Lost in the ongoing conversation about Love is the fact that Green Bay's defense has been bad. Really bad. And they've been trending toward "really bad" since last season.
The Packers enter Week 8 in 27th in Aaron Schatz's defensive DVOA, the all-encompassing efficiency metric. In 2022, they finished 25th in the regular season after a 12th-place finish in the 13-4 season of 2021.
Now, Green Bay is laboring through plenty of injuries on that side of that ball, to some key players, which is part of the defensive woes.
But that happens at times for some teams during the course of a season -- clubs have to master righting the ship to make and advance in the playoffs. The NFL season is quite the marathon. Depth is almost always tested.
Which is why I'm advocating for one specific Green Bay defender -- rookie defensive back Anthony Johnson to get The Call. He was a sixth-round pick in April after a long, five-year collegiate career at Iowa State, the final four of which saw Johnson make full-time contributions to the Cyclone defense. From 2019 to 2022, Johnson totaled 28 pass breakups, 245 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, and he snagged two interceptions as a senior.
At 6-foot and 205 pounds, Johnson ran 4.52 at the combine with an impressive 37.5-inch vertical, and that explosiveness popped on film when changing directions to get to receivers in coverage or when flying into the flat to make a tackle.
He's the type of defender the Packers should inject to the defense right now.
Oh, and as for the offense, Green Bay is in the throes of a youth movement right now anyway -- how about giving the dynamic second-year wideout Bo Melton an opportunity? He was a blast of a gadget-type producer at Rutgers and plays with serious athletic juice, something else the Packers need right now.
Along with my push for the Packers to make these elevations ahead of Week 8's contest at home against the Vikings, 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.
Oh, and the Panthers front office clearly collectively reads The PSPR aloud at a weekly meeting, because they listened to my advice from a few weeks ago when from other teams -- they signed edge-rusher and PSPR alum Luiji Vilain from the Vikings practice squad to their 53-man roster. Vilain will make an impact in Carolina!
The CUT (Call Up Tracker) has now reached seven after the Vilain poaching. 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.
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. Bo Melton, WR, Packers
At 5-11 and 190 pounds, Melton has 4.34 speed and had a vertical that placed him in the 80th percentile among receivers at the combine since 1999. The dude is an electric athlete and demonstrated fine vision and cutting skills on jet sweeps and screens in college. He also stretched the field vertically at Rutgers too.
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 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.
5. 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. Brown is a 6-foot-1 corner with plus instincts.
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.
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. Anthony Johnson, CB, Packers
Johnson is one of those "do-everything" defensive backs. Part corner, part safety, part linebacker. While Green Bay has invested heavily in the secondary early in drafts, some of those players either have not worked out or are simply hurt right now. Given his experience in a variety of roles at Iowa State, it feels like Johnson could be a useful contributor right away for the Packers if he got The Call.
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.
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 -- who could help generate some pass rush while Uchenna Nwosu isn't quite 100%.
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. 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.