Hello, friends. [gentle piano plays]. And welcome to Week 10 of the Practice Squad Power Rankings. [gentle piano continues].
This PSPR has become a tradition unlikely any other, a majestic voyage into the deepest depths of NFL rosters to choose members in hopes of witnessing triumph from some of them on a Sunday afternoon. From Duke Williams' miraculous ascension from the CFL to scoring a game-winning touchdown for the Bills last season to aptly named Hercules Mata'afa registering seven quarterback pressures the last two weeks for the Vikings, the PSPR is often the catapult from obscurity relative unknowns need to prove their value exceeds far beyond the practice field.
We're in for a glorious week in the NFL with Josh Allen vs. Kyler Murray, Justin Herbert vs. Tua Tagovailoa, the Seahawks and Rams clashing for NFC West supremacy as part of a six-game masterpiece in the 4 p.m. ET time slot that's bound to spark fireworks across the NFL landscape.
That's about as good as I can pay homage to the G.O.A.T. Jim Nantz during Masters week.
And before you get strapped in for what will be an epic, life-defining weekend of sports with Tiger Woods trying to win his sixth green jacket and an outstanding slate in the NFL, let me provide all my egg salad-eating patrons with some PSPR updates and three new members.
Somehow, I had missed three last-minute call-ups before Week 8, meaning the one-week call-up record is actually eight, not five as I wrote a week ago [happily takes a tiny bite of a cracker with pimento cheese]. Before Week 9, four members received The Call. We're cruising along like Tiger on the back nine in '97 when he ultimately shot 30 en route to his earth-shattering 12-shot victory.
For those keeping score at home, the PSPR tracker reads 26 call-ups, and we very well could see another wave of call-ups over the weekend.
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. Kalen Ballage, RB, Chargers
Oh what do you know -- Ballage got The Call in Week 9 and was a stud against the Raiders for Los Angeles. Another failed Adam Gase project who's found greener pastures elsewhere. He toted the rock 15 times, accumulated 69 yards on the ground with a score and snagged two targets for 15 yards. The guy is a big, freaky back who can play. Just like I told you a few weeks ago when he was the PSPR cover guy.
2. Dane Jackson, CB, Bills
Jackson has now appeared in each of the last three games for the Bills -- two on defense, one solely on special teams -- and has fared well. He should've been a PSPR member a lot earlier than this. After all, he was my No. 92 overall prospect in the 2020 class and my 16th cornerback. In Week 7, as a practice squad call-up against a beleaguered Jets team, Jackson had two pass breakups and an interception on a savvy zone sink near the sideline that fooled Sam Darnold. Yes, I know. This is a bit of a cherry-pick. But Jackson was a favorite of mine as a prospect and crushed his time at the Senior Bowl. While not a freaky, super-fast athlete for the cornerback spot, he plays a tick faster due to his instincts and has high-level awareness and ball skills when the pass is arriving.
3. Antoine Brooks, S, Steelers
In Week 9, Brooks received his first call-up of the season but only appeared on special teams. 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 and inserting on defense. 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 to the ball carrier too.
4. Hakeem Butler, TE, Eagles
Mr. Butler is back on the Eagles practice squad after two weeks on the 53-man roster and just one target to show for it. He's a tight end now, so there should be better matchups for him against linebackers and safeties inside of ultra-twitchy corners who can stay in his hip pocket. Philadelphia's getting healthier now at receiver and tight end, but I still believe Butler can make plays after the catch and when Carson Wentz simply throws it up to him.
5. 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.
6. Hercules Mata'afa, DL/EDGE, Vikings
A contender for the best name for a defensive player in the NFL, Mata'afa was a fascinating prospect and is still an intriguing player residing on Minnesota's practice squad right now. Regardless of where Minnesota aligns him before the snap, Mata'afa has the juice to threaten the foot quickness of offensive linemen.
7. Geno Stone S, Ravens
Stone was a difficult evaluation this past draft season because his film showed a savvy zone-based defensive back with impressive range and playmaking ability in coverage and as a box defender. Then, at 5-10 and 207 pounds at the combine, he had a dreadful performance across the board. His best percentile finish among safeties in officially recorded combine history was 27th, a 4.62 time in the 40-yard dash. Unsurprisingly, Stone lasted until the seventh round. He's yet to see the field for Baltimore, but his name just sounds like a good Ravens safety, doesn't it? Stone plays faster and more explosive than his combine indicates, anyway.
8. Juwan Johnson, WR, Saints
Johnson has a fascinating story. 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 receiver in New Orleans.
9. Saquan Hampton, S, Jets
After Saquon Barkley went No. 2 overall to the Giants in 2018 another Saquan went No. 177 overall to the Saints. Hampton enjoyed a productive career as a do-everything safety at Rutgers that largely went unnoticed because it coincided with the program's entry into the Big 10. He had 13 pass breakups, three picks and 64 tackles in his final season with the Scarlet Knights before rocking at the 2019 Senior Bowl en route to winning Player of the Week down in Mobile, Alabama. Then, at the combine, he ran 4.48 at just over 6-1 and 207 pounds. He deserves a shot on the Jets defense down the stretch.
10. Sewo Olonilua, RB, Cowboys
Zeke Elliott should be a little healthier now, and Tony Pollard proved he can shoulder the load in Dallas' lead back isn't 100%, but I'm throwing Olonilua here because he's a large, athletic back who deserves some burn down the stretch for the Cowboys. At 6-3 and 232 pounds, he had a vertical in the 70th percentile and a broad jump in the 80th percentile at the combine. While never a star at TCU, he demonstrated the ability to make defenders miss well for a big back when he wasn't running through them. I'd like to see him be the hammer to lighten the workload for Elliott over the next two months.
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. Scott is nearly 6-5 and 218 pounds and excels when he needs to extend to make a catch outside his frame.
Brown wasn't in my Top 150 back in 2018, because the more tape I watched, the less impressed I was with Brown. But I'm including him in this week's PSPR because I remember he was a five-star recruit -- the top defensive tackle in the country in 2014 -- and he had strong practice sessions at the 2018 Senior Bowl. And scouts and GMs love strong showings at the Senior Bowl. Brown didn't test well at the combine despite carrying the "raw athlete" label, but there is some pop in his hands and he plays quicker through a gap than his workout numbers indicate.
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 and saw his first action -- albeit very limited -- in Buffalo's Week 7 win over the Jets. But no targets.
Motley was my No. 249 prospect on my 2020 Big Board, and while I obviously didn't love him as a prospect, I felt he deserved to be included in my Top 250. Truthfully, he was a very difficult evaluation. All Motley did was make plays on an otherwise brutal Oklahoma defense in his career with the Sooners. He registered 33 pass breakups over his last three seasons in Norman and snagged six picks. In 2019, he forced five fumbles. Incredible. But he's small and tested very poorly at the Oklahoma Pro Day. I don't know if he has the physical tools to contribute on a steady basis in the NFL. But I know Motley's instincts and ball skills can translate.
Apparently, in the most Seahawks move ever, Sullivan is practicing as a defensive end and tight end in Seattle. Of course, Sullivan didn't receive many targets in 2019 at LSU given the presence of Ja'Marr Chase, Justin Jefferson, Terrace Marshall, 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.