NFL: AUG 25 Preseason - Lions at Panthers
Getty Images

The Patriots are no longer the uber-efficient offensive juggernaut they were for 15 years with Tom Brady at the helm. But, really, we should've seen this coming, right? After two decades of Brady, a regression to some state of normalcy was bound to happen. 

But this New England offense hasn't just regressed back to the mean. The bottom has completely fallen out. New England is currently last in two rather key offensive metrics -- Expected Points Added Per Play and points per game. 

Earlier this week, I wrote extensively on this development, so I won't belabor it. 

Let's get PROACTIVE with the Patriots. This team desperately needs a jolt on offense. 

And what do you know? They have a dynamic, do-everything weapon twiddling his thumbs on the practice squad, rookie Malik Cunningham

Now, I, as a draft analyst, think "quarterback who had an impossibly long career at Louisville" when I first think of Cunningham. But his play at training camp and in the preseason hinted at the potential of being much more than a passer. 

In three exhibition games, he did only catch one pass and completed three others for minimal yards. But Cunningham had 39 yards and a touchdown on six totes -- 6.5 yards per -- while forcing a pair of missed tackles in the process. 

At a shade under 6-foot and not quite 200 pounds, Cunningham is rather small for the quarterback position. If he's a running back, his 4.53 in the 40 ranks in the 66th percentile and his 1.51 10-yard split ranks in the 80th percentile. Cunningham didn't run for over 3,000 yards in college by accident. He's an explosive, twitched-up athlete... which is precisely what the Patriots need at this very moment!

Remember, last year, when they gave rookie corner Marcus Jones some looks at receiver? He had four catches for 78 yards and had a long touchdown on a screen against the Bills in prime time. 

The Patriots are 100% in "there are no bad ideas" mode. Or at least should be on offense. And, anyway, elevating a rookie quarterback with running back and receiver athleticism is not a bad idea. Come on, Bill. Make the call. 

Along with my push for Cunningham to get snaps on offense in New England, we must pay homage to Practice Squad Power Ranking alums like Saints TE Juwan Johnson, 49ers wideout Jauan JenningsRavens 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 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.

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. 

Here's to an electric season here at The Practice Squad Power Rankings as we continue to carve our own niche in the internet's ever-expanding football-media industry.

10. Lonnie Phelps, EDGE, Browns

The Browns don't appear to need defensive line help whatsoever after their demolition of the Bengals offensive front to start the season. But if they do so happen to want an outside pass-rushing jolt, Phelps is waiting patiently on the practice squad. At Kansas in 2022, after amazing quarterback-disrupting productivity at Miami of Ohio, Phelps was again a menace around the corner. I love his ability to use powerful hands while bending the edge. 

9. Cam Dantzler, CB, Saints 

Dantzler provided the Vikings with encouraging play at corner in his first two seasons with the team. While he was picked on a bit in coverage, he also registered 17 pass breakups and three interceptions through his three years with the team. After an ankle injury prematurely ended his 2022, Dantzler was waived then bounced around the league this past summer. If the Saints need a reasonably reliable cornerback with NFL experience, calling up Dantzler should be a no-brainer. 

8. Shaka Heyward, LB, Bengals 

Heyward was one of the defensive pieces to a Duke program that went 9-4 in 2022. His supreme length allowed him to disrupt the football often in coverage -- six pass breakups and two interceptions -- and he was one of the more sure-tackling linebackers in the entire 2023 class. He ran 4.53 at nearly 6-foot-3 and 235 pounds, and those 34-inch arms provide Heyward with a tackling radius most second-level defenders would dream of. The coverage will take time. It always does. For every linebacker. But he can be a useful sideline-to-sideline tackler ... right now.  

7. Matt Landers, WR, Panthers 

Landers landing in Carolina after inexplicably spending a few days as a free agent? Totally disrespectful to a 6-foot-4, 200-pound high-level producer in the SEC with sub 4.40 speed. And Carolina needs all the receiving reinforcements it can get. Adam Thielen can't carry the passing offense every week like he did last Sunday. Landers is a field-stretcher with enough power through press coverage to combat physicality at the line. Call him up, Frank. Then you'll have a nice little Sunday in Week 4. 

6. Seth Williams, WR, Jaguars

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. 

If Zay Jones still isn't 100% for Week 5's London tilt against the Bills, the Jaguars should give Williams an opportunity. 

5. 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. 

4. Kellen Diesch, OT, Steelers 

I thought Diesch was the classic mid-round blocker who'd land with a zone-blocking team and, after a year of adding weight and strength to his game, he'd be, at the very least, an adequate starter who could play either tackle spot or even bump inside to be one of the taller guards in the league if necessary. That didn't happen. Or maybe it just hasn't happened yet. 

3. Malik Cunningham, QB/WR/RB, Patriots

Throwing Cunningham a swing pass, getting him the ball on a bubble screen, an end-around, jet sweep -- anything! -- is the type of offensive experiment the Patriots should be conducting right nw. 

2. Darius Rush, CB, Chiefs 

Do the Chiefs need cornerback help right now? No, not necessarily. Did I love Rush as a prospect? Majorly. I can feel the adrenaline surging through my body as I'm preparing to type this sentence -- Rush is a 6-foot-2, 200-pound SEC cornerback with arms nearly 34 inches long who boasts 4.36 speed. Deep breaths. Deep breaths. OK, so he allowed some catches in the preseason. I do not care. In his last two seasons at South Carolina, Rush countered the six touchdowns credited to his coverage area with 15 pass breakups and three interceptions. He was built to play boundary corner in the NFL. 

1. DeWayne McBride, RB, Vikings

After the Cam Akers trade, I essentially 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. After a five-carry, 40-yard debut for the Vikings, Akers accumulated 15 yards on five more totes in the loss to the Chiefs in Week 5. Basically, it wouldn't hurt the run game to give McBride The Call, would it? No. Now, 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. 

Honorable mention 

Michael Ojemudia, CB, Rams

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.

Kyron Brown, CB, Bills 

Brown was a late add to the Bills roster during training camp and -- poof! -- he started making plays in practice right away. Then, in the preseason, the former Akron Zip made his presence felt on the 53 exhibition snaps he played. He had five tackles and a pass breakup while only allowing 14 yards on three receptions in his coverage area. Brown is a 6-foot-1 corner with plus instincts. 

Jalen Cropper, WR, Cowboys 

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. 

Dezmon Patmon, WR, Panthers

Patmon was a seventh-round pick by the Colts a few years ago, and has an intriguing size-speed profile at 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds with 4.48 speed. In Buffalo this summer, Patmon enjoyed a strong camp, as he had three grabs for 35 yards and touchdown against his former team to begin the preseason. 

Austin Watkins Jr., WR, Browns

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.