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 1-6 Review and Changes
It's been a strong six weeks. Seven of the ten "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:
- Keelan Cole: The Jaguars' receiver earned 143 yards against the Lions, leading the team in receptions. He has built a solid rapport with Gardner Minshew and until D.J. Chark Jr and Leviska Shenault prove healthy enough to resume their primary roles, Cole could earn additional looks he wasn't earning earlier in the year.
- 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. And with 2:02 left in the Giants' game, DeSean Jackson had to be helped off the field due to a knee injury. He was putting weight on it shortly after but even if Jackson isn't seriously hurt, Fulgham remained a factor in this contest.
- 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.
- Devonta Freeman: Despite limited touches, Freeman showed more juice than 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.
- #JaMycal Hasty: I said Hasty needed an injury to have a sho but if he got on the field, he's good enough to leapfrog Jeffery Wilson and with Mostert getting hurt again, that's exactly what happened this week.
- *Mike Boone: With Dalvin Cook looking ready to play in Week 8, Boone is little more than a preemptive add this week in case something happens to Alexander Mattison late in the week.
- #Albert Okwuegbunam: Noah Fant had two days of full practices in the middle of the week, which will reduce Okwuegbunam's opportunities. However, K.J. Hamler's and Diontae Spencer's injuries could give Okwuegbunam enough targets to carve out a role regardless of Fant's return.
- Byron Pringle: The Chiefs used Pringle during the fourth quarter with much greater frequency than Mecole Hardman. He earned 46 yards on 2 catches, bringing his total to 3 catches for 69 yards on 38 snaps and 3 targets during the past two games. He's worth a desperation flex-play if something happens to one of your receivers late in the week.
- Tyler Johnson: Johnson scored on his own target against the Packers last week, but Chris Godwin is getting healthy enough that Johnson is little more than an emergency flex-play for bye weeks.
- 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.
- 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.
- #Olamide Zaccheaus: With Calvin Ridley and Julio Jones still rounding into shape after early-season injuries, Zaccheaus will continue to be a viable emergency pickup as needed.
- *Collin Johnson: He was a non-factor last week and remains a hit-or-miss target.
- *Jeff Smith: He's still worth monitoring like he was last week, but he only earned 8 yards on 4 targets despite earning 60 snaps against the Dolphins in Week 6.
- *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.
- *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.
- *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: Tua Tagovailoa and Anthony Firkser
The Skinny on Tagovailoa: Which player would you rather have for the fantasy stretch-run, Tua Tagovailoa or Joe Burrow? I posed the question two weeks ago at our weekly Roundtable and our staff pointed out that Tagovailoa isn't even playing.
They get points for the obvious if not for imagination. Then, in stunning fashion (for most), the Dolphins declared Tagovailoa the starter despite Ryan Fitzpatrick playing well and helping the Dolphins earn a .500 record after six weeks.
Tagovailoa is an excellent play-action passer with downfield accuracy, creative mobility in the pocket, and excellent accuracy as a roll-out passer. He tends to throw the ball high when forced off his spot and he has some issues acting on good/bad leverage of defenders, but I still believe he's as good or better of a prospect than Burrow.
Moreover, I posed this question to the Roundtable panel because I boldly predicted before the season that Tagovailoa would outplay Burrown down the stretch and deliver starter production after Week 9. The rationale behind this prediction was that Tagovailoa would earn the luxury of getting eased into the lineup and the Dolphins had a superior offensive line and coordinator who works to the strengths of his players.
Recommendation: Think of Tagovailoa as a combination of Drew Brees and Russell Wilson--or in other words, what many thought Baker Mayfield would be (not me...). Offensive coordinator Chan Gailey has maximized the potential of his quarterbacks in the past and the combination of Fitzpatrick's mentoring and Gailey's offensive mind should help Tagovailoa get off to a strong start.
If you have a third spot or fourth spot available for a quarterback in Super-Flex formats, grab him. In conventional leagues, he might be worth adding over that floundering backup running back who gets carries but doesn't show much and you've been hoping for the light to click on but it hasn't. Tagovailoa has QB1 upside this year.
The Skinny on Firsker: A reliable zone tight end with just enough burst and size to win selected matchups against man-to-man coverage, Firkser has been a favorite third-down target for Ryan Tannehill since last year. When Jonnu Smith got hurt last week, Firkser earned 113 yards and a touchdown on catches. While Smith is expected to play against the Steelers, ankle injuries are prone to aggravation and Firkser has earned 15-30 snaps per game even with Smith in the lineup.
Recommendation: Pittsburgh lost its off-ball linebacker Devin Bush last week, which makes the middle of the Steelers' secondary soft enough for Smith and Firkser to exploit. If you're desperate for a tight end, Firkser gives you a high-floor with a potentially higher ceiling this week due to the potential that Smith tweaks the ankle.
Preemptive: Case Keenum, Adam Shaheen, and David Irving
The Skinny on Keenum: Really, this is the skinny on Baker Mayfield. This just in for those of you who haven't been reading my work for the past few years...Mayfield was never a future Russell Wilson or Brett Favre. He is an aspiring Jeff Garcia. You're probably reading a lot of analysts talking about Mayfield "regressing" or "breaking down," and there are selected decision points where this is happening.
However, the truth is that most of his game hasn't developed to the point that expectations should have ever been high for him. He won't climb the pocket, he's too slow with reading the field in the red zone, and he lacks pinpoint accuracy against tight man coverage—especially under pressure.
The Browns benched Mayfield during the Steelers game and told the media that it was an injury-related decision. However, Mayfield's performance this year has either been awful or not bad with a few good moments. As Stringer Bell once said, "Nobody gets excited about a $#@!^><_/*ing 40-degree day," and Mayfield's best has been the quarterbacking equivalent of a 40-degree day.
Mayfield should rebound against the Bengals and deliver another 40-degree day, but the Raiders, Texans, and Eagles have just enough of a pass rush that if Mayfield doesn't hold it together and help the Browns win at least two of these three contests, expect Cleveland to bench him for the veteran Keenum, who is much better in the pocket.
Recommendation: If you're in Super-flex formats or you're struggling to find a quarterback, the Browns have an easy schedule and could feel it has an opportunity to make the playoffs and an urgency not to wait on Mayfield to figure things out in an offense designed to make it easier on him. I'd add Keenum now if you have the luxury and see if Mayfield rebounds in healthy fashion during the next 2-3 weeks or he falters--and faltering against an easier opponent could be the final straw.
The Skinny on Shaheen: A second-round draft pick of the Bears in 2017, Shaheen was a star tight end at little-known Ashland, Ohio. Shaheen was best known for a massive growth spurt during his collegiate career that helped him become a dominant player at the small-school level. Early in his career with the Bears, Shaheen demonstrated the mobility and catch radius of an NFL receiver. However, injuries prevented Shaheen from building on those small moments, and the Bears drafted Cole Kmet this year and traded Shaheen to the Dolphins.
Shaheen has earned playing time the past two weeks, which is a promising sign considering that both Mike Gesicki and Durham Smythe are healthy, and he's delivered a pair of touchdowns as part of the Dolphins' red-zone package. Last week, Shaheen only played 16 snaps during a blowout of the Jets but earned 51 yards on 3 catches.
This is a strong, fluid, and a quick tight end with excellent ball skills. He looked good to me when working in the middle of the field as a Bear. Unless he had trouble as a blocker, I don't have a good explanation for why the Bears gave up on him. Miami is currently putting him to good use and the Rams, Cardinals, Chargers, Broncos, Jets, and Bengals defenses are all vulnerable to tight end production. These six teams happen to be the next six weeks of opponents for the Dolphins.
Recommendation: The fact that Shaheen earned downfield targets away from a red-zone package during his second consecutive weeks of snaps is a sign that the team likes what it's seeing from Shaheen's progress. Gesicki is an excellent seam receiver with skills to win above the rim, but he's the least impressive athlete with impressive Combine metrics that I have ever seen. Shaheen moves on the field the way Gesicki tests and if he can develop as a blocker, he could overtake Gesicki within the year.
If you have the luxury to add a player and wait a week or two to see if his on-field growth continues, Shaheen has the best long-term value of the two tight ends recommended this week.
The Skinny on Irving: The former Dallas Cowboy and Iowa State star is a pass-rushing defensive tackle who earned seven sacks for the Cowboys in 2017 and a total of 13 sacks during the three seasons and two games he played in the NFL before a combination of a drug-related suspension and quitting the game. That was two years ago.
Conditionally reinstated by the NFL last week, the Raiders signed Irving to its practice squad and if he's in shape, this 6-7, 272-pound lineman has the skills to deliver as a third-down menace at tackle and end for a Las Vegas front that sports a good player in Maxx Crosby.
Recommendation: Most IDP formats will list Irving as a tackle even if a lot of his usage could come at defensive end. He was a major fantasy asset in this capacity for the Cowboys in 2017 and could deliver similar production down the stretch for the Raiders. He's a potential IDP cheat code worth stashing if you have the room.
Monitor: Dez Bryant
The Skinny on Bryant: Like his former teammate Irving, the 31-year-old Bryant hasn't played in two years. The Saints gave him a one-year deal after the 2017 season but he ruptured his Achilles tendon before he could even see the playing field.
The knock against Bryant's game is that the media considers him a limited route runner who made his living on fades and slants before getting hurt. Still, these are two routes plus crossing routes and screen passes fit well with what the Ravens do.
Recommendation: Lamar Jackson is not a great perimeter thrower when it comes to timing routes. This is Miles Boykin's game and it's ill-suited for Baltimore. Bryant is a bit more of a bad-ball eraser when he's playing at his best and also has experience working with scrambling quarterbacks.
Bryant is a long-shot due to the layoff and the injury. However, his portfolio of work makes him a player worth monitoring. If he gets signed to the active roster, which is likely to happen after the trade deadline, you'll need to make him a preemptive acquisition in order to "monitor" his progress. Or, hope that Bryant underwhelms in the box score for 2-3 weeks, the impatient fantasy GM drops Bryant, and you get a player who emerges down the stretch after a brief acclimation period.