The Seattle Seahawks signed every Seahawks fan’s favorite Seahawks to the practice squad on Thursday: Troy“Aik”maine Pope. There isn’t much holding Pope back from stardom, but for the sake of full disclosure, let’s see if there could be any reason to believe that he wasn’t the biggest signing of 2016:
- Perhaps overshadowed in the Alabama high school football landscape (though he was the Class 4A Back of the Year) and undersized, Pope was a two-star recruit out of Anniston High. He initially committed to Mississippi State but it appears as though they may have pulled their offer, and he didn’t have many fallbacks, so Pope went to Jacksonville State instead.
- Sometimes you do see players come out of the FCS level, but often they’re four-year phenoms. Look at wide receiver Cooper Kupp of Eastern Washington: 1,691 yards as a freshman, then 1,431 yards, then 1,642 yards as a junior, and he just crossed the 1,000-yard threshold in his senior season. Or look at Danny Woodhead, who had no offers from D-I schools because of his size, and then became college football’s all-time leading rusher at Chardron State. Pope was a very good player for Jacksonville State from freshman to junior years, but was not even the leading rusher for the team until his senior season. Then he did rush for 1,788 yards and 19 touchdowns.
- Jacksonville State is the number one team in the nation at the FCS level this year without Pope. They’ve rushed for 2,063 yards in eight games.
- He ran a 4.49-4.55 at his pro day. For a 5’9, 206-lb running back coming out of FCS, you’d hope for something closer to the “wow” numbers in under-4.4 range.
- Notable Jacksonville State football alum: Eric Davis, Dieter Brock, and WWE’s Buck Quartermain.
- Pope went undrafted.
- Pope was not signed as an undrafted free agent, he was given a minicamp invite by the Kansas City Chiefs. He didn’t make the 90-man roster.
- He started a job at a car factory this summer.
- The Seahawks revived his career when he was a free agent still in early August. He exploded for some nice runs in the preseason, and survived the first round of cuts, but did not make the final 53-man roster. He was however picked up by the New York Jets, which ensured he’d be on a 53-man roster for at least one week.
- Pope was active once, carrying the ball one time for one yard against the Baltimore Ravens. The 2-5 Jets released Pope and went instead with Knile Davis, who was given up on by both the Chiefs and Green Bay Packers in the last month. Consider that Matt Forte is 31 and averaging 3.5 yards per carry. Not that New York has shown a skill for talent evaluation though.
- Any team could have had Pope by putting him on the 53-man roster but instead he has returned to Seattle’s practice squad. Interesting that the Minnesota Vikings (2.7 YPC) and LA Rams (3.2 YPC) and New York Giants (3.3 YPC) and San Diego Chargers (3.7 YPC, Woodhead injured) didn’t take a longer look, but the Seahawks (3.2 YPC) need help too. They just didn’t need it enough to put Pope on the active roster. They’re sticking with Christine Michael, Alex Collins, and C.J. Prosise, which is understandable, if not the same “Collins or Pope?” debate we all had in August and September. Collins has nine carries for 17 yards this season but seemingly fills a different role than Pope would. I think either way, we should see more Prosise and less Michael but could Pope find his way on the field this year?
Sure, why not?
First of all, not very many players from practice squads become notable in any way. You can always find examples but it’s a very low percentage of guys who advance from PS to NFL regulars. Here, I’ll give you examples: Lemuel Jeanpierre, Breno Giacomini, Derrick Coleman, Jermaine Kearse, Deshawn Shead, Ricardo Lockette, B.J. Daniels, Cooper Helfet, Chris Matthews, Steven Terrell. I mean, dang, with a team like that, you might actually win one game in Week 17 against a Browns team starting Jared Lorenzen at QB.
(Overly-dickish writer alert.)
That’s out of a large number of players that the Seahawks have had on the practice squad for anywhere from one day to a couple years. The practice squad at the beginning of last season had Kasen Williams, Kevin Smith, Rod Smith, Eric Pinkins, Will Pericak, Terry Poole, Rashaun Allen, Kevin Short, Justin Coleman, and Robert Thomas. I don’t believe any of those guys are on an active roster right now and many of them may be out of the NFL entirely.
But if there is a position with a higher percentage of players who made it to Sundays, it’s probably running back. Seattle has one of the best success stories of all in that regard, and his path is oddly similar to Pope’s.
Justin Forsett was a seventh round pick by the Seahawks out of Cal — a place in which he was buried on the depth chart until his senior season — in 2008. He was a preseason All-Pro, gaining 261 all-purpose yards in a game against the Chicago Bears. He made the team but was waived after one week. He was picked up by the Indianapolis Colts and that seemed to be an instant regret for Seattle. He was waived a month later and returned to the Seahawks, this time to the practice squad. He was signed to the roster a week later as a return specialist. He became a regular in the backfield in 2009 and 2010 before giving way to college teammate Marshawn Lynch. He was a Pro Bowl running back for the Ravens in 2014.
Despite the long list of things going against Pope, there’s no reason to think that he can’t carve out a long NFL career. He’s already come much further than anyone would have expected after he was barely recruited out of high school and was not a blip on anyone’s radar until a year ago at Jacksonville State. Not only that but much like with Forsett in 2008, Seattle could use a return specialist. Tyler Lockett is great but are they getting enough out of him on kickoffs (his 25.1 average is virtually the same as a touchback) to justify risking him to another injury? I don’t know that Pope will be able to help on offense, but there’s always an injury risk at that position, as we saw when the team initially signed Pope, and we don’t know if they’ll have to give him a shot at some point.
We’ve seen running backs come from “nowhere” in the past to help their teams to playoff runs or in the playoffs. For some reason I’m thinking of the Packers with guys like Ryan Grant, Brandon Jackson, James Starks, and Alex Green. Why not Pope?
His story really shouldn’t, based on historical evidence, end in a successful NFL career. But making it this far, he’s already a success. There’s no telling how much further he could take it, and no good reason that he can’t prove everyone — including me — wrong.