 prime-time outing against the Broncos.
Starting cornerback Christian Benford injured his hamstring against the Bengals, and veteran Josh Norman has already been called up twice -- after three elevations, the fourth must coincide with him being signed to the active roster. Buffalo needs to be smart managing its practice-squad call-ups. And Brown can ball. Plus, at 6-foot-1 with nearly 32-inch arms and a 39-inch vertical, the former University of Akron star has the classic boundary cornerback frame and athleticism the Bills like.
Along with my push for the Bills to elevate Brown, 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.
We didn't see a single call up in Week 9, the CUT (Call-Up Tracker) remains at eight on the season. Instead of adjusting on the fly, I'm standing firm this week. You won't see any changes from last week's PSPR -- besides the addition of Brown.
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.
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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.
10. Sincere McCormick, RB, Raiders
McCormick was THAT DUDE on some super-fun UTSA teams over the past few seasons, and while he didn't test particularly well at the combine, at 5-foot-9 and over 200 pounds, he's cannon-ball of a back with scat-back agility to leave defenders whiffing at air in space. He's the exact type of spark plug the Raiders ground game could use when giving Jacobs a breather.
9. Kyron Brown, CB, Bills
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.
8. Matthew Butler, DT, Raiders
Butler is that high-energy defensive lineman who can align anywhere and push the pocket. Is he going to be a 10-sack guy? No, of course not. But his length and speed-to-power conversion are legitimately impressive. He needs to be part of the Raiders rebuilding process up front on defense.
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 has for most of the season. Landers is a field-stretcher with enough power through press coverage to combat physicality at the line. Call him up, Frank. Your offense needs a spark.
5. Tyreke Smith, EDGE, Seahawks
Smith suffered an injury in August of his rookie year after being selected in the fifth round by the Seahawks out of Ohio State. He's a decently long, chiseled advanced rusher -- like most are these days from the Buckeyes program.
Problems with drops curtailed Smith's chance to succeed with the team that drafted him, the Panthers. But he rarely has problems getting open because of his flexibility and sharp change-of-direction skills. He has rather large hands for his smaller frame, which makes me believe drops would be concentration-related, which is fixable. Tennessee is really hurting for another receiver to step up beyond DeAndre Hopkins -- Smith deserves an opportunity. I'd love to see him catch passes from Will Levis.
3. Tariq Castro-Fields, CB, Commanders
Castro-Fields was a key member on some Penn State defenses that featured the likes of Micah Parsons, Joey Porter Jr., Jaquan Brisker and many other NFLers. At over 6-foot and around 200 pounds with 4.38 speed, Castro-Fields held his own against the likes of Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson. His collegiate experience readied him for an opportunity in the NFL.
2. Quincy Roche, EDGE, Vikings
Roche was on the draft radar after his transfer from Temple to Miami and subsequent productive season with the Hurricanes in 2020, when he still generated 36 pressures on 323 pass-rush snaps against elevated competition. While a smaller rusher without a flashy combine workout to point to, Roche wins with a Pro Bowl amount of pass-rush moves and insane flexibility. He pressured the quarterback five times in 16 opportunities in his final preseason showing for the Steelers this summer.
1. Janarius Robinson, EDGE, Raiders
Beyond the intimidating stature of Robinson, he had a memorably explosive pro day workout with a 40-yard dash and broad jump in the 81st and 80th percentile respectively. His agility drills weren't as impressive, but this is an up-the-field outside rusher who looked like an NFL defensive end in college. He was credited with a pressure on 11 of his 91 pass-rush snaps this preseason with the Vikings.
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.
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.
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.
DeWayne McBride, RB, Vikings
After the Cam Akers trade, I 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. Now with Akers lost for the season, that could change. 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.
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.