At 6-foot-5 and an impossibly shredded 263 pounds, Danielle Hunter competes with Myles Garrett as the most physically intimidating edge rusher in the NFL. Unfortunately for Hunter, after missing the entire 2020 season with a neck injury, he's now done for the remainder of the 2021 season with a torn pectoral muscle.
And while the Vikings are reeling, all is not yet lost. At 3-4, they're just a half game out of the final playoff spot in the NFC. But they're going to need some reinforcements to overachieve up front to maintain their No. 4 ranking in Football Outsiders' defensive DVOA. Given Kirk Cousins' limitations, Minnesota HAS to be super-stingy defensively to be a playoff team.
Speaking of overachievers -- Kenny Willekes exemplifies the term. The Vikings second-year edge rusher was a 0-star recruit when, heck, everybody gets a star as a recruit these days, walked on the Michigan State football team and morphed into a serious, three-year contributor. As a junior, Willekes was named the Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year and earned first-team All-Big Ten honors in his final two seasons in East Lansing.
To this day, I have no clue how or why he lasted until the seventh round of the 2020 NFL Draft. Maybe the shorter-than-ideal arms? Not quite sure. Dude can rush the passer in a multitude of ways.
Willekes was born an overachiever. And he'll have to overachieve again, because one single person cannot replace the productivity and psychological advantage over the opponent Hunter provides the Vikings. But Willekes, now patiently residing on Minnesota's practice squad, can be part of the Hunter contingency plan.
He tested like an above-average athlete at the 2020 combine and has legitimate defensive end size at 6-3 and 264 pounds. He played in Week 8 and, unsurprisingly, registered a pressure of Cowboys backup Cooper Rush.
I'm asking for the Vikings to give this man a shot, and really, they may not have many other options at the position at this point.
Heading into the weekend, THE CALL -- call-ups from The PSPR list -- remains at five. I hate stagnancy. Derrek Tuszka in Pittsburgh. Hjalte Froholdt from Houston to Cleveland. Cam Lewis with the Bills. Kenny Robinson and James Wiggins a few weeks ago. 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.
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. Kenny Willekes, EDGE, Vikings
Willekes was amazingly productive at Michigan State, and the high-energy rusher with a well-built arsenals of pass-rushing moves generated four pressures on 38 pass-rushing snaps in the preseason. He was outstanding against the Colts.
This is a no-brainer for Minnesota. Get him back on the field, Zimm.
2. Phil Haynes, OG, Seahawks
Haynes was Seattle's fourth-round pick in 2019, and after beginning his rookie season on PUP due to a sports hernia surgery, he was thrust onto the field in the Seahawks' wild-card round win over the Eagles in Philadelphia. And he looked solid! He spent most of last season on IR with another injury, but he's healthy now and was dominant -- mostly against backups -- in the preseason. Plus, he tested like a highly explosive guard prospect at the combine.
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. 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.
5. 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. The Bears have two high-end edge players in Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn. But Snowden can be a hybrid overhang player to create even more mismatches for Chicago's defense.
6. Cam Lewis, CB, Bills
The Bills grabbed Lewis from nearby University at Buffalo during the undrafted free agency frenzy immediately following the 2019 draft. And he's quietly gone about his business in two preseasons by allowing just 91 yards on 10 receptions, and he's clung to a practice-squad spot in Buffalo because he's a super-steady tackler in space. Head coach Sean McDermott loves that from his corners.
7. 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?
8. 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.
9. Ron'Dell Carter, EDGE, Cardinals
With J.J. Watt out for the monstrous Week 8 outing, why didn't Arizona give Carter a shout? I know, they don't play the exact same positions, but the Cardinals needed as many pass-rushing bodies as they could get for their matchup against Aaron Rodgers. The Call was never made, and, Arizona lost. SMH. Carter has the girth, leverage, burst, and just enough pass-rush moves to be a productive contributor Arizona. I'm very high on him.
10. Spencer Brown, RB, Panthers
Brown had a long and illustrious career at UAB. He brought a solid 4.7 yards-per-carry average in 858 carries across four seasons into the NFL. He's a hybrid-type back who's not incredibly shifty nor overwhelmingly powerful, but there's some juice in his lower half and he can occasionally make tackle attempts look extremely weak.
Moore is a mauler with a natural center of gravity offensive line coaches dream about during REM sleep. He was just under 6-2 and 330 pounds at his pro day before the draft. After a dazzling career at Grambling State, Moore got a Senior Bowl invite and thrived in Mobile. He's not going to be the most athletic blocker if you're running a zone scheme, but he's quick enough off the ball to be effective on gap runs, and he's very close to being NFL strong already. Plus, no defensive tackle is going to get up and underneath him to drive him into the quarterback.
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.
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.
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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