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NFL Week 14 Practice Squad Power Rankings: Adding some fun AFC wild card flavor

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I really liked the veteran-edition of The Practice Squad Power Rankings last week, didn’t you? 

The CUT surely had no complaints — we saw three members get elevated ahead of Week 13’s action — Browns quarterback Joe Flacco, Packers running back James Robinson and Lions edge rusher Bruce Irvin. And, heck — Flacco threw some ropes out there! He fizzled in the second half but finished 23 of 44 for 254 yards (the second-highest single-game pass total for any of Cleveland’s quarterbacks this season) with two touchdowns and a pick. 

Also, Irvin had a sack and tackle for loss in the Lions’ fun-filled win over the Saints in New Orleans. Flacco was slinging rockets back in 2008, and I’ll never forget the controversy about Irvin being an “old” first-round prospect all the way back in 2012. Both late 30-somethings proved they can still play in this league and did so after PSPR elevations.

That trio of call-ups means The CUT is now at 17 entering Week 14, and if we’re averaging more than a call-up per week, I’m giddy. 

Entering the home stretch in an absolutely jam-packed playoff race in both conferences — but especially the AFC — I’ve decided on a hybrid PSPR. Part veteran, part young players. Essentially, no accrued season cap anymore. And I’m doing this because of the successful week the wily vets had in Week 13 and the fact that, based on my experience, clubs tend to lean on those who’ve been there, done that late in the regular season. And I can’t say I blame them. 

Now that all the housekeeping is done, I need to talk about how awesome the Week 14 slate is. Truly glorious for mid December. And it’s mostly because of how captivating the (AFC) wild-card races are right now. Yes, I agree with you — every year, weekly NFL talk shows tend to put a few too many teams in that “in the hunt” box on the far right of the graphic. This season feels different. Another reason 2023 is not the same as previous years — it’s not like the No. 5 seed is easily the best second-place team in its division, and a collection of teams are essentially fighting for one or two spots. All three (!) are up for grabs in mid December. 

And it’s Backup Quarterback Fest. We’re getting either Dorian Thompson-Robinson or Flacco vs. C.J. Beathard (most likely) of the Jaguars (and Jacksonville winning the AFC South isn’t a lock), Gardner Minshew against Jake Browning, and we just had Bailey Zappe vs. Mitchell Trubisky on TNF in a crucial contest for the Steelers, who entered the week as the AFC’s No. 5 seed. 

Because of the amount of randomly fun clashes between wild-card candidates, I’ve given this week’s PSPR some flavor from those clubs. Let’s not forget too, we do have Bills-Chiefs in Arrowhead Stadium starting at 4:25pm ET. Should be a dandy. Usually is. And Sunday Night Football is Eagles-Cowboys. HELLO. 

Before we get into the updated PSPR, let’s quickly pay homage to Practice Squad Power Ranking alums like Saints TE Juwan Johnson49ers wideout Jauan JenningsCardinals 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.

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. 

The revitalization of the Bills offense the past two weeks has coincided with the switch to Joe Brady at coordinator, and with that switch has come the out-of-nowhere emergence of No. 3 runner Ty Johnson, who has 75 yards and a score on 13 touches in Week 11 and 12 combined. Is Fournette’s elevation and absolute necessity right now for Buffalo? It appears not to be. However, under Brady, Josh Allen has utilized the running backs as receivers out of the backfield much more frequently and, we know, Fournette proved to be a quality pass-catcher during the short but sweet Tom Brady era in Tampa Bay. Plus, it can’t be fun tackling the tank that is Fournette in the cold. 

The NFL world spins faster than our normal Earth, so two years in the NFL feels like roughly five or six years in reality, but Oruwariye is only two NFL years removed from a six-interception season with the Lions. He’s a long, athletic cornerback from Penn State (imagine that!), and Jacksonville is now starting to deal with some injuries on the defensive side of the ball. Huge game against the Browns looms. 

With Jonathan Taylor hurt, and a colossal wild card implication game against the Bengals looming, the Colts could use as much offensive skill-position talent as possible. And Goodson is talented. At a rather compact 5-foot-9 and around 200 pounds, he ran 4.42 at the 2022 combine. He’d be the textbook lightning to Zack Moss‘ thunder. 

Anderson was a fun underneath, YAC-based tight end from California, who made the 2016 Texans as an undrafted free agent and proved his worth early by averaging nearly 14 yards per catch on 25 snags in his second season. He’s hardly been utilized at any point in his NFL career, but at 6-foot-2 and around 230 pounds with serious explosiveness, Anderson can be a useful extension of the run game for the Chargers. 

Matthews is part of the famed Odell Beckham Jr., Mike Evans, Brandin Cooks, Allen Robinson, Jarvis Landry draft class of 2014, the first I fully evaluated. Yeah I have a soft spot for him, and he was an easy add to this PSPR. With the Eagles, Matthews went over 800 yards in each of his first three seasons and scored 19 receiving touchdowns. Stops in Buffalo and San Francisco yielded marginal results, and Matthews was out of football in 2022. Now, at the ripe age of 31, Vanderbilt’s all-time leading receiver — in all major categories — is back. The Panthers essentially have no choice now, right? Hayden Hurst and Tommy Tremble are hurt. Let’s get Matthews on the field!

5. Bruce Irvin, EDGE, Panthers

My man Bruce is a 2012 first-round draft pick who just turned 36 years old and is still grinding. And hell yeah he’s ascending The PSPR this week after a sack in his Lions debut. Since his West Virginia days Irvin just gets to the quarterback, man. Mad respect for this OG. 

Stroman is a PSPR alum, so of course I gravitated toward him for this special edition. A seventh-rounder in the 2018 NFL Draft after an illustrious, highly productive career at Virginia Tech, Stroman has an interception in each of the three NFL seasons he’s appeared in, and has been a steady contributor earlier in 2023 on a surprisingly stingy Bears defense. Get him back out there, Coach Eberflus. 

Callaway is a proven commodity in this league, at arguably the second-most vital position on the field, and he’s sitting idly by on the Raiders practice squad. When given a legitimate opportunity in his second season in 2021, Callaway caught 46 passes for 698 yards (15.2 yards per) with six touchdowns. He wins vertically with long-striding speed and a rebounder’s mentality when the ball is in the air. That season, he went 10 of 19 in contested-catch scenarios, which, is quite good. With Jameis Winston inserted as the starter, let’s get as many downfield weapons running routes for the Saints, especially with the blisteringly speedy Rashid Shaheed injured. 

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 also stretched the field vertically at Rutgers too. Let’s see him on some of those end-arounds and jet sweeps, particularly if Christian Watson can’t go in Week 14. Melton was utilized in that role in his productive career in Piscataway. 

1. Austin Watkins, 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. And if there was ever a time for Cleveland to call on him, it’s now, with Amari Cooper not 100% and Marquise Goodwin injured as well. 

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