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.
Week 1 Review
Here my brief thoughts and recommendations for Week 1's players as we move forward:
- (Add Now) RB James Robinson: The UDFA rookie performed adequately as a runner and receiver, which will earn him at least another week or two as the starter. He's worth your consideration as a temporary starter who might grow into a permanent part of your rotation if the Jaguars' victory was a sign of things to come and not an exploitation of a Colts team off to a slow start.
- (Preemptive) WR Quintez Cephus: Detroit's fifth-round pick led the Lions in targets as Kenny Golladay's replacement. Cephus faced mostly off coverage and made three big plays throughout the game and earned a pair of targets that could have resulted in scores, if accurate. He also dropped a pair of passes due to small and easily correctable mistakes with his routes that are indicative of a player overthinking. Stafford's confidence in Cephus is positive and with Golladay still not practicing Wednesday or Thursday, Cephus is likely to have a role that's worth considering him as an emergency option for your lineups if you have any last-minute injuries.
- (Monitor) Mike Thomas: He only earned 15 snaps but most of those opportunities came in the fourth quarter with the game on the line and Joe Burrow looked to him consecutively to move the Bengals into scoring position. Thomas came through with a pair of catches for 17 yards. While most are waiting for Tee Higgins to work his way into the rotation, there is a rapport between Thomas and Burrow that's worth monitoring, and potentially making Thomas a preemptive pick if he sees an increase in production against Cleveland.
- (Monitor) WR K.J. Hill: Jalen Guyton started in three-receiver sets and earned 1 target in 47 snaps for a 16-yard catch. Kansas City's offense in Week 2 will force the Chargers to throw more than they did against the Bengals in the opener. Hill should see the field this week. Continue to monitor him.
- (Monitor) WR Jake Kumerow: Still learning the Bills offense after the Packers cut him, he'll remain on the practice squad. Continue monitoring Kumerow and expect him to be elevated to the active roster within the next 3-5 weeks.
Robinson is a viable weekly option. Cephus is a high-variance selection because of his short-term opportunity that could develop into a long-term role as well as his potential to switch to the slot when Golladay returns.
Add Now: RB Josh Adams (Jets) and Jordan Reed (49ers)
The Skinny on Adams: A former starter at Notre Dame, Adams is a big back with an upright style and long speed who suffered a serious knee injury during his college career, and it limited his mobility and quickness during his final year with the Fighting Irish.
Adams signed with the Philadelphia Eagles as a UDFA and earned 569 yards from scrimmage as a rookie when Philadelphia's depth chart lost its starters due to injury. Adams has been a Jet for the past two seasons and with rookie draft pick Lamical Perine dealing with an ankle injury, Adams has a chance to earn touches in a rotation with Frank Gore, who is replacement the IR-bound Le'Veon Bell.
Recommendation: Add Adams now as a one-week desperation flier if you're short on running back depth or have the luxury of a roster spot. It's the kind of move that if something happens to Frank Gore between now and Sunday morning, you have a one-week starter. If something happens to Gore during the game, you have a multi-week contributor that you can leverage as part of negotiations for a meaningful upgrade to your roster. Just as I'm writing this on Thursday afternoon, I received an email notification that Sigmund Bloom has added Adams to his roster (dropping Gerald Everett) with this strategy likely in mind.
The Skinny on Reed: Unless you began playing fantasy football two years ago, you likely know Reed and wonder about his appearance on this list. Isn't this feature reserved for relative unknowns? Not really. We're looking for potential contributors who aren't on a lot of rosters yet that are below the radar, and Reed's injury history and brief retirement took him off the collective radar.
Once a Pro-Bowl tight end, Reed signed with the 49ers and made the roster as the team's No.2 tight end after an impressive training camp where he stayed healthy and looked as athletic as ever. With George Kittle attempting to play through a knee sprain, there's a higher risk of Kittle exacerbating the injury and missing significant time. Although Kyle Shanahan is one of the most creative offensive minds in the NFL, the summer acquisition of Reed is an indication that the tight end position is an essential part of his offense in both the running and passing game.
With Brandon Ayiuk potentially making his debut this weekend, Deebo Samuel weeks away from playing, Dante Pettis doing little, and Mohamed Sanu signing this week, Reed could see an elevated role in the passing game this week.
Recommendation: Add Reed now for the same reasons one would consider Adams. Kittle could be a last-minute scratch this weekend and Reed has the tools to deliver an elite Week 2 fantasy performance in an offense that will use him in Kittle's role. And if Kittle plays and suffers a graver injury, Reed could become an every-week starter value that you can use for your lineups or leverage in a trade.
Preemptive: WR Justin Watson (Buccaneers)
The Skinny on Watson: A star receiver from Penn, Footballguy Jason Wood's alma mater, Watson had an impressive Senior Bowl and the Buccaneers drafted him two years ago. Watson struggled as a rookie, dropping passes and playing slower than his athletic ability. He's had steady development since that time, culminating recently with an excellent 2020 training camp where he displayed additional muscle and explosion as well as consistent receiving skills from the slot.
Although Scotty Miller earned the most buzz from the fantasy community because of his usage in the vertical passing game, Watson was a consistent camp story and earned a split with Miller for the No.3 role in the receiving rotation. Miller is considered the downfield option who can play outside and win up the seam whereas Watson is regarded as the big slot who works underneath, blocks from three-receiver sets, and works inside on short and intermediate routes when lined up on the perimeter.
Mike Evans is still limited with a hamstring injury that forced the staff to place a governor on the type of routes he could run during the Saints' opener, and Chris Godwin suffered a concussion late in the Week 1 contest that has left him at the early stages of the NFL's head injury protocol, there's an increased likelihood that Miller and Watson will have bigger roles this weekend.
Recommendation: Miller was likely a semi-popular addition this week in many leagues. If he's on your waiver wire, add him first because he's displayed a strong rapport with Tom Brady and he performed well against the Saints. However, if you're seeking that potential high-snap/moderate-target addition who could contribute to your starting lineup as a quick replacement if Godwin or Evans are late scratches, Watson offers that potential.
As I finished writing this section, I checked my email again, and you guessed it: Bloom dropped Adams and added Scott Miller. He does this kind of thing all the time.
Monitor: RB J.J. Taylor (Patriots) and RB Lamical Perine (Jets)
The Skinny on Taylor: An undersized scatback with excellent quickness and burst who plays a physical game for his size, Taylor's 5'5", 185-pound frame makes him a player one might argue is short but not small. This is the same characterization that former Bears head coach John Fox had for Tarik Cohen.
Taylor has had some ankle issues during his college career. He broke his left ankle in 2016 and then missed a lot of time with another ankle injury in 2018.
Taylor is well-versed in the blocking schemes that the Patriots like to use such as trap, counter, power, toss, split-zone, and off-tackle zone. He's a decisive runner with gap plays and a patient one in a zone scheme.
His game is quickness and agility that underpins his effectiveness as a cutback runner. However, what stood out with Taylor when scouting him for the 2020 Rookie Scouting Portfolio publication is that he's a physical football player who hits creases hard and reaches the secondary quickly. He has below-average speed relative to starting NFL runners.
He's a good route runner and catches the ball well, but there are some check-down targets that are hard for quarterbacks to deliver accurately due to Taylor's height. He's a willing blocker but asking him to do more than help with a double-team is risky because his size is a disadvantage.
Taylor had an impressive debut for the Patriots in the opener, earning 28 yards on 4 carries and a catch for 4 yards.
Introducing JJ Taylor, rookie RB from Arizona.— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) September 14, 2020
Unlike some teams Pats aren’t dismissive of short and/or lighter backs. pic.twitter.com/xqqqbIRjXL
Bill Belichick told Pats Pulpit writer Oliver Thomas on Wednesday that "[Taylor has] earned what he's gotten to this point." Belichick also told the media that Taylor has been one of the hardest workers on the team, he ran hard, and while there's a long way to go before making any significant proclamations about the rookie, that he should earn more opportunities to prove his worth.
Recommendation: Taylor isn't a player to add to a re-draft roster, but with Damien Harris on IR, Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead both known for suffering injuries, and Taylor's initial success, continue monitoring for at least another week.
The Skinny on Perine: The cousin of Bengals running back Samaje Perine, Lamical was Florida's starting runner for the past two years. He's best characterized as a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none running back that the NFL loves to take in the middle rounds but rarely earns that fantasy value commensurate with the draft capital.
Perine has enough quickness, acceleration, and speed to work through the line of scrimmage and threaten linebackers and safeties, and he has the power and contact balance to earn his keep as a short-yardage contributor. He's a reliable pass catcher who should develop as a route runner, and he has the size to become a competent blocker. His blitz pickups and assignment soundness had some question marks while at Florida.
Recommendation: With Bell on IR, Perine would have been slated to contribute alongside Frank Gore, but he suffered an ankle injury that has kept him out of practice. The veteran Adams will likely play in Perine's place this week, but it could be worth adding Perine preemptively in Week 3 if you have the need or luxury for a player who could contribute enough to give you value to your roster or trade negotiations.