The Coronavirus has forced sports to adopt unique measures to produce a playing season. Because a positive test could sideline a player for at least three weeks and there’s no way of projecting how many positive cases there will be during the NFL season, Footballguys wants to give you resources that will help you weather the potential loss of players.
As the author of the most comprehensive scouting analysis of skill players since 2006, I’m one of those resources—especially for players at the bottom of depth charts, signed to practice squads and training at home with dreams of that phone call from an NFL team.
Each week, I’ll walk you through the shortlist of players who will get their shot to contribute as replacements to starters who tested positive for the Coronavirus. We’ll examine three types of replacements:
- Players who get immediate playing time.
- Preemptive additions from your league’s waiver wire.
- Options worth monitoring in case the established backup eventually misses time.
If you don’t think street free agents won’t factor, Raheem Mostert is on line one waiting for you to pick up, and he has a long list of players before him who would like to make an appointment to set you straight.
Add Now: RB James Robinson, Jaguars
The Skinny: The fantasy viability or Robinson is complicated. If Ryquell Armstead and Devine Ozigbo stay healthy, Robinson might be an afterthought. Considering that Chris Thompson and Dare Ogunbowale are best-used as scatbacks, Robinson has a real shot to maintain a consistent role as the Jaguars' starter in 2020.
A 5'9", 219-pound rookie from Illinois State, an FCS program, Robinson is a big back with a low center of gravity, excellent burst, and reserve-tier speed. He has an unusual gait to his running style that, reminiscent of Latavius Murray, can be inefficient at times but also unpredictable for defenders to gauge.
Robinson fits well with Jacksonville's past penchant for gap scheme plays like trap, power, counter, and plays with a lead fullback. He's at his best when he has only one crease to attack and attack decisively.
Although Robinson has some experience and success with zone plays, he's not as skilled with multiple choices embedded into the play design, and his best cutbacks occur when he's already through the line of scrimmage and into the open field. Despite possessing terrific acceleration (he ran a 4.19-second, 20-Shuttle during pre-draft workouts), Robinson had some difficulties maintaining his balance if forced to re-accelerate after stopping to avoid an obstacle.
He's at his most elusive when he's executing moves before he's built substantial momentum downhill. If you have an opportunity to examine Robinson's college highlights, you'll see a back who has earned his fair share of big-play runs, but they were the product of large creases where Robinson could accelerate unfettered through a long runway open grass.
Robinson is a sturdy enough back to work through glancing shots and reaches to his frame. The greatest concern he has has a runner is ball security. Robinson fumbled the ball every 72 touches, which is on the low-end of the Rookie Scouting Portfolio's Committee Tier for ball handling. He carries the ball high to his chest, but his elbow is too loose from his frame and it makes him prone to chops or getting the ball pulled free when in scrums with defenders.
I mentioned on last night's Audible that Robinson wasn't a great pass protector, but my statement was a bit misleading. Looking at my notes, Robinson has an excellent punch when he uses it and he has the technique to rock linebackers blitzing the pocket.
He must show greater consistency and timing with his strikes and if Jay Gruden has been impressed with Robinson's blocking then the rookie must have fixed his issue with getting beaten to the punch and shoved into his quarterback. If Robinson falters in pass protection, expect his late timing with throwing his hands to be the issue.
Illinois State used Robinson frequently as a check-down option and made it a point once or twice a game to use him as a vertical target. If called upon, he can deliver.
Recommendation: Chris Thompson has the speed, underrated contact balance for his size, and vision between the tackles to earn 12-15 touches per contest and minimize Robinson's upside. However, Thompson has never stayed healthy enough to leverage his awesome skills. Ogunbowale must learn the Jaguars system and even then, he'd only replace Thompson as a receiver and pass protector.
Robinson has a legitimate shot to earn 8-12 touches between the tackles per week for an offense that seems destined to see a lot of garbage-time game scripts. When the Jaguars have matchups that could lead to closer contests, Robinson's upside during those weeks is 15-20 touches.
Starting running backs are hard to find at the last moment. If you added Robinson, congratulations, he has a shot to give you reasonable depth and bye-week production thanks to the volume he could earn as a starter. If you're seeking a season on par with Phillip Lindsay, it's probably too ambitious of an expectation. He's more Royce Freeman to Thompson's Lindsay in this situation and he'll need Thompson to falter in order to get a shot at earning a bigger workload in the passing game.
Preemptive Pick(s) — Add If You Have The Luxury/Need: WR Quintez Cephus, Lions
The Skinny: A Rookie Scouting Portfolio favorite that I compared to Anquan Boldin before the draft, the Detroit Lions media has seen a similar comparison during training camp. Cephus has been physical and technically sound with his route running, getting open against man and zone coverage. He's an excellent tracker of the football downfield and he's especially impressive with contested targets.
Although he ran a 4.7-second, 40-Yard Dash at the NFL Combine, his subsequent Pro Day time was in mid-4.5-range after getting some track training. Cephus is fast enough to play outside even if the slot is his ideal spot.
You can read Cephus' NFL Scouting Report at the Rookie Scouting Portfolio website.
Recommendation: Cephus performed well enough this summer to earn a rotational spot with the offense during the season. His role could expand sooner than planned because Kenny Golladay suffered a late-week hamstring injury and Danny Amendola is also limited.
Because Marvin Jones Jr can play every position, the Lions could use Cephus as a slot and flanker at various points during the game and get the most from him. Matthew Stafford has never been shy about targeting receivers in tight windows, especially less-proven options. Cephus may not be proven in an NFL game, but his college game is filled with targets that project well with Stafford's style of play.
I'd expect Amendola to eventually miss multiple weeks and give way to Cephus as the slot option. The fact that hamstring injuries have a high chance of re-injury and can truly limit a receiver, could heighten the chances that Kenny Golladay's injury could deteriorate from a short-term annoyance to a long-term problem.
If so, Cephus now has two ways to see the field and figure prominently in the Lions' plans. At the very least, you should monitor his progress this weekend and plan to make him a moderate priority for next week's waiver wire.
I'd prefer adding Cephus now so you can have a free weekend to determine if he's worth sticking to your roster so you're not forced to pay too much of your salary cap to acquire him.
The Skinny on Hill: Possessing excellent hand-eye coordination, intelligent route skills against zone and man coverage, and a sudden athlete on the field, Hill had an impressive training camp and earned an active roster spot. According to Buckeye's Wire, Keenan Allen described Hill's camp performance as "amazing," specifically citing the rookie's routes.
Hill is in the mix for the No.3 role in the starting rotation. He'll likely share reps with second-year option Jaylen Guyton, a former North Texas receiver who had a brief turn with the Dallas Cowboys in 2019. I'm expecting Hill to eventually take over for Guyton as the season progresses.
Recommendation: Hill's ideal fit is in the slot, but he also showed skill to beat man coverage on the perimeter at the college level, including top college cornerbacks at the Senior Bowl. With Mike Williams dealing with a sprained AC joint that could cost him Week 1, Hill should earn playing time this week as part of a rotation with Guyton and Jason Moore.
If Hill gets open repeatedly over the next 2-3 weeks and displays rapport with Tyrod Taylor, Hill will be worth your consideration in a larger format. The fact that Hill could be a starter if the Chargers lose two receivers to injury is enough to keep his name near the top of your weekly free agent Rolodex.
The Skinny on Kumerow: A star at Wisconsin-Whitewater who made the Bengals squad as a UDFA on the merit of his special teams skill and vertical playmaking, Kumerow is a victim of the pervasive bias of draft capital in the NFL. Draft capital is as much about risk management of public perception as it is talent. Kumerow has earned the confidence of multiple starting quarterbacks, including Aaron Rodgers, who has called for the Packers to get Kumerow on the field more often but the coaching staff refused.
A surprise cut by the Packers by a young coach who seems hellbent on showing Rodgers that he's the boss, the Bills signed Kumerow to the practice squad. With draft pick Isaiah Hodgins on IR with a shoulder injury, Gabriel Davis a rookie, and John Brown only performing a complete season twice in six years, Kumerow should get called to the active roster as soon as he learns the Bills' offense.
Recommendation: With COVID cases likely to rise with cooler weather and upstate New York likely to see that weather change earlier than most, it will be worthwhile to monitor Kumerow's progress with the team early. If 1-2 receivers find their way to the COVID list, Kumerow is the type of proven option with vertical and contested-catch skills who could complement Josh Allen.
The Skinny on Thomas: Auden Tate is the popular under-the-radar receiver for the Bengals, but Thomas arguably had an equally impressive camp. A former special teams fixture for the L.A. Rams, Thomas starred at wide receiver for Southern Miss, making amazing catches, winning in the vertical game, and generate big plays in the open field.
ESPN's Turron Davenport joined me for an hour-long film room on Thomas some years back if you'd like an in-depth look into his game.
Why didn't Thomas emerge sooner? He had a penchant for dropping the football.
This hasn't been an issue in Bengals camp and he's been so good, that the Athletic's beat writer covering the Bengals speculated that Thomas had a real shot to become the team's No.3 receiver. Because Tate is a slower option, Thomas offers greater versatility to play either position on the perimeter.
Recommendation: If Ross gets hurt, there will be a lot of fantasy writers and players touting Tate and Higgins. While they're paying for the services of players further down the depth chart, you might get Thomas for free on a first-come, first-serve basis. It could be worth your while to bid for one and add Thomas as a free hedge.