It's not flashy. The components of it aren't well-known among many hardcore football fans. But as the NFL season progresses and injuries mount across the league, the practice squad becomes more and more important.
So let's get out in front of this. It's time for practice squad power rankings, a list of the 10 best players -- with two honorable mention nods -- currently on practice squads in the NFL. If you want, you can think of this as the core-of-the-Earth deep sleeper list for your fantasy team. I'm compiling this list because, as a draft analyst, some of my former draft crushes have slipped through the cracks.
I'll update these rankings throughout the season, as more players move onto practice squads while some get the call up to the 53-man roster. Let's get to the Week 1 rankings.
1. Kyle Sloter, QB, Cardinals
In the preseason, the 6-foot-5, 217-pound former undrafted free agent quarterback from Northern Colorado completed 76.5% of his throws at a hefty 8.7 yards per attempt with four touchdowns and one interception. He flashed plenty of velocity of his throws -- especially at the intermediate levels -- good pocket patience, and impressive throw-on-the-run ability in the Vikings' play-action bootleg heavy attack. Last preseason, his completion percentage was 73.0, and he threw four touchdowns without a pick.
Along with what he's displayed in the preseason, at the most important position on the field, at his size, with his athleticism, and a quick, snappy release, Sloter should be the most sought after practice squader in the NFL.
2. Vincent Taylor, DT, Bills
Taylor was a sixth-round pick of the Dolphins in 2017 out of Oklahoma State, and in his final two years with the Cowboys, he had 12 sacks and 23 tackles for loss. At the combine, the 6-3, 304-pound interior defensive lineman tested solidly across the board at the combine with a 40-yard dash, broad jump, and three-cone drill all above the 56th percentile at the position. Taylor made his name as a run defender initially but showcased good hand use and a high motor as a pass rusher as well.
While playing a limited role in Miami in his first two seasons with the team, Taylor was very efficient. He recorded four tackles for loss, two sacks, and 45 total tackles on 185 snaps as a rookie and 204 snaps in 2018. He received "high-quality" grades of 84.1 and 76.3 respectively in 2017 and 2018 from Pro Football Focus.
3. Keelan Doss, WR, Jaguars
Doss was outstanding in the preseason for the Raiders after going undrafted out of UC-Davis. He had 17 receptions for 161 yards and a touchdown. He just missed out on my Top 200 Big Board -- No. 201 -- and was my No. 31 wide receiver. In college, the 6-2, 211-pound Doss was a jump-ball wizard, often making circus catches on throws well outside his frame against lesser competition.
But his competition proved to not be the reason Doss starred as a rebounder in college, as he made an assortment of difficult grabs this summer in Oakland. While not a burner, Doss has good acceleration off the line and down the field for his size and the twitch to make sharp cuts to create separation. I'll be surprised if he doesn't see the field, for some team, this regular season.
4. Jeremy Reaves, S, Redskins
Reaves was everywhere for the Redskins in the preseason, and his collegiate career at South Alabama foreshadowed his multi-faceted skills at the safety position. Theon my 2018 Big Board -- and No. 13 safety -- went undrafted after registering at least 85 tackles in each of his final three years with a grand total of eight picks, eight forced fumbles, and 22 pass breakups in those seasons.
Despite a smaller-ish frame and average-at-best athletic ability, Reaves finds the football thanks to high-caliber instincts on the back end, and he's a willing, reliable run defender.
5. Duke Williams, WR, Bills
You may remember Williams from his time as a star wideout at Auburn ... back in 2014. He and Sammie Coates were the primary downfield targets for Nick Marshall. Williams was dismissed from the Tigers football team in 2015 for violating team rules and went undrafted after running 4.72 at the combine at 6-2, and 229 pounds. His agility-drill times were very poor, too.
He then went the CFL route and led the league in receiving yards in 2018. After a strong albeit unspectacular training camp with the Bills, Williams showed out in the preseason with eight catches for 71 yards with two impressive scores in which he was able to showcase his rebounding ability. Williams is the epitome of a big-bodied target who knows how to shield defenders with his body and has strong hands.
6. Marcell Ateman, WR, Raiders
Ateman was picked in the seventh round of the 2018 Draft, and I thought he should've been picked much higher. Ateman was my No. 38 overall prospect and No. 4 wide receiver. While maybe I was a bit too high on him, Ateman averaged nearly 20 yards per reception and finished with over 1,110 yards in his senior season at Oklahoma State in 2017, although that accounted for just 22.8% of the Cowboys' passing offense that year.
At the combine, the 6-4 Ateman didn't test well, running 4.62 in the 40 and finishing with agility-drill times that didn't reach the 41st percentile at the position. He was definitely a "trust the tape" prospect for me, as he was a super-steady ball skills master in college. However, Ateman got the practice squad call up last season and flashed. He had 15 receptions for 154 yards and a touchdown on just 370 snaps. In the 2019 preseason, he had eight receptions for 101 yards. Ateman proved last year he can make an impact in the regular season and be, at the very least, a low-end No. 3 wideout in this league right now.
7. Jason Cabinda, LB, Lions
Cabinda averaged 89 tackles, 5.6 tackles for loss, 3.6 pass breakups and 2.3 sacks over his final three seasons at Penn State. While he didn't run the 40 during the pre-draft process, he didn't appear to be a super-fast linebacker but was always around the football due to quick processing skills and an always humming motor. He displayed refined block-defeating skills with the Nittany Lions and was not a liability in coverage.
After going undrafted last year, my No. 120 overall prospect in 2018 class signed with the Raiders and saw the field late in the season. He didn't dazzle but fared well on the inside, finishing with 21 total tackles and a "high quality" PFF grade of 73.6 on his 164 defensive snaps. In the 2019 preseason, Cabinda missed some tackles, which likely led to his release by the Raiders, but he has the mental ability and polished skills to sift through traffic to be a quality backup at the middle linebacker position.
8. Stanley Morgan, WR, Bengals
Morgan was my led all Big Ten receivers in downfield receiving yards (535) in 2018 and led all draft-eligible Big 10 receivers with plays of 20-plus yards (23), one more than second-round pick Parris Campbell., and my No. 16 wide receiver. In my final Big Board, I wrote this about him: "Morgan has a very well-rounded game and is a running back after the catch. He plays at 100 mph." Per PFF, he
At 6-0 and 202 pounds at the combine, the former Nebraska star ran a somewhat disappointing 4.53 in the 40. But all the rest of the on-field drills (vertical, broad jump, three cone, and short shuttle) were very good, as none of his results were below the 73rd percentile at the position. Morgan's statistics improved each year in college, and he finished by accounting for 33.8% of the Huskers' receiving yards. His arrow is still pointing up. He did have two drops in the preseason but reeled in five of eight targets for 63 yards in two games. While Morgan doesn't wow in any way, he's a swift mover, impressive after the catch, deceptively fast down the field, and can go up and high point the football.
9. Antoine Wesley, WR, Ravens
Wesley was a clear redshirt candidate, simply because of his spindly frame. At the combine, he measured in at just over 6-4 and 206 pounds. At Texas Tech, Wesley was as natural of a hands-catcher as I scouted in this past year's draft class. I'm serious. And with incredibly long 34-inch arms, mitts just under 10 inches, and a 37-inch vertical, Wesley boasts a mammoth catch radius. He had over 1,400 yards and accounted for a solid 33.3% of Texas Tech's receiving yards in 2018.
The former Red Raider had three catches for 60 yards in the preseason, and I view him on a similar track to that of one of Baltimore's fourth-round picks in 2018, Jaleel Scott, a lanky, ball-skills specialist who took advantage of his redshirt year (due to injury) and got stronger heading into Year 2. Scott looked the part in exhibition games this summer, as he lead the Ravens in receiving. Wesley can be that type of matchup-problem wideout down the road.
10. Jazz Ferguson, WR, Seahawks
Athletically and stylistically, Ferguson is D.K. Metcalf Lite. At nearly 6-5 and 227 pounds, he ran 4.45 and had a 37-inch vertical but had epically slow agility-drill times. He was my No. 195 overall prospect and No. 30 wideout in the 2019 class.
The LSU transfer unsurprisingly dominated at Northwestern State in 2018 and looked the part of a big, linear target with the Seahawks in the preseason, as he led the team in receptions (7) and receiving yards (119) with one touchdown. Ferguson is a fast, long-strider with above-the-rim ball skills. In the right role on the right team, he can be a dangerous target.
ELIJAH HOLYFIELD, RB, PANTHERS: Holyfield was a classic "plays faster than he timed" prospect. At Georgia, finally in a full-time role after Nick Chubb and Sony Michel departed to the NFL, his feet were impossibly light, and his vision was outstanding. His contact balance was consistent each week too. That led to him being my No. 2 back in the 2019 class ... before the combine. Holyfield tanked there. At a little over 5-10 and a bulky 217 pounds, he ran 4.78 and had a vertical jump in the 4th percentile at the running back position.
Those figures were the catalyst for him going undrafted, and while he did lose the No. 3 ball-carrier battle to Reggie Bonnafon in the preseason, Holyfield averaged a respectable 4.0 yards per carry on his 20 rushes. More importantly, he finished second only to Bonnafon among Carolina running backs in yards after contact per rush at a hefty 3.25, per Pro Football Focus. Holyfield is a natural runner who sees blocks before they're made, and he has a nice blend of quickness and functional power to be a contributing No. 3 running back in the NFL, although he won't run away from anyone in the open field.