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Week 7 NFL Practice Squad Power Rankings 2021: On the Dolphins ground game woes and Running Backs Don’t Matter

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The biggest story in the NFL this morning is the massive production the Browns got from undrafted free-agent running D’Ernest Johnson on a “Thursday Night Football” victory over the Denver Broncos

Johnson juked, bounced, and accelerated his way to 146 yards on 22 carries with a score in Cleveland’s 17-14 win in prime time on national television, marking the latest “Running Backs Don’t Matter” example in a league once run by ball carriers.

Of course, hammering the “Running Backs Don’t Matter” narrative is mostly right, but it is nothing groundbreaking. And it’s become one of the football community’s favorite faux arguments. The amount of people who realize quality running backs are readily available much later in the draft and paying big bucks for a veteran isn’t a smart team-building strategy significantly outweigh those who believe teams need to pick runners in the first round or advocate the allocation of major dollars to running backs in today’s NFL.

So planting your flag to announce “Running Backs Don’t Matter!” can be likened to screaming into the void, or in this case, the back of the echo chamber.

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Before I digress, I’d like to propose a new, clearer, more respectful title for this school of thought, “Good Running Backs Are Everywhere,” meaning your third-string back could probably piece together an impressive performance with good blocking, and so could that street free agent or practice-squad rookie when given a quality opportunity.

The point of this week’s Practice Squad Power Rankings is to highlight those backs who have been all but completely overlooked yet possess the necessary natural talent and refined skills to produce in an NFL game if called upon.

And I want to focus on the Miami Dolphins, football’s most ground-game challenged team, for years now. In four of their six games to start the 2021 season, they’ve failed to have a running back reach 26 yards on the ground. 26 yards! Derrick Henry drags defenders 26 yards all the time. 

In 2020, the Dolphins finished with the 22nd-most rushing yards in the NFL. The year before that, Ryan Fitzpatrick led the team in rushing. And this is nothing against Myles Gaskin or Salvon Ahmed. They’ve proven — as late-round/undrafted backs — they can play in this league. But the blocking in Miami is still atrocious. 

And because of that, the Dolphins need a bruiser. Gaskins is 44th among qualifying backs in yards after contact. On Miami’s practice squad sits seventh-round rookie Gerrid Doaks from Cincinnati, who stands in at just under 6-foot and 228 pounds. He’s a boulder. He ran 4.58 at his pro day with a 39.5-inch vertical. Explosive too. 

If the Dolphins aren’t going to block well, they might as well get a back with the body to run through tackle attempts, right?

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Heading into the weekend, THE CALL is now at five. Derrek Tuszka in Pittsburgh. Hjalte Froholdt from Houston to Cleveland. Cam Lewis with the Bills. Kenny Robinson and James Wiggins last week. The train is flying down the tracks, full steam ahead. 

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. 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.” To continue to maintain the PSPR’s sterling integrity, I’ll only be including practice-squadders 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. 

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. 

I had a fourth-round grade on Green just a few months ago. He checked most of the boxes I have for a mid-round 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. 

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 too. 

Snowden is impossibly long at over 6-foot-6 with 34-inch arms. He’s essentially the size of some of the longer offensive tackles in the NFL, except he’s probably playing somewhere in the 240s. So he clearly needs to add weight. But Snowden understands how to use his length to keep blockers from obliterating him. At Virginia, he had 28.5 tackles for loss in his final three seasons. The Bears have two high-end edge players in Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn. But Snowden can be a hybrid overhang player to create even more mismatches for Chicago’s defense. 

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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. 

6. Gerrid Doaks, RB, Dolphins

Doaks’ yards-per-carry averaged dipped in each of his three seasons with the Bearcats, but the 5.9 yards-per-carry clip as a freshman indicates he’s had “it” from a young age. And his film was loaded with seriously powerful finishes through contact. Plus, he’s a reliable receiver, and the Dolphins utilize their backs as pass-catchers often. 

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. 8 this week simply due to the veteran edge-rushing talent in front of him on the Cardinals’ 53-man roster right now. 

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. 

Brown had a long and illustrious career at UAB. He brought a solid 4.7 yards-per-carry average in 858 carries across four seasons into the NFL. He’s a hybrid-type back who’s not incredibly shifty nor overwhelmingly powerful, but there’s some juice in his lower half and he can occasionally make tackle attempts look extremely weak. 

10. Pooka Williams, RB, Bengals

Williams is little. Under 5-10 and 170 pounds at the Kansas Pro Day. But the former Jayhawks star was not a pleasant dude to try to tackle during his time in Lawrence. While his yards-per-carry average dropped in each of his three collegiate seasons, that 7.0 YPC masterpiece as a freshman in 2018 will not soon be forgotten. He’s the definition of an “air back” with awesome vision and deceptive 4.46 speed.

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Honorable Mention

David Moore, G, 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. 

Elijah Holyfield, RB, Bengals

Holyfield averaged 4.6 yards per carry on 20 totes this preseason in Philadelphia and 4.0 yards per with the Panthers in 2020. He’s a compactly built, decently shifty back with light feet and good vision. The Bengals backfield’s a little banged up right now. Holyfield can help. 

Olaijah Griffin, CB, Bills

I had a late fifth-round grade on Griffin after a steady career with the Trojans in Southern California. He had nine pass breakups in 2019 and three more in a shortened 2020 campaign. He’s a fluid mover with serious striking ability when planting and driving on the football. 

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?

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.

Tyrone Wheatley, OT, Giants

I’m fascinated by Wheatley’s journey, from marquee tight end recruit — who was massive entering the Michigan campus — to beefed up offensive tackle. The tight end to tackle converts are always compelling to me because the I know athletic traits needed to excel blocking on the edge are there. 

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