My mom always said, "respect your elders." So that's exactly what I'm going to do in this week's Practice Squad Power Rankings. At the outset of this season, I made a declaration that I wouldn't be including "veterans" who normally wouldn't be practice-squad eligible but were this year due to the practice-squad expansion created for teams to better cope with chaotic roster management due to COVID-19.
But when rifling through practice squads for all 32 teams this week it dawned on me that some former stars are humbly sitting idly by on practice squads and are hardly being noticed. Sure, a small check is better than no check at all, but these former household names -- some in households that watch plenty of NFL football -- deserve a little hat tip for not being too prideful to occupy a practice-squad spot at this stage of their respective careers.
Mychal Kendricks was a second-round pick by the Eagles in 2012. While never a Pro Bowler, Kendricks has 548 regular-season tackles to his name and six seasons with 70-plus takedowns. He recently served a suspension for insider trading -- don't see that every day in the NFL -- and after a strong campaign with Seattle in 2019, he's back, now on the practice squad at 30 years old.
Staying at linebacker, Nigel Bradham blossomed in Buffalo with the Bills before signing in Philadelphia in 2016. He twice eclipsed the 100-tackle mark and asserted himself as one of the better, more athletic, hard-hitting linebackers in football during his prime. Now 31, Bradham bounced from the Saints practice squad to the Broncos, and he's waiting for an opportunity like a rookie all over again.
Alfred Morris is still in the league. Did you know that? Yes, that Morris, of rookie-year Robert Griffin III fame. In 2012, the sixth-round first-year runner exploded for 1,613 yards at 4.8 yards per rush when the nation's capital went absolutely berserk for RG3. Of course, Griffin III's transcendence was a mirage, and Washington allowed former assistants Kyle Shanahan, Sean McVay, and Matt LeFleur -- all coached Morris in Washington -- leave the organization to take head coaching jobs. But, Morris is still kicking, four teams and six years after his release from Washington in 2015. He's now on the Giants, and given the state of that club's rushing attack, I'm surprised we haven't seen him on a Sunday yet. Morris has really defied the odds. The man is almost 32 and was a sixth-round pick. He does have a career yards-per-carry average of 4.3 on 1,374 carries. Damn good.
The year after Morris was snagged in Round 6 by Washington, the Lions selected Theo Riddick, a twitchy, pass-catching back out of Notre Dame in the sixth-round. And as PPR leagues became commonplace in the fantasy realm, Riddick worked wonders for many fantasy owners during his time in Detroit. In 2015, he was targeted 99 times -- on a team with Calvin Johnson! -- caught 80 passes for 697 yards with three scores. Riddick has at least 34 receptions in every season he's been in the NFL after his rookie year but has never carried it more than 92 times in a single season. Bananas, right? Speaking of Bananas, Mr. Spider Y 2 Banana himself, Jon Gruden, has Riddick on his practice squad as you read this article. And he's still in his 20s.
I have to save my favorite for last. Damon "Snacks" Harrison. The guy is a walking exemplification of a former star residing an unfamiliar place on a practice squad this season and an iconic symbol of the bygone era of run-game devouring defensive tackles carrying immense value. He's working his way up to the Seahawks 53-man roster on the practice squad now. After going undrafted from William Penn in 2012, Snacks asserted himself as one of the game's most ferocious, immovable, and polished run defenders. By 2013, he was the undisputed finest run-stopping force in football and held that title for many years during his prime. Harrison was a first-team All Pro in 2016. You know how amazing you have to be against the run to earn that honor in a pass-happy league? Harrison had just 2.5 sacks that year. The soon-to-be 32-year-old did descend from his sky-high level of play in 2019, but I bet he'll ultimately make some important stops on 1st and 10 or 3rd and short for Seattle's defense late in the year and in the postseason.
This week, PSPR had its first call up in weeks -- champagne was popped. Robert Foster was poached by the Washington Football Team from the Packers practice squad. He has the speed to bring another vertical element to that offense opposite Terry McLaurin.
Entering Week 7, the PSPR tracker reads 10 call-ups from seven different players.
Also, hats off to 2019 PSPR alum Justin Zimmer for rocking in an otherwise brutal performance by Buffalo's defense in the Monday Night Football loss to the Chiefs in Week 6. In fact, Zimmer was so good, he earned an official spot on the Bills 53-man roster, instead of just being a practice squad "call up" for a singular game. In most cases, call-ups immediately revert back to the practice squad. Zimmer's a full-timer now.
For those who missed it in the PSPR's 2020 debut, I'm only including practice squadders who are rookies, second-year players, or third-year players. That's it. And it aligns perfectly with my niche area of expertise because the 2018 draft class is the first I fully evaluated as CBS Sports' NFL Draft analyst.
And as you'll see below, I couldn't resist ranking more players, given the increase in practice squad sizes this season. To run parallel with the league's figure, I hope to write about 16 individuals every Friday, 10 officially in the rankings and six honorable mentions.
1. Antoine Brooks, S, Steelers
While Robert Spillane has played well, with Devin Bush out for the season with a torn knee ligament, Brooks is the type of second-level defender Pittsburgh should consider calling up. He looks the part of a trendy safety-linebacker hybrid at 5-11 and 220 pounds. He's not fast -- he ran 4.64 at the combine -- but his short-area quickness and instincts were both outstanding on film at Maryland. Brooks overflowed the stat sheet in 2018 and 2019 with a combined 155 tackles, 18 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, two picks, and eight pass breakups. He's often the first to (correctly) react to where the offense plans to go with the football and will make plays in coverage at the short-to-intermediate level. And he's a sure tackler. Brooks has the athleticism to sift through the traffic to get the ball carrier too.
2. Deontay Burnett, WR, Eagles
Burnett was one of my first draft crushes, someone who finished as a second-round talent on my first Big Board at CBS Sports in 2018. At USC, he often was Sam Darnold's first read. In 2017, he caught 86 passes for 1,114 yards with nine touchdowns. He's a small but sudden slot wideout who can separate underneath and at the intermediate level. Why did I like him so much more than your average inside receiver? Burnett played bigger than his nearly 6-0, 186-pound frame. No pass was seemingly too far out in front of him. Burnett has played sparingly through two seasons, but later in his rookie season, he was elevated to the Jets active roster and demonstrated he still had a connection with Darnold. He had a four-catch, 61-yard effort in late October and a five-grab, 73-yard performance against the Patriots to end the year. Burnett proved in Week 3 he can get open and make catches in this league. In Week 4, he was elevated to the 53-man roster but only ran 10 routes and was not targeted by Carson Wentz.
3. Benito Jones, DL, Dolphins
Jones popped at the Senior Bowl, and I remember being impressed watching him on the flight down to Mobile, Alabama. He finished as my No. 198 overall prospect in the 2020 class -- ironically one spot ahead of PSPR alum Ron'Dell Carter -- but went undrafted. At 6-1 and 316 pounds with a poor combine performance on his resume, Jones doesn't look like he'd fit in today's NFL. But there is plenty of power in his hands, and some first-step quickness to threaten through one of the middle gaps.
4. Prince Tega Wanogho, OT, Eagles
Early in the 2020 pre-draft process, there was an early-round buzz for Wanogho. Injuries led to a precipitous fall to the sixth round, but the tools are there for the Nigeria-born former Auburn star to ultimately be the bookend tackle to Andre Dillard in Philadelphia, a club that's been outstanding at the tackle positions for a while now. Wanogho plays with requisite knee bend, so he's not easily fork-lifted by smaller rushers, and he's explosive off the snap and in the screen game. With better punch timing and added weight, he can be a consistent pass-protecting tackle in the NFL. This season, he'd mostly be useful getting to the second level in the run game.
5. Jauan Jennings, WR, 49ers
I just can't quit Jennings, even though I doubt we see him on the field for a while after the fact that Brandon Aiyuk has three touchdowns in his first three games back from injury. Deebo Samuel is back too. I still think San Francisco could use more depth -- and size? -- at receiver, and Jennings would fit right into Kyle Shanahan's YAC-based passing offense.
6. Scottie Phillips, RB, Texans
Phillips is this small, twitchy back you think would have no power to his game. Then he runs through a linebacker and breaks off a 60-yard touchdown run. Well, that's what he did at Ole Miss at least. He was on the draft radar two years ago as a key member of those Ole Miss teams with D.K. Metcalf and A.J. Brown. But his senior season saw his yards-per-carry average dip to 4.3 from 6.1. He then tested poorly at the combine, which further pushed him down boards, but he plays more athletic than his workout numbers indicate. Phillips' game is predicated on suddenness through the hole, some bounce, and straight-ahead contact balance.
7. Mark Fields, CB, Vikings
Fields is a bit of a mystery because he was barely a part-time player during his career at Clemson yet flashed when he got onto the field for the Tigers. He looked the part at the Senior Bowl in 2019, ran 4.37 at a close to 5-10 and 192 pounds. His twitch is undeniable to click-and-close on short routes or follow when receivers completely change directions. As a rookie, Fields played just six snaps, but he has the natural talent to be a versatile inside-outside cornerback. There's plenty of youth in Minnesota's secondary now after the team heavily invested there in the draft.
8. Juwan Johnson, WR, Saints
Johnson is our only new addition this week -- and his story is a fascinating one. It seems like he was in college for a decade because there was draft buzz for the 6-4, 230-pound wideout after the 2017 season -- his redshirt sophomore year -- when he caught 54 passes for 701 yards with a score. Unfortunately, his statistics dipped in each of the following two seasons but, after a transfer to Oregon, Johnson did have four touchdowns in his final collegiate campaign. He had a flair for the dramatic catch and had a three cone drill of 6.94 seconds at his mammoth size. He could be a fun big slot in New Orleans.
9. Javon Patterson, OL, Giants
Originally a seventh-round pick of the Colts in 2019, here's what I wrote when that selection came in. I gave it a B+. "Patterson was an unspectacular yet solid guard at Ole Miss for multiple seasons. He doesn't have ideal length and must pack some weight onto his frame, but he's the type of guy that can emerge with the right coaching." The Giants offensive line is an abomination right now. Giving Patterson some reps inside wouldn't be a bad idea.
10. Kalen Ballage, RB, Chargers
If you read you know everything you never cared to know about Ballage. He needed a change of scenery and had to move across the entire country to free himself from Gase with the Jets and any residual Gase aura still floating around in Miami.
Jaleel Scott, WR, Jets
Scott, originally a fourth-round pick by the Ravens, essentially had a redshirt year to get stronger as a rookie then in Year 2 led the Ravens in receiving during the preseason. Now he's on a hapless Jets club that could use Wayne Chrebet and Laveranues Coles at this juncture given the widespread injuries in its receiver room. Scott is nearly 6-5 and 218 pounds and excels when he needs to extend to make a catch outside his frame.
Duke Williams, WR, Bills
Williams was signed by the Bills in early January of 2019 to one of those futures contracts that are almost always overlooked and lead nowhere. But the physical rebounder made the team, scored a game-winning touchdown in a vital win over the Titans in Tennessee and had four catches for 49 yards in Buffalo's playoff defeat at the hands of the Texans. He can play.
Hill's press-man experience should get him on the field in his rookie season at some point, although he lacks imposing size and length at 5-10 and 190 pounds with short arms. He gets grabby when trying to run with speedsters down the field, and refs will have a field day with his over-aggressiveness. However, Hill's feet hit the ground like lightning bolts, and his hips look like they disconnect from his lower half when he changes direction. Hill's twitched up, so he can really mirror those intricate routes.
Davis, who I labeled "The Practice Squad Julio Jones" last year, is back. And it feels good. To summarize what Davis brings to the field -- he's 6-3 and 210 pounds and had a combine performance in 2018 nearly identical to Jones' in 2011. Yeah, that freaky. He suffered a bad knee injury in his rookie season and was lost for the year after an encouraging camp. He then lived on the Washington then Eagles practice squads and most recently was waived/injured by Philadelphia. I was bummed and thought it might be the end of the road for Davis, given the injuries. Now he's back, and the Raiders have injuries of their own at receiver.
Of course, Sullivan didn't receive many targets in 2019 at LSU given the presence of Ja'Marr Chase, Justin Jefferson, and Clyde Edwards-Helaire on the roster. He's a fine candidate to be a better pro than he was a college player because of his size/speed combination and the fact he's playing with Russell Wilson, probably the best deep-ball thrower in the NFL. Sullivan blew away everyone at the Senior Bowl by continually winning down the field then ran 4.66 at 6-5 and 248 pounds at the combine. There's not much nuance to his game right now, but Sullivan is magnificently long -- 35 3/8-inch arms -- and can really run.
J.R. Reed, S, Rams
Reed has NFL bloodlines -- his dad Jake Reed was Cris Carter's sidekick for a period in Minnesota -- and the former Georgia safety has similar speed when ranging from the deep middle in coverage. He intercepted five passes and broke up 14 more in three years with the Bulldogs and is a big safety at 6-1, 202. There's not one area in which he particularly excels. Reed's specialty is that he's extremely well-rounded in all phases of the game.