We use the term "freak" often when describing the most athletic NFL players. But, really, in the grand scheme of things, every player to wear an NFL uniform is a physical freak.
And as a draft analyst, I have a close connection to this fact because every year I watch a plethora of college players with standout strength, speed, leaping ability, and body control ultimately look average once they reach the pro ranks. It's an insane phenomenon I feel our football-watching society doesn't fully grasp.
I liken it to when, recently, a bunch of dudebros challenged retired NBA journeyman Brian Scalabrine to a game of 1-on-1, and the 6-foot-9 forward who never averaged even 6.5 points per game in his pro career mopped the floor with every challenger. We don't realize how amazing NBA players are either.
But it's all relative right? "Freak" in the professional athlete sense is meant to describe someone considerably more athletic than his contemporaries. Even if we do understand that, we're mostly aware of the freaks who also happen to be stars. However, there are a litany of legitimate NFL freaks on every roster, even if you've never heard of them.
And that's where I come in to present to you James Wiggins, safety, Arizona Cardinals. This man spent like five decades on the draft radar -- he redshirted at Cincinnati all the way back in 2016! You know, two Olympics ago. And, speaking of freaks, I will forever marvel at the fact Wiggins was featured on Bruce Feldman's "Freaks" List three times. Yes, in 2018, 2019, and 2020. Holy. Genetics. By the way, Wiggins tore his ACL in August of 2019, missed the entire season, and still found his way onto Feldman's rundown of the most athletic specimens at the college level before his super senior year.
In 2018, before the ACL tear, Wiggins had four interceptions -- two of which were "walk-off" winners -- to go along with 54 tackles and five pass breakups. In 2020, he had a pick, six pass breakups, and 32 tackles in nine games. With his most productive season coming before a serious injury, it would've been completely normal for Wiggins to go undrafted.
But this is a certified freak we're talking about here -- the Cardinals selected him in the seventh round, No. 243 overall. Another amazing accomplishment for the former Bearcats star. He deserves a shot on the field, in a regular-season game.
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As for the Call Up Tally -- The CUT -- it is now, triumphantly sitting at one. It feels amazing. Derrek Tuszka, formerly of the Broncos and now in Pittsburgh, was smartly elevated to the Steelers' 53-man roster ahead of the club's Week 4 outing against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.
If 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 Week 1, I shouted out PSPR alum Juwan Johnson for his two-touchdown masterpiece in Week 1. Week 2's shout went to Bills defensive tackle and longtime PSPR member Justin Zimmer for his sack of Jacoby Brissett in the Bills' shutout win in Miami.
As a refresher, teams can have up to 16 players on the practice squad with up to six "veterans" on it, players with no limitations as to their number of accrued seasons in the NFL.
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." Telling you Le'Veon Bell might eventually be a useful call-up for the Ravens' run game was certainly not the fundamental intention of the PSPR.
To continue to maintain the PSPR's sterling integrity, I'll only be including practice-squaders 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. Javian Hawkins, RB, Rams
In the preseason, he accumulated 97 yards on 20 carries with a score, and three of those 20 carries went over 10 yards. And it's not as if he's only a low-volume, scat back with fantastic speed. Hawkins toted the rock 264 times at a 5.8 yards-per-carry clip in 2019 at Louisville. He plays bigger than his size.
2. 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 midround 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.
3. 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.
4. Travis Fulgham, WR, Eagles
Placing Fulgham on the practice squad is no way to treat your reigning team leader in receiving yards. But here we are. The kinda-sorta rebuilding Eagles waived Fulgham at the end of August, which was weird to say the least. Sure, they've invested heavily in young wideouts of late but, umm, Fulgham is a young wideout who made the most of his opportunity in 2020 with 539 yards and four touchdowns at more than 14 yards per grab. Do I think Fulgham is the next DeSean Jackson or Jeremy Maclin in Philly? No. He's probably not. But he's deserving of the top spot in the PSPR.
5. James Wiggins, S, Cardinals
Nothing against Deionte Thompson or Jalen Thompson, the Cardinals safeties clearly in the background of star Budda Baker, but let's get Wiggins some run, Kliff. Wiggins is a rocked-up 6-foot, 205-pounder who WAS ON THE FREAKS LIST THREE TIMES, REMEMBER?!
6. Ron'Dell Carter, EDGE, Cardinals
Carter has the girth, leverage, burst, and just enough pass-rush moves to be a productive contributor if he gets The Call in Arizona. I'm very high on him.
He's at No. 6 this week simply due to the veteran edge-rushing talent in front of him on the Cardinals' 53-man roster right now.
7. 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. Newsome looked electric on film but flopped at the North Carolina Pro Day. Then, in the offseason, he broke his collarbone. So things have gone sideways for Newsome after he stepped off the field in Chapel Hill. However, on the field, he's a slippery slot wideout with serious YAC juice who can be useful in today's separation/YAC based NFL.
8. 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.
9. 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?
10. William Bradley-King, EDGE, Washington Football Team
Bradley-King had four pressures on 40 pass-rush snaps in the preseason. That's not awesome. It's also not brutal, and the sixth-round pick made an impact against the run this summer. He also indicated his arrow is pointing up on the field in college. Bradley-King was a productive rusher at Arkansas State but transferred to Baylor, and the bright lights of the Big 12 weren't too big for him. He's a quick, relatively bendy and stocky rusher with long arms and a nice array of pass-rushing moves.
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David Moore, OG, Browns
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.
Kenny Robinson, S, Panthers
Robinson is another safety -- like Wiggins -- with a rather unusual journey story. After starring at West Virginia with seven interception in his first two seasons playing for the Mountaineers, he was expelled from the school due to an academic fraud issue, but instead of transferring, he opted to play in the XFL. Robinson to take that road so he could get paid to help pay for his mother's cancer treatments. And he had two picks in five games for the St. Louis BattleHawks. Robinson was then picked by the Panthers in the fifth round of the 2020 draft.
Hjalte Froholdt, OG, Texans
Tell me this isn't a name that sounds like a devastating guard. Froholdt was a fourth-round pick by the Patriots -- you know how Bill Belichick adores those midround blockers -- but spent his rookie season on IR after a shoulder injury in that pesky final preseason game. At Arkansas, the Denmark native was astounding. Stellar run blocking and a squeaky clean pass-protection resume. He tested like an above-average athlete at the 2019 combine, too. Froholdt can play. Just wait.
Cortez Broughton, DT, Chiefs
Broughton was a late-round pick by the Chargers in 2019, and he possesses the first-step quickness and flexibility to produce as a rotational pass-rushing specialist when called upon. He had 7.5 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss -- while playing a fair amount of his snaps out of position at defensive end -- during his final year at Cincinnati. The Chiefs smartly scooped him up after their most formidable division rival let him go this August.
Stephen Sullivan, TE, Panthers
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.
Dez Fitzpatrick, WR, Titans
Probably the NFL's most egregious subsequent decisions from the draft to cutdown day, the Titans traded up in Round 4 to pick Fitzpatrick in April, and he didn't even make the team out of camp. Now, I can't tell you exactly why that happened. But it did. Fitzpatrick has good size, four years of solid production in college, sub 4.50 speed, keen route-running ability, and he caught three passes for 58 with a touchdown in the preseason.
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