In the absence of Chris Godwin and Mike Evans, second-year wide receiver Cyril Grayson came up from the practice last weekend and contributed 95 yards from scrimmage and some feisty downfield blocking to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' division-clinching 32-6 win at Carolina. The Buccaneers want to make sure that's an option again in Week 17.
Grayson is one of four practice squad players the Buccaneers will protect this week, along with running back Kenjon Barner, punter Sterling Hofrichter and kicker Jose Borregales. Barner and Hofrichter were also elevated from the practice squad last week and stepped into key roles. With rookie wideout Jaelon Darden on the reserve/COVID-19 list, Barner took over the punt and kickoff return jobs, while Hofrichter handled punts and kickoffs in place of Bradley Pinion, who has a right hip injury.
Barner returned five punts for 44 yards, including a 20-yard return to midfield that set up a third-quarter field goal drive. Hofrichter averaged 41.0 yards on three punts, with a net average of 33.7 yards, and hit seven of his eight kickoffs into the end zone, producing five touchbacks.
It was Grayson who had the flashiest plays, including a 62-yard reception in the second quarter that set up Cameron Brate's four-yard touchdown catch. He also provided a key block well downfield on Ke'Shawn Vaughn's 55-yard scoring run in the first quarter. Grayson finished with 81 yards on three receptions and one 14-yard run.
The Buccaneers have already used both of their standard elevation options on Grayson, who has been on the practice squad the whole season, but could still elevate him this weekend as a COVID-19 replacement. As of Tuesday, the Buccaneers had three players on the reserve/COVID-19 list, including receivers Evans and Darden. Evans, who is also dealing with a hamstring injury that kept him out of the Carolina game, was just placed on the list on Monday. Barner and Hofrichter were both COVID-replacement elevations last week and thus have both standard elevations left.
The option to protect a limited number of practice squad players from being signed away by other teams was one of a number of new rules adopted regarding the practice squad in 2020 to give teams more roster flexibility during the pandemic. The NFL elected to keep those rules in place for 2021.
Each week, a team can submit a list of up to four players on its practice squad that other teams are prohibited from signing to their active rosters. In most weeks, that protection starts at 4:00 p.m. ET on Tuesday and extends through game day. No players are protected for a period of almost two days following a game, so every practice squad player in the league still has an opportunity each week to sign with another team's active roster.