Fine, NFL. You get a pass in Week 1. But you get that pass for opening week only.
No Practice Squad Power Rankings members were called up to begin the season and, whaddaya know -- offensive efficiency was well below 2022 averages.
Really, it's OK. Here at the PSPR, we don't get mad. We push forward. We never expect a massive wave of call ups early because coaches and GMs, those who hand-picked the 53-man roster and set the practice squad, don't suddenly second-guess themselves by elevating players who just a few weeks ago weren't good enough to actually make the team. And injuries have yet to infiltrate the NFL landscape.
But that all changes as we really get rolling in September and move into October, the most glorious football-weather month of the year.
Patience starts to wear thin on disappointing starters and role-players, and we're reminded of the importance of depth -- yes, all the way down to the practice squad -- as bumps and bruises and sprains and tears inevitably occur.
If anything, in these first two weeks, those long-time veterans are those most likely to receive The Call, and given their experience, I can't fully blame GMs for leaning in that direction.
But I'm telling you -- these young PSPRers can play.
Famous Practice Squad Power Ranking alums like Saints TE Juwan Johnson, Ravens cornerback/safety Ar'Darius Washington, Buccaneers wideout Deven Thompkins, Cardinals center Hjalte Froholdt, and Giants receiver Isaiah Hodgins (among many others) have all graduated to become important mainstays on the clubs' respective 53-man rosters and contribute in their own ways each weekend. Remember that.
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.
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 (Call Up Tracker).
Here's to a bounce back from Week 1 and one wild ride of a season here at The Practice Squad Power Rankings as we continue to carve a niche in the Internet's ever-expanding football-media industry.
10. Grant DuBose, WR, Packers
DuBose was a seventh-round pick in April and found himself in a super-young, crowded receiver room in the land of cheese curds and Spotted Cow. Despite the most efficient offensive afternoon of any team in the NFC to start the season, the Packers are dealing with injuries to Christian Watson and two-touchdown scorer on Sunday, Romeo Doubs. At Charlotte, DuBose was an intimidating dominator. At nearly 6-foot-3 and over 200 pounds with deceptive quicks and natural high-pointing skills, he had nearly 1,700 yards on 126 receptions with 13 touchdowns in his final two collegiate seasons.
9. Richard Gouraige, OT, Bills
It was Buffalo's eventual second-round pick O'Cyrus Torrence and Gouraige who had scouts' attention entering Florida's 2022 season. And it's not like Gouraige had an abysmal final season for the Gators. In fact, he surrendered a pressure on just 3.9% of his pass-blocking snaps, down from a touch above 4.0% in 2021. And he looked the part of an eventually useful tackle in the preseason for the Bills after somewhat surprisingly going undrafted. Gouraige is nearly 6-foot-5 with arms over 34 inches. He does need to add weight to his frame. In Buffalo, he has the built-in bonus of an already established rapport with Torrence, who won the starting right guard gig this summer.
8. 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.
7. John Ojukwu, OT, Titans
Ojukwu is a rookie from Boise State with above-average athletic traits for an offensive tackle, and he could play inside in a pinch. He needs to iron out some technical flaws in pass protection -- like having soft edges -- but really gets after it in the run game, the latter of which meshes well with this Derrick Henry-led attack. Week 1 was not kind to the Titans tackle duo of Andre Dillard and Chris Hubbard. Of course, I'm insinuating Ojukwu is elevated to a starting role immediately, but he may need to be on the field in some capacity -- even as an extra blocker in jumbo sets -- sooner than later.
6. Jaret Patterson, RB, Chargers
Austin Ekeler was dynamic to start his 2023 campaign -- 16 carries for 117 yards and a ground-game touchdown along with four receptions for 47 yards -- but injured his ankle and didn't practice as the Chargers began Week 2 prep for the Titans. His backup, Joshua Kelley also was productive against Miami and there's 2022 fourth-round pick Isaiah Spiller on the roster. Los Angeles would be smart to think about elevating newly signed Patterson -- a lateral dynamo -- for that third-down, pass-catching back role.
5. Zack Kuntz, TE, Jets
Another former monster recruit -- No. 4 tight end in the country in the class of 2018 -- Kuntz fizzled at Penn State before becoming the focal point of the Old Dominion offense late in his collegiate career. He genuinely moves differently than the vast majority of tight ends I've ever scouted and had six grabs for 41 yards and a score in the preseason for the Jets. Kuntz was, quite easily, the most athletic tight end prospect at the 2023 combine, with everything on-field, from the 10-yard split to the short shuttle, ranking in the 91st percentile or higher at the position since 1999, per Mockdraftable.
4. Jeremiah Moon, LB, Ravens
Moon should not have gone undrafted. A travesty, really. At a somewhat spindly 6-foot-5 and 249 pounds, Moon nearly jumped out of Lucas Oil Stadium with a 41-inch vertical and 11-foot-1 inch broad jump. Ba-nanas. At Florida, he was Gumby-like around the corner, and while he cleary must add weight to his lower half for more torque generation, his explosiveness and hand work are legitimate assets to his game right now. He'll eventually make an impact around the corner in Baltimore. Or somewhere else.
3. Matt Landers, WR, Seahawks
Landers is such a Seahawks project. I absolutely love it. GM John Schneider loves himself a developmental freak of an athlete at seemingly every position, and he has that with Landers, a 6-foot-5, 200-pound burner with 4.37 speed and nearly 11-foot broad jump explosion in his lower half. Landers did essentially all one can do in college to prove he's a phenomenal big-play threat. He averaged 21.1 yards per grab at Toledo and Arkansas in his last two seasons before inexplicably going undrafted. Pete Carroll does not care when you were drafted or if you weren't at all, if you can play. Landers can. Especially when asked to get vertical.
2. 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-foot-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 on a mere 190 pass-rush opportunities. 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.
1. Marquez Callaway, WR, Raiders
Callaway is a proven commodity in this league, at arguably the second-most vital position on the field, and he's sitting idly by on the Raiders practice squad. When given a legitimate opportunity in his second season in 2021, Callaway caught 46 passes for 698 yards (15.2 yards per) with six touchdowns. He wins vertically with long-striding speed and a rebounder's mentality when the ball is in the air. That season, he went 10-of-19 in contested-catch scenarios, which, is quite good. While Jimmy Garoppolo is an established, underneath thrower, Las Vegas' offense could use a niche downfield weapon to complement and free space for Davante Adams.
Whiteheart was a blast of a YAC specialist at Wake Forest over the past few years, and he flashed in the preseason. The Cardinals roster is the most underwhelming in the NFL, so don't be surprised if he's one of the first call-ups of the year.
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.
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.