The Bears have to be giddy coming off their pre-bye week loss to the Steelers. Yes, giddy after losing a game. Because while Chicago was a playoff team a season ago, the maturation of and flashes from Justin Fields matter more than anything else this season for the Bears.
Sure, if they sneak into the postseason, great.
But if Fields continues to play the way he did on the road, in Pittsburgh, in Week 9 -- particularly in the second half -- the Bears will be serious contenders for a long time.
Some of the throws he made in that defeat on "Monday Night Football'' caused me to fan myself in my living room while watching.
Fields get what looks like a daunting test out of the bye -- a date with the Ravens. But their defense that ranks 25th in Football Outsiders defensive DVOA, the all-encompassing efficiency metric.
And now is the perfect time for Chicago to provide their young, immensely talented quarterback with more juice at receiver. And that's not a slight to Allen Robinson or Darnell Mooney.
Entering Week 11, Bears receivers have only accounted for 82 receptions, the third-lowest figure in the NFL, only trailing the Falcons (80) and Saints (76).
It's time to elevate rookie wideout Dazz Newsome from the practice squad. The sixth-round pick has dynamic ability underneath as a pass catcher who can morph easy screens thrown behind the line into eight-yard gains and is deceptively fast down the field with surprising contested-catch skills.
As a 20-year-old junior in 2019 at North Carolina, Newsome eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark on 72 receptions with 10 touchdowns catching passes from freshman quarterback Sam Howell. That season, he had 30 catches on throws made 10-plus yards down the field, which was the fifth-most among wideouts who returned to school in 2020.
In 2020, the Tar Heels went super run-heavy with Javonte Williams and Michael Carter, and while Newsome's stats dipped, he still forced 14 missed tackles, which was the 15th-highest among all draft-eligible receivers.
Altogether, he was 11-of-16 in those contested-catch situations despite being 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds, which, by the way is like the perfect size for a receiver in today's separation-based NFL, isn't it.
I'm not going to dive into the poor showing Newsome had at his pro day. Can't do it. Didn't at all fit with how sudden he moves on the field. If you want to check it, here's the link.
If he can help to raise the play of a true freshman quarterback -- remember, Howell threw 38 touchdowns to just seven picks in 2019 -- then he can do the same for Fields. Sound logic, right?
It's sensible for a rookie quarterback to look to his tight ends often, they're big targets. And I love the connection Fields is establishing with second-year tight end Cole Kmet. But Jesse James and Jimmy Graham have each played around 23% of Chicago's offensive snaps to date season and have combined for eight catches for 98 yards and one score.
Time to become a more receiver-based offense, Matt Nagy. Give Newsome an opportunity.
Heading into the weekend, THE CALL -- call-ups from The PSPR list -- we're sitting at a solid seven. Use The Practice Squad Power Rankings as a resource, NFL front offices. If I've missed anyone, or 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.
(Oh, and PSPR alum, safety/linebacker Antoine Brooks, got The Call by the Rams ahead of their Week 10 clash with the 49ers in San Francisco. Once a PSPRer, always a PSPRer.)
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." To continue to maintain the PSPR's sterling integrity, I'll only be including practice-squadders 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. 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. He recovered from a broken collarbone early in the offseason to get limited reps in the preseason. Get Newsome in the slot and let him work, Nagy.
2. Phil Haynes, OG, Seahawks
Haynes is a thick, springy athlete with about as much collegiate experience as humanly possible. I'm actually surprised he's on the Seahawks practice squad, but Seattle did sign Gabe Jackson this offseason to elevate the floor of their guard position.
3. 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 pressure 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.
4. Charles Snowden, EDGE, Bears
Snowden is impossibly long at over 6-foot-6 with 34-inch arms. He's essentially the size of some of the longer offensive tackles in the NFL, except he's probably playing somewhere in the 240s. So he clearly needs to add weight. But Snowden understands how to use his length to keep blockers from obliterating him. At Virginia, he had 28.5 tackles for loss in his final three seasons. With Khalil Mack injured, this should be a no-brainer for the Bears. Yet, Matt Nagy and Co. have hardly listened to me this season.
5. 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?
6. Javon Wims, WR, Raiders
In the wake of the horrifically sad Henry Ruggs situation, the Raiders are probably going to need more receiver depth. Wims flashed with the Bears before punching his way out of Chicago. The former Georgia star has good size at over 6-2 and 215 pounds.
7. Ron'Dell Carter, EDGE, Cardinals
With J.J. Watt out for the remainder of the season, the Cardinals could use more pass-rush help on the outside, right? Carter has the girth, leverage, burst, and just enough pass-rush moves to be a productive contributor Arizona. I'm very high on him.
8. 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.
9. 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.
10. Kayode Awosika, OG, Eagles
Awosika was a 32-game starter at the University at Buffalo, as a right and left tackle. At a shade over 6-foot-3 and 300 pounds, he clearly has NFL guard size, and he entered the league further ahead as a run-blocker -- a damn good one -- than a pass-blocker, mostly due to his lack of explosive traits.
But there's something to be said about the strength of a young blocker, and Awosika is an effortless people-mover on the interior.
Thomas Graham, CB, Bears
Yes, the third Bears player in this week's PSPR. 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.
Elijah Holyfield, RB, Bengals
Holyfield averaged 4.6 yards per carry on 20 totes this preseason in Philadelphia and 4.0 yards per with the Panthers in 2020. He's a compactly built, decently shifty back with light feet and good vision. The Bengals backfield's a little banged up right now. Holyfield can help.
Olaijah Griffin, CB, Bills
I had a late fifth-round grade on Griffin after a steady career with the Trojans in Southern California. He had nine pass breakups in 2019 and three more in a shortened 2020 campaign. He's a fluid mover with serious striking ability when planting and driving on the football.
Kawaan Baker, WR, Saints
Baker had three years of solid-albeit-unspectacular production at South Alabama but failed to get named to the hometown Senior Bowl. But at his pro day, he got everyone's attention, running 4.45 with a 39.5-inch vertical and 129-inch broad jump. His slow three-cone placed him in the second percentile among receivers over the past 21 years, but the explosion that was evident on vertical routes and in contested-catch situations in college was clear at his pre-draft workout.
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.
Tyrone Wheatley, OT, Giants
I'm fascinated by Wheatley's journey, from marquee tight end recruit -- who was massive entering the Michigan campus -- to beefed up offensive tackle. The tight end to tackle converts are always compelling to me because the I know athletic traits needed to excel blocking on the edge are there.
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