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 1-5 Review and Changes
It's been a pretty good five weeks. Six of the seven "Add Now" options produced at or way above expectations. I'm sure a regression is coming, but I'll do my best to fight it off as long as possible.
Here my brief thoughts and recommendations for previous players as we move forward. These are not in order of preference. If there's an asterisk (*), they've moved down a tier. If they have a number symbol (#) they have moved up:
- Travis Fulgham: He's now considered the starting X receiver even when Alshon Jeffery returns. As long as he continues to play well, it's his gig.
- D'Ernest Johnson: He's the depth you need while Nick Chubb is out and Kareem Hunt is the only option ahead of Johnson.
- Robert Tonyan Jr: If Tonyan is somehow still available after last week's hat trick, get this Allen Lazard substitute as a high-end, short-term value.
- Brett Rypien: The Broncos' third-stringer had an up-and-down box score output but showed enough to consider him a potential emergency value.
- Tim Patrick: Patrick will play the Courtland Sutton role in this offense, which means a steady diet of vertical sideline shots 20-30 yards downfield that complement his talents.
- #Olamide Zaccheaus: With Calvin Ridley and Julio Jones still limited, Zaccheaus will continue to see significant playing time, and he's the most versatile option of the remaining healthy receivers on the Falcons' depth chart.
- Devonta Freeman: Despite limited touches, Freeman showed more juice that I think people realize. He's a desperation add who will split touches but still has a shot to earn a lead role.
- James Robinson: Now an established starter in 2020, Robinson shouldn't be a free agent in any format.
- Albert Okwuegbunam: If
- Tyler Johnson: The rookie led Buccaneers receivers in Thursday night's contest with the Bears. Mike Evans and Chris Godwin may be banged-up long enough to reprise this role for 1-2 weeks if there are setbacks. If the setbacks are significant, Johnson could earn a bump to "Add-Now" status.
- 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.
- Hakeem Butler: There's media speculation that he could earn playing time this week. If so, he'll be harder to obtain if he has a promising weekend.
- #Gabriel Davis: Davis is a productive player when considering his role in the Bills' offense and will do a lot more if John Brown or Stefon Diggs get hurt.
- JaMycal Hasty: With Jerick McKinnon playing well and Jeff Wilson healthy, Hasty will need an injury to earn a preemptive selection.
- Reggie Bonnafon: Mike Davis performed to expectation and the Panthers added Trent Cannon to the active roster, a speedster who could eventually challenge Bonnafon.
- *Quintez Cephus: With Kenny Golladay back, Cephus is a contributor with potential for greater value if injuries strike again.
- *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.
- Lamical Perine: He's still a limited participant in practices and splitting reserve reps with Kalen Ballage. See how his workload changes with Le'Veon Bell moving to the Chiefs.
- 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.
- *Justin Watson: Despite the widespread ailments to the receiving corps, Watson has been a non-factor.
- Isaiah Wright: He's a high-floor, low-ceiling option who might help as an extreme desperation play.
- *Darwin Thompson: The addition of Le'Veon Bell may be as big of a statement about the reserve backs on the depth chart as it is the small deficiencies in Clyde Edwards-Helaire's game that make him an incomplete back at this stage of his young career.
- *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.
- *Josh Adams: Adams is no longer a part of New York's rotation.
- *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.
- *J.J. Taylor: Damien Harris' 100-yard effort, Rex Burkhead's hat-trick the week prior, and Jame White's imminent return make it obvious that Tylro is not worth considering at this time.
Let's look at this week's recommendations.
Add Now: Collin Johnson, Keelan Cole, and Mike Boone
The Skinny on Johnson: It's very possible that Johnson is an even smarter play than Cole but much riskier on the surface. The Lions have a pattern of giving up fantasy points to taller receivers or receivers that work the middle of the field. This includes Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Allen Robinson, Tre'Quan Smith, and Emmanuel Sanders.
Detroit has been stingier with tight ends. Tall rebounders like Jimmy Graham and Robert Tonyan Jr--receivers in role but tight ends in name only--have earned touchdowns but no more than 25 yards. While it might make sense to consider Jaguars tight end James O'Shaughnessy on the surface, Johnson is a tall, big-bodied possession receiver with build-up speed to threaten the deeper zones in the play-action game and fits the function of Tonyan and Graham in the Jacksonville offense.
Recommendation: Johnson earned 4 catches, 30 yards, and a touchdown against the Texans last week and has earned other end-zone targets this year. While Keelan Cole is the conventional play and a player I like a lot, Cole's work on the perimeter to replace Chark could make Johnson's presence in the slot more productive. If you're seeking a long-term addition, Cole is the better play. if you're seeking a shot at one week of production, Johnson is worth serious consideration among the fantasy desperate.
The Skinny on Cole: Both of these players are on 27 percent of Yahoo! rosters. Cole has been productive but his target share is so low that most mainstream fantasy players have little reason to add him to their rosters. However, with D.J. Chark Jr and Laviska Shenault Jr limited this week, it looks like Cole could see a lot more playing time on the perimeter in Chark's stead. Cole has perimeter skills to win contested routes and two years ago, he was on the verge of becoming a star receiver in the league before he lost his confidence and needed a season to regain it. Gardner Minshew trusts Cole, which means he could be in store for a strong weekend against the Lions.
Recommendation: Cole could serve as an emergency third or fourth receiver in your lineups this weekend and provide you bye-week functionality if the need for Cole forces you to drop a reserve you prefer to keep but can't do so in order to get points in your lineup this weekend.
The Skinny on Boone: A quick back with a low center of gravity, Boone isn't as versatile as Alexander Mattison, who will be starting for the injured Dalvin Cook this weekend against an awful Atlanta Falcons defense. However, Boone has more potential as a breakaway threat and runs hard. With Atlanta in danger of flat-lining after the organization fired player-favorite Dan Quinn, Minnesota could take control early in this contest and it leads to a lot of touches for a two-back rotation.
Recommendation: Boone is a short-term play unless Cook suffers a setback and Mattison gets hurt. You're simply looking for one week of flex-value production when adding him.
Preemptive: Byron Pringle
The Skinny on Pringle: A special teams option with deep speed and skill after the catch, Pringle had a good preseason in 2018 as a rookie before landing on IR. In 2019, Pringle improved the use of his hands as a pass-catcher and had a strong training camp. This earned him occasional playing time with the offense including a 6-catch, 103-yard, 1-touchdown performance on Sunday Night Football against the Colts. Pringle made plays all over the field and demonstrated rapport with Patrick Mahomes II. With Sammy Watkins missing time, Demarcus Robinson and Mecole Hardman are expected to take most of Watkins' workload.
Still, Pringle earned his only target of the season last week--a 23-yard reception against the Raiders. Pringle is a better fit for what Watkins does in Kansas City than Hardman and Robinson. If he can make a few plays this week, he could earn a larger role moving forward.
Recommendation: In larger leagues, Pringle could be worth an early add with the hope of him making a move this weekend that makes your addition cheap and justifiable. Otherwise, monitor him.
Monitor: Jeff Smith
The Skinny on Smith: A former quarterback when he arrived at Boston College, Smith converted to wide receiver and earned a rookie contract with the Jets this year. He has a 4.3-speed in the 40 and a 36-inch vertical leap, which makes him a downfield threat at the very least from the standpoint of making a defense pay quickly and dearly for a blown coverage. Although the Broncos defense had some lapses two weeks ago, Smith performed well, earning 81 yards on 7 catches. Last week, he only managed 3 catches despite getting targeted 11 times.
Recommendation: Bad offenses have problems with consistent executing and the number of quality targets that Smith earns could be impacted by this. Or, he could have rookie-like weeks that lead to inconsistency. With the Chargers on tap for the weekend, keep an eye on Smith and if he performs again, he could be worth adding in Week 7.