I know how you’re feeling. You need a pick-me-up. We all do. The calamity of year that has been 2020 has shaken us to our collective core, and I’m here to help. You’ve clicked on the first Practice Squad Power Rankings of the year, and I hope returning patrons couldn’t click the link fast enough. For those who never ventured to this piece during its inaugural season last year, I hope you’ve arrived because you simply couldn’t believe this article existed on the internet and leave having been delightfully entertained and informed in a way you never thought possible.

It’s a godsend that football is back. And I’m immensely grateful I get to mine deep into scouting notebooks past to engineer these rankings every week. 

Now let’s get to the specifics. 

Of course COVID-19 has thrown a wrench into everybody’s plans, including the Practice Squad Power Rankings (PSPR). If you haven’t heard, practice squads expanded to 16 players this year, and every team can have as many as six “veterans” on it, players with no limitations as to their number of accrued seasons in the NFL. 

After hours spent deciding how I should cater the PSPR to the rule changes, I decided I’m not going to feature those veterans. Telling you that Josh McCown is a good player by practice-squad standards was, of course, not the foundational premise of the PSPR. And, yes, he’s on the Eagles’ practice squad right now. 

Pete Prisco, R.J. White, SportsLine’s Kenny White and host Will Brinson make their picks agains the spread in Week 1 games on the Pick Six Podcast; listen below and be sure to subscribe for daily NFL goodness.

Therefore, to maintaining the integrity of PSPR, I’ll just be including practice squaders 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. 

I’ll again keep an official tally of those who get elevated to 53-man rosters — also known as getting The Call — after 14 players were called up a grand total of 17 times in 2019. They’re immediately referred to as alumni, by the way.

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. 

Here’s to better days ahead in 2020, a fascinating football season, and a joyous return of the Practice Squad Power Rankings. 

Jennings almost cracked my Top 100 in the 2020 class (No. 105). While not especially fast or twitchy, during his career at Tennessee, Jennings had defenders bounce off him like Bo Jackson on Tecmo Super Bowl. According to Pro Football Focus’ Draft Guide, he led the class with 30 forced missed tackles on 59 receptions in 2019, an absurd, running-back type rate. At 6-3 and 215 pounds, Jennings is a moose. And he’s in Kyle Shanahan’s scheme, the most YAC-predicated in all of football. Given San Francisco’s injuries at receiver, I’m surprised Jennings isn’t on the 53-man roster already.  

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. 

3. Marcell Ateman, WR, Raiders

To date, Ateman has been on the field for 511 snaps across two seasons in his NFL career and has 20 grabs for 270 yards and a touchdown. While he’s unlikely to play much if Las Vegas’ receivers stay healthy, Ateman’s produced when given the opportunity and brings a big-play element to the field not because of his speed but because of his gigantic catch radius at nearly 6-foot-5. 

4. Antoine Brooks, S, Steelers

Brooks 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, will make plays in coverage at the short-to-intermediate level and is a sure tackler. He has the athleticism to sift through the traffic to get the ball carrier too. 

5. Prince Tega Wanogho, OT, Eagles

Early in the 2020 pre-draft process, there was early-round buzz for Wanogho. Injuries led to a precipitous fall to the sixth round, but the tools are there for the Nigeria-born former Auburn star to ultimately be the bookend tackle to Andre Dillard in Philadelphia, a club that’s been outstanding at the tackle positions for a while now. Wanogho plays with requisite knee bend, so he’s not easily fork-lifted by smaller rushers, and he’s explosive off the snap and in the screen game. With better punch timing and added weight, he can be a consistent pass-protecting tackle in the NFL. This season, he’d mostly be useful getting to the second level in the run game.

6. Robert Foster, WR, Packers

Foster’s an enigma. Barely produces at Alabama, but runs 4.41 at nearly 6-2 and 198 pounds. Makes the Bills’ roster as an undrafted free agent but hardly plays in his first two months of his rookie season in 2018. Then? He registers 25 catches for 511 yards (20.4 yards per) with three scores and looks like the future No. 1 in Buffalo. In his sophomore campaign, injuries keep him off the field, as they do John Brown and Cole Beasley. Foster had three catches for 64 yards last season. Three catches. That’s it! With Stefon Diggs and rookie Gabriel Davis, who pieced together an awesome summer, the Bills released Foster, and the Packers grabbed him off waivers. If healthy, Foster has the size and pure speed to be a deep-play specialist with Aaron Rodgers. 

Fields is a bit of a mystery too, because he was barely a part-time player during his career at Clemson yet flashed when he got onto the field for the Tigers. He looked the part at the Senior Bowl in 2019, ran 4.37 at a close to 5-10 and 192 pounds. His twitch is undeniable to click-and-close on short routes or follow when receivers completely change directions. As a rookie, Fields played just six snaps, but he has natural talent to be a versatile inside-outside cornerback. There’s plenty of youth in Minnesota’s secondary now after the team heavily invested there in the draft. 

Hill’s press-man experience should get him on the field in his rookie season at some point, although he lacks imposing size and length at 5-10 and 190 pounds with short arms. He gets grabby when trying to run with speedsters down the field, and refs will have a field day with his over-aggressiveness. However, Hill’s feet hit the ground like lightning bolts, and his hips look like they disconnect from his lower half when he changes direction. Hill’s twitched up, so he can really mirror those intricate routes. 

9. 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. 

10. Javaris Davis, CB, Dolphins

Davis is the cousin of Vernon Davis and Vontae Davis and the family genetics were on display once again when Javaris ran the 40-yard dash at 4.38 at the combine this year. He’s small at 5-8 and 183 pounds. He’s faster than he is quick and plays larger than his size because of quality leaping skills. While mostly an outside cornerback at Auburn, Davis has just enough athleticism to bump down into the slot if needed. Miami has Byron Jones, Xavien Howard, and used a first-round pick on Davis’ teammate, Noah Igbinoghene. But Davis’ downfield speed and range as a tackler could lead to him eventually getting on the field.

Honorable Mention

Derrek Tuszka, EDGE, Broncos

It may have been just by chance or due to the new schedule, but there weren’t many outstanding combine performances in late February this year, particularly at the edge-rusher spot. Tuszka stood out. At 6-4 and 251 pounds, he blazed in the three-cone drill with a time of 6.87. At North Dakota State, that bend was evident around the corner, and, coupled with a nice arsenal of pass-rushing moves, catalyzed his senior year with 13.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss. He needs to get significantly stronger. That’s it. Tuszka profiles as a developmental type who will eventually contribute in a flashy way.

Rodney Clemons, S, Chiefs

Clemons was a late watch for me and instantly found himself inside my Top 175. Talk about coverage range and ball skill as a safety, Clemons has both, and they were on full display in a very productive career at SMU. After three interceptions and 18 pass breakups in his first three year with the Mustangs, Clemons hauled in four picks and defended nine passes as a senior. In my notes I wrote “keenly aware of route concepts and where next progression may be, so he routinely finds the football.” 

Stanley Morgan, WR, Bengals 

Morgan was a mainstay on the PSPR last year and has three catches for 18 yards on his NFL resume. In short, he hardly played as a rookie. At Nebraska, it was impossible finding a game in which Morgan didn’t pop. His receptions and receiving-yard total increased in all four seasons with the Huskers, and he rocked the agility drills at the combine. He’s a wiry-framed running back with the football in his hands in space. 

Lamar Jackson, CB, Jets 

Jackson’s somewhat of a throwback outside cornerback at 6-2 and 208 pounds with tentacles for arms. Due to his size, Jackson’s not going to glide with quick receivers at any level of the field. But he can demolish them at the line of scrimmage, and he’s a good enough athlete to hold up on the outside in a press-heavy scheme. In his last two seasons at Nebraska, he knocked away 19 passes and snagged five picks. I could see Gregg Williams giving Jackson an opportunity in 2020. 

Stephen Sullivan, TE, Seahawks

Of course Sullivan didn’t receive many targets in 2019 at LSU given the presence of Ja’Marr Chase, Justin Jefferson, 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. 

Ron’Dell Carter, EDGE, Cowboys 

Carter was one of the final prospects I watched in the 2020 class, and he left a strong impression with good suddenness, legitimate speed-to-power conversion, and a few pass-rushing moves. The James Madison product had 27, yes 27, tackles for loss in 2019 to go along with 12 sacks. His game exudes power and hustle. Could it take time for him to acclimate to dealing with bigger, stronger tackles than what he faced in college? Sure. But the 6-3, 269-pound rock of an edge rusher can make an impact in the NFL.  


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