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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 1-3 Review and Changes
Here my brief thoughts and recommendations for Week 1's players as we move forward:
- (Add Now) Devonta Freeman: Despite limited touches, Freeman showed more juice that I think people realize. He's desperation add who will split touches but still has a shot to earn a lead role.
- (Preemptive) Jordan Wilkins: Still, the No.2 "two-down runner" in this rotation behind Jonathan Taylor, he's worth paring with Taylor if you have the luxury.
- (Preemptive to Monitor) Darwin Thompson: The Chiefs' reserve lost a fumble on Monday night and Darrel Williams was healthy enough to play. Thompson still has potential value but not an option you need to add.
- (Monitor) JaMycal Hasty: With Jerick McKinnon playing well and Jeff Wilson healthy, Hasty will need an injury to earn a preemptive selection.
- (Monitor) Reggie Bonnafon: Mike Davis performed to expectation and the Panthers added Trent Cannon to the active roster, a speedster who could eventually challenge Bonnafon.
- RB James Robinson: Now an established starter in 2020, Robinson shouldn't be a free agent in any format.
- (Preemptive to Monitor) WR Quintez Cephus: With Kenny Golladay back, Cephus is a contributor with potential for greater value if injuries strike again.
- (Preemptive to Monitor) Mike Thomas: Auden Tate's squeaky wheel got not grease and John Ross has been a healthy scratch. This is important for Thomas because the Bengals rolled with draft capital and gave Tee Higgins a heavier dose of playing time. However, Thomas is still earning reps and if A.J. Green or Tyler Boyd gets hurt, he could get thrust into a starting role.
- (Monitor) Lamical Perine: He's still a limited participant in practices and splitting reserve reps with Kalen Ballage.
- (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.
- (Monitor) J.J. Taylor: After his snap count dropped from 9 to 1 in Week 2, Taylor split reps in a three-man rotation and performed admirably. Still, James White returns soon.
- (Preemptive to Monitor) WR Justin Watson: Godwin is ailing again and Scotty Miller has a hip issue that could limit him. Watson could be worth a late desperation play if healthy enough to go.
- Jordan Reed: Two touchdowns and a primary role in the passing game got him the quick add but an MCL injury and IR earns him the quicker hook.
- RB Josh Adams: Adams is no longer a part of New York's rotation.
- WR K.J. Hill: Jalen Guyton started in three-receiver sets and earned 1 target in 47 snaps for a 16-yard catch in Week 1 and caught a touchdown in Week 2. Hill has seen the field in Week 3 but dropped a pair of passes.
Let's look at this week's recommendations
Add Now: Robert Tonyan Jr (Packers)
The Skinny on Tonyan: A former high school and college quarterback, Tonyan starred at Indiana State after converting to tight end. He displayed a tremendous catch radius and build-up speed to win vertical routes on play-action passes.
Throughout his career with the Packers, Tonyan has shown a propensity to win contested targets. Earlier in his career, Tonyan caught a deep post off a play-action boot from Aaron Rodgers for a touchdown and Rodgers told the media that he thought he was throwing the ball to Jordy Nelson.
Despite the Packers having veteran Marcedes Lewis and drafting Jake Sternberger in 2019, Tonyan has worked his way into the starting role for Green Bay and he's caught 7 of 8 targets for 75 yards and 2 scores in 3 games.
Recommendation: With Davante Adams still iffy and Allen Lazard out indefinitely after undergoing an unexpected surgery this week, the Packers have Darrius Shepherd, Reggie Begelton, and Malik Taylor as the remaining receivers opposite Marquez Valdes-Scantling (and possibly Adams).
Former Bills receiver Robert Foster and Bronco JuWann Winfree are recent additions to the team. Neither will have knowledge of the playbook, which means Shepard and Begelton are the likeliest candidates to see the field. It would make sense for an offense that runs as much as the Packers to use more two- and three- tight end sets with Tonyan, Sternberger, and Lewis.
It's also likely that the Packers will use Tonyan a lot like they used Lazard since they already featured Tonyan as a detached receiver from the line of scrimmage. If you need a tight end, Tonyan's value could take a significant leap after this weekend. If you need a flex play who happens to be a tight end but has the upside of receiver-volume targets, red-zone looks, and deep shots, Tonyan has potential here as well.
The receivers I mentioned above are all potential candidates for this feature to monitor based on how the next 3-4 weeks unfold.
Add Now: Brett Rypien (Broncos) and Tim Patrick (Broncos)
Obviously, most leagues will not allow you to add this Denver pitch-and-catch tandem, which means you'll have to bid on them, but they are still worth a recommendation for those who find themselves in a difficult situation at quarterback or receiver after this week's games.
The Skinny on Rypien: An excellent pocket quarterback who processes information quickly and throws the ball with placement and anticipation, Rypien is the example of the quarterback who has pro potential but lacked the top-shelf athletic tools that earn worse prospects higher draft capital. Although Rypien threw two interceptions on Thursday night, it's worth remembering that Rypien played a short week and didn't get to do anything but participate in walk-throughs. He's had zero practice reps with starters and it makes a lot of what we did even more impressive.
Brett Rypien with great timing and no delay with read-to-action. #Broncos— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 2, 2020
Some QBs with starter potential don’t take the reserve role seriously and wind up slacking and have to fight the label of a potential backup than a backup who might be a future starter. pic.twitter.com/uvWazKQKiF
New England will be a challenge but Miami, Kansas City, and then Atlanta after the bye are all appealing opportunities for a shoot-out or garbage-time production.
The Skinny on Patrick: We've seen Patrick produce when called upon in the past. He's a big target who has enough build-up speed to challenge the intermediate and vertical areas of the field, and he's sure-handed. Rypien and Patrick appeared to have a nice rapport and likely based on the past two years of training camp when reserves work with one another. K.J. Hamler will likely miss at least the next week or two with a hamstring injury and DeSean Hamilton is not the answer.
Recommendations: If you find yourself in need of a backup quarterback for a short period of time, Rypien is a viable alternative to overpaying a league mate in a trade or overbidding on the waiver wire for another passer in demand. Patrick offers 1-3 weeks of value for a quarterback who has a history of success at Boise State with the type of intermediate and vertical routes that's in Patrick's wheelhouse. Rapport is an important factor for replacement players in these situations and these two have it.
Preemptive Pickup: Hakeem Butler (Eagles)
The Skinny on Butler: A mid-round pick of the Arizona Cardinals, Butler was a star wide receiver at Iowa State who fell further in the draft than many expected. Butler didn't stand out during his rookie camp in 2019, injured his hand, and missed the season. This year, Butler failed to stand out in camp and the Cardinals cut him. The Panthers added him to its practice squad last week and when the Eagles found themselves desperate for players to catch Carson Wentz passes, the organization signed Butler from the Carolina practice squad as a tight end.
I was one of those analysts who were super-high on Butler, and people frequently want to hear my thoughts about Butler getting cut and now getting signed. If you want the longer version, you can listen to this podcast.
The short version: No one has seen Butler play in the NFL. Beat writers don't study practice tape and practice reps can be misleading. Draft analysts who weren't as high on Butler--some I have great respect for their work--are the same analysts were much lower on players that I was high on that have had considerable success. We have different processes, so until I see what Butler shows on the field, there's nothing for me to analyze my pre-draft view of the player.
Butler is a big and strong player with an excellent catch radius and impressive skill after the catch. Although he's had drops during his college career that concerned some, most were a matter of focus rather than technique. If he's used as a tight end, think of Butler as the Eagles' attempt to create a player with Darren Waller's strengths.
Waller has been a successful wide receiver masquerading as a tight end and the Eagles hope that if they give Butler a limited number of routes that match his strengths, he can help the Philadelphia offense at some point this year.
Recomendation: With the wide receiver depth chart as bare as it can get, the Eagles might need to use Butler as a wide receiver as soon as Sunday. Don't expect much because Butler will probably have such a limited knowledge of the playbook that Wentz will need to point out alignments and tell him the routes or options he's running when on the field.
Even if Butler learns some of these basics in a short period of time, he'll be prone to overthinking while on the field and this makes a player look 1-2 steps slower than he really is in everything that he does. It's why Butler is a luxury addition on a preemptive basis for fantasy teams that might need a tight end or wide receiver and have the time to keep one player in the fold who has upside.
If he emerges within a timely window for your team, great. If not, he's a low-cost investment and easy to dump.
Monitor: Olamide Zaccheaus (Falcons), Gabriel Davis (Bills)
The Skinny on Zaccheaus: A slot receiver with vertical skills, Zaccheaus was a scatback at Virginia two years ago and made the Falcons roster on the strength of a good rookie camp. He has demonstrated the ability to get deep and win the ball as a perimeter deep threat during the preseason and in regular-season action. With Justin Gage still going through concussion protocols, Julio Jones gimpy, and Calvin Ridley dealing with an ankle issue, Zaccheaus will not only see more playing time but also potentially earn a starting role if Jones or Gage suffer setbacks.
Recommendation: If one of your players is a game-time decision and you have to make a quick add due to the unplanned Steelers-Texans bye related to COVID-19, Zaccheaus gives you a reasonable chance at 1-2 deep completions and a touchdown or a big play after the catch thanks to his scatback skills in the open field.
The Skinny on Davis: I profiled Davis in this week's Top 10. He has earned the trust of his offense and staff because of assignment-sound play with and without the ball in his hands.
Recommendation: With John Brown trying to work through an injury and Davis performing well in recent weeks, Davis could be an option you can add as late as Sunday morning and earn surprisingly decent production from him in PPR formats. This has to do with the Bills' use of crossing routes that complement what Davis does well. The Bills use these routes at various levels of the field and often with 2-3 receivers running them at the same time.
Hopefully you won't need to call on any of these players. But if you do, good luck!