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 1-7 Review and Changes
It's been a strong seven weeks. Let's see if we can keep it going.
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:
- #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 and Wilson getting hurt again, that's exactly what happened this week.
- #Albert Okwuegbunam: Noah Fant had two days of full practices in the middle of the week, which led me to think it would reduce Okwuegbunam's opportunities. However, Fant doesn't look effective on much more than straight-line routes. He also aggravated the injury late in the Chiefs' game, which means he's prone to re-aggravation while Lock fed Okwuegbunam more than any receiver on the team last week.
- Tua Tagovailoa: Earning his first start this weekend.
- 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.
- #Dez Bryant: Officially signed to the team, Bryant should get a shot to see the field in a week or two, at most.
- Adam Shaheen: We'll see how much rapport he has with Tagovailoa over the next few weeks.
- David Irving: The Raiders protected Irving this weekend as the defensive end gets into football shape and learns the defense.
- Case Keenum: Baker Mayfield had another hopeful game against the woeful Cincinnati Bengals. The coaching staff endorsed Mayfield before the game. I'm not buying it until I see quality play against tougher opponents that make him do what he has struggled doing what decent starters do.
- *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.
- 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.
- #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.
- *Hakeem Butler: After media speculation that he could earn playing time in recent weeks hasn't played out, he's the type of player you'll likely need to wait and see action before making a move.
- *Anthony Firkser: The Titans tight end was a non-factor against the Steelers.
- 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.
- *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.
- *Olamide Zaccheaus: Brandon Powell and Russell Gage are earning opportunities ahead of Zaccheaus
- *Collin Johnson: He was a non-factor last week and remains a hit-or-miss target.
Let's look at this week's recommendations.
Add Now: Scott Miller and Lamar Miller
The Skinny on Scott Miller: He's not the type of usual add-now candidate for his feature but when you consider the circumstances, he's likely available in a lot of leagues due to the recent addition of Antonio Brown to the Buccaneers roster. Miller is seen as a short-term option who is about to lose a lot of snaps to Brown.
However, Chris Godwin's finger surgery and Mike Evans playing at 80 percent (subtract about 15-20 percent for the overestimation factor) due to his high-ankle sprain, and the Buccaneers plan to expand Miller's usage this week as a bridge between Brown's on-boarding and Godwin's projected one-week recovery time. Miller and Brady have a strong rapport, especially in the vertical game and the Giants defense is a good matchup.
Recommendation: As a one- or two-week option, Miller is as good as you can get. He's fast enough to stretch the field and he has proven to be at the spot where Brady places the ball on vertical routes up the perimeter and the seam. Miller also doesn't need a clean area to make catches, which is an essential plus for his fantasy prospects. He has top-12 fantasy upside this week and possibly next, depending on the health of Godwin and the readiness of Brown.
The Skinny on Lamar Miller: The former Dolphins and Texans starter tore his ACL last year and the Texans let him walk. He spent the summer in Patriots camp but New England made him a late-summer cut. The Bears added Miller after losing Tarik Cohen for the year.
When healthy, Miller is a smooth runner who wins with one-cut precision, burst, and smart decision-making. He's a big enough back to earn yards after contact, and he's an underrated receiver. With five consecutive years of at least 1,000 yards from scrimmage, Miller has the skills and experience to deliver if called upon.
Recommendation: The Bears noted this week that Miller is almost ready to earn an active roster spot in Chicago. David Montgomery has one 80-yard performance this year and has only 4 games with at least 80 yards during his two-year career. One of the things missing from Montgomery's game on a consistent basis has been hyper-efficiency with his decision-making.
Miller could offer a level of efficiency to his game that threatens some of Montgomery's workload. And of course, if Montgomery gets hurt, Miller should be in consideration for the starting role ahead of Artavis Pierce and Ryan Nall, and deliver fantasy production no worse than Montgomery's low-end RB2 value in this offense.
Preemptive: Denzel Mims and Donovan Peoples-Jones
The Skinny on Mims: The Jets' first-round pick made his debut with the Bills last week, earning 7 targets for 42 yards. Most of his catches were short and intermediate routes to the perimeter and the flats. However, he has the speed and contested-catch skills of a primary vertical threat.
Recommendation: Expect more deep targets from Mims in the coming weeks after getting fed easy targets during his first game. With the Jets often playing from behind, Mims should earn a moderate amount of targets against zone defenses late in the game and deep targets early in the contest.
The Jets offense makes Mims a volatile option with potential for a lot of lows and few highs. However, he has a lot of promise that could emerge fast because of his route skills and willingness to work over the middle.
The Skinny on Peoples-Jones: A five-star recruit at Michigan, Peoples-Jones had a modest career for the Wolverines as a receiver but much of that has to do with Jim Harbaugh's stone-age offense and lack of talent at quarterback. Despite lacking top long-speed Peoples-Jones was one of the best return specialists in college football and he displayed a knack for winning contested targets thanks to superior body control.
The Browns had to use Peoples-Jones late in the Bengals game and he proved reliable with a game-winning fade route that should earn him consistent time in three- and four-receiver sets this week and for the rest of the season due to Odell Beckham Jr's ACL tear. Cleveland wants to run the ball, and it has a favorable schedule of bad defenses that could allow this offense to dictate terms more often than its passing game may otherwise merit versus quality opponents, which could limit Peoples-Jones' upside unless Jarvis Landry or Rashard Higgins miss time.
Recommendation: Peoples-Jones is one of the exceptional cases where his grade would have changed enough to earn a much higher ranking in the 2021 Rookie Scouting Portfolio's new grading criteria for the position than it would for the 2020 publication. There's a real opportunity for Peoples-Jones to make inroads with the Browns coaching staff as an offensive contributor. If he proves consistent as a play-maker, it may prove difficult for the staff to keep him off the field, which could lead to flip-flop in roles with Higgins, who is the new starter.
This promise is enticing to read for fantasy players, but consider it a low-odds proposition right now. He's worth a preemptive addition to seeing how his playing time changes and if he continues earning high-leverage big-play targets. Otherwise, if you monitor him without adding, his value could skyrocket and you've priced yourself out of the market.
Monitor: Marquez Callaway
The Skinny on Callaway: A rookie from Tennessee, Callaway made the team on the strength of his special team's prowess. He has the size, speed, and physicality of a starting wide receiver but he's a raw route runner against man-to-man coverage.
While Michael Thomas has been out, Callaway has delivered as an emergency starter. Most of his targets have come in wide-open zones in the short and intermediate ranges of the field. With Emmanuel Sanders out due to COVID-19 and Thomas still recuperating from a setback to his leg injury, Callaway will continue earning a lot of targets in open zones that will add up in PPR formats.
Recommendation: Callaway is an easy source for a baseline of points. If he earns the rare deep target, he could offer top-24 upside in any given week, but based on the way defenses have been playing Brees, one should count a lot more on an accumulation of short and intermediate targets against zone defenses.
He's had a limited practice schedule due to an ankle injury but Jene Bramel expects Callaway to play. Because his role will be to get open in zones, the stress on his ankle as a route runner won't be as great as if it were against-man-to-man.
Think of Callaway as a high-floor emergency player if you're desperate for a modicum of points at the last minute.