After former lightning rod owner Al Davis built the team into an AFL power in the 1960s with unwavering dedication to roster improvement and speed, the Raiders only had four losing seasons from 1970 to 1995 -- four! -- and won three Super Bowls.
Heck, a collection of my friends' dads, though Western New York natives, adore the Raiders after watching those rough and tumble, wildly successful Raiders 1970s and 1980s as kids. Well into the 1990s, the Raiders hat became a symbol of the West Coast rap movement. And now, the team has played its football in three different cities.
It's a distinguished organization that, since its last Super Bowl appearance at the end of the 2002 season, has operated close to as poorly as any other in professional football, with just two winning seasons and now 13 head coaches in that span.
I can't possibly predict that this interim head coach, Antonio Pierce, is the franchise savior. And frankly, it's going to take more than one employee to right the ship. But Pierce is certainly someone who knows and understands what the Silver and Black mean to the NFL, he proved as much in his introductory pressure conference: "The short story is I grew up in Compton, California. I was born a Raider... I was born this way." And that's just one snippet from a presser loaded with Pierce detailing his long-time allegiance to the Raiders.
Now as the head coach, with interim GM Champ Kelly, Pierce has one crack at pointing the arrow upward for this organization. He started by signing Jaylon Smith off the Saints practice squad. He can continue by giving multiple practice-squadders already in Las Vegas an opportunity.
Matthew Butler was a fifth-round pick in 2022 who, along the defensive line, flashed at times during the preseason but has hardly played in a regular-season game as a member of the Raiders. Then there's Janarius Robinson, the ideal long-term developmental type who should get a long audition for the remainder of the 2023 campaign.
A fourth-round pick by the Vikings in 2021, Robinson is a long, lengthy, athletic defensive end who registered 11 pressures on 91 pass-rush snaps this preseason with the Eagles. Maxx Crosby is an absolute monster -- and All-Pro in my eyes -- but he can't do it alone. He needs more help than just Malcolm Koonce across from him.
Lastly, it's time to inject some youth to the backfield. The run-game workload is incredibly Josh Jacobs dependent, and Sincere McCormick is waiting patiently on the practice squad after a dynamic career at UT-San Antonio that featured 66 touchdowns and a 5.4 career yards-per-carry average in three seasons for the Roadrunners.
Shake things up, Antonio!
Along with my push for the Raiders to make these elevations at the start of a new chapter in franchise history, we must pay homage to Practice Squad Power Ranking alums like Saints TE Juwan Johnson, 49ers wideout Jauan Jennings, Ravens cornerback/safety Ar'Darius Washington, Buccaneers wideout Deven Thompkins, Seahawks guard Phil Haynes, Cardinals center Hjalte Froholdt, and Giants receiver Isaiah Hodgins (among many others) who have all graduated to become important mainstays on their clubs' respective 53-man rosters and contribute in their own ways each weekend.
The CUT (Call Up Tracker) has now reached eight after the Steelers snagged Darius Rush from the Chiefs practice squad. 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.
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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.
10. Sincere McCormick, RB, Raiders
McCormick was THAT DUDE on some super-fun UTSA teams over the past few seasons, and while he didn't test particularly well at the combine, at 5-foot-9 and over 200 pounds, he's cannon-ball of a back with scat-back agility to leave defenders whiffing at air in space. He's the exact type of spark plug the Raiders ground game could use when giving Jacobs a breather.
At 5-11 and 190 pounds, Melton has 4.34 speed and had a vertical that placed him in the 80th percentile among receivers at the combine since 1999. The dude is an electric athlete and demonstrated fine vision and cutting skills on jet sweeps and screens in college. He stretched the field vertically at Rutgers too.
8. Matthew Butler, DT, Raiders
Butler is that high-energy defensive lineman who can align anywhere and push the pocket. Is he going to be a 10-sack guy? No, of course not. But his length and speed-to-power conversion are legitimately impressive. He needs to be part of the Raiders rebuilding process up front on defense.
7. 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 6-2 and 260 pounds and went undrafted in 2021. Since then, he's rocked in three-consecutive preseasons with eight pressures in each of them. 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.
6. Matt Landers, WR, Panthers
Carolina needs all the receiving reinforcements it can get, especially after the Laviska Shenault injury. Adam Thielen can't carry the passing offense every week like he has for most of the season. Landers is a field-stretcher with enough power through press coverage to combat physicality at the line. Call him up, Frank.
5. Tyreke Smith, EDGE, Seahawks
Smith suffered an injury in August of his rookie year after being selected in the fifth round by the Seahawks out of Ohio State. He's a decently long, chiseled advanced rusher -- like most are these days from the Buckeyes program.
Problems with drops curtailed Smith's chance to succeed with the team that drafted him, the Panthers. But he rarely has problems getting open because of his flexibility and sharp change-of-direction skills. He has rather large hands for his smaller frame, which makes me believe drops would be concentration-related, which is fixable. Tennessee is really hurting for another receiver to step up beyond DeAndre Hopkins -- Smith deserves an opportunity.
3. Tariq Castro-Fields, CB, Commanders
Castro-Fields was a key member on some Penn State defenses that featured the likes of Micah Parsons, Joey Porter Jr., Jaquan Brisker and many other NFLers. At over 6-foot and around 200 pounds with 4.38 speed, Castro-Fields held his own against the likes of Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson. His collegiate experience readied him for an opportunity in the NFL.
2. Quincy Roche, EDGE, Vikings
Roche was on the draft radar after his transfer from Temple to Miami and subsequent productive season with the Hurricanes in 2020, when he still generated 36 pressures on 323 pass-rush snaps against elevated competition. While a smaller rusher without a flashy combine workout to point to, Roche wins with a Pro Bowl amount of pass-rush moves and insane flexibility. He pressured the quarterback five times in 16 opportunities in his final preseason showing for the Steelers this summer.
1. Janarius Robinson, EDGE, Raiders
Beyond the intimidating stature of Robinson, he had a memorably explosive pro day workout with a 40-yard dash and broad jump in the 81st and 80th percentile respectively. His agility drills weren't as impressive, but this is an up-the-field outside rusher who looked like an NFL defensive end in college. He was credited with a pressure on 11 of his 91 pass-rush snaps this preseason with the Vikings.
Williams is a classic, big-bodied, physical boundary wideout who saw a plethora of future NFL cornerbacks in the SEC while at Auburn. While he did flame out at Denver -- with brutal quarterback play there, I must add -- he had seven grabs for 109 yards in the preseason with Jacksonville this August and registered 10 catches for 104 yards with a score with the Broncos in three exhibition games a year ago.
I vividly recall scouting Ojemudia at Iowa, and he felt like the next in an incredibly long line of well-coached future NFL starters from that program. While he never fully materialized into that in Denver, his rookie season wasn't a total waste -- 62 tackles and six pass breakups -- he was injured all last season. In a zone-based role, Ojemudia can return to his Hawkeye roots as a playmaker. At Iowa, he defended 15 passes and had six interceptions in his final two seasons.
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.
DeWayne McBride, RB, Vikings
After the Cam Akers trade, I lost all hope for McBride being elevated to the Vikings 53-man roster, which, to me, could still use a jolt of fresh rushing talent. McBride isn't going to hit 90-yard touchdowns, but there are only a select few legitimate game-breakers at the running back position in today's NFL. He's naturally elusive with light feet and sturdy contact balance.
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.