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 1-8 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:
- #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. That's what I mentioned prior to last week's 100 yards from scrimmage and it makes him an immediate add for those with the luxury or need.
- #Scott Miller: With Chris Godwin getting the cast off his hand to test his finger on Friday, it's likely that Godwin will miss another week or his playing time is limited. This keeps the window open for Miller to produce as a fantasy starter in Week 9.
- #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 last week, but he was only a contributor behind Jerick McKinnon on Thursday night.
- #Albert Okwuegbunam: Fant started in Week 8 but Okwuegbunam's lone target was a fourth-quarter end-zone target for a touchdown. He'll continue earning high-leverage targets in the red zone.
- Tua Tagovailoa: Earning his first start last weekend, the Dolphins jumped to an early lead and rendered the Rams useless enough that Tagovailoa didn't have to throw the ball enough for fantasy relevancy.
- Keelan Cole: Cole will be working with rookie quarterback Jake Luton when the Jaguars return from their bye week.
- 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 he's playing well.
- D'Ernest Johnson: He's the depth you need while Nick Chubb is out and Kareem Hunt is the only option ahead of Johnson. Chubb could return as early as Week 10.
- Robert Tonyan Jr: Tonyan remains a viable option.
- 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 has been nursing a minor injury and could play this week. If he does he will regain the Courtland Sutton role in this offense, which means a steady diet of vertical sideline shots 20-30 yards downfield that complement his talents.
- James Robinson: Now an established starter in 2020, Robinson shouldn't be a free agent in any format.
- #Jordan Reed: Two touchdowns and a primary role in the passing game got him the quick add weeks ago, but a knee injury put him on IR. He's healthy and earned some targets on Thursday night. He should be more involved in the coming weeks.
- *Lamar Miller: The Bears haven't called up Miller from the practice squad, but his experience and the Bears' need for depth makes Miller a preemptive option.
- #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.
- #Denzel Mims: Mims earned some vertical targets last week against the Chiefs and nearly converted one of them. The Jets offense will keep him no more than an inconsistent match-up play out of desperation, but Mims' talent keeps him on the list for consideration.
- #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.
- #Donovan Peoples-Jones: Shutout last week against the Raiders, keep in mind that Cleveland weather was windy and difficult for throwing the football.
- *Devonta Freeman: Despite limited touches, Freeman showed more juice than I think people realize. Freeman's ankle injury opened the doors for Wayne Gallman and Alfred Morris, who is now an option worth monitoring, but Freeman has practiced on a limited basis with a chance to play this weekend.
- *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.
- Marquez Callaway: With Emmanuel Sanders returning, Callaway's value likely dips but Mike Thomas's absence still gives Callaway enough targets for desperation adds prior to kickoff in deep leagues.
- *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.
- *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: Jordan Howard
The Skinny on Howard: A between-the-tackles banger, Howard found himself in a Dolphins offense that new coordinator Chan Gailey adjusted to suit scatback Myles Gaskin, essentially rendering Howard obsolete for the system. With Gaskin slated to miss multiple games, Howard's veteran savvy, power, and vision make him a worthwhile option for consideration as a one-week flier who could deliver more if a few factors work out for him:
- If the Dolphins utilize more alignments with Tua Tagovailoa under center to make the most of the rookie's boot-action prowess, which means the scheme will complement Howard more than it did in September.
- If Tagovailoa and/or the Dolphins defense performs well enough to generate early leads or keep the team competitive for all four quarters, which could lead to more run scripts late in games that play into Howard's strengths.
- The possibility that Miami designates Howard the green-zone back (carries inside the opponent's five yard-line.)
You'll read about Howard's ineffectiveness in 2020 but he's at 18 carries and 1 reception spread out over 4 weeks. Howard is at his best as a volume runner and he earned those carries in a spread system that's least complementary to his talents. It's unlikely that he's washed up. It's more likely that he wasn't the best fit.
Recommendation: We're in the desperation phase of running back demand for the fantasy season. With that as the backdrop for the decision, I'd feel comfortable rolling the dice on Howard. In addition to an increased opportunity to play, Howard and Tagvoailoa have dovetailing strengths that make working from center and placing the back seven yards behind the line of scrimmage a greater possibility. I've added him in leagues with rosters with at least 20-25 players where I've had a need for running back depth.
Preemptive: Alex Collins
The Skinny on Collins: Originally a late-round draft pick of the Seahawks, Collins was a late cut in year-two when Seattle preferred J.K. McKissic. The Ravens added Collins to its practice squad and Collins worked his way into the Baltimore lineup and earned 1,160 yards from scrimmage and 6 touchdowns in 15 games in 2017. In 2018, Collins earned 516 yards from scrimmage and 8 touchdowns in 10 games before fumbling his way out of the role and eventually betting cut after getting arrested on a marijuana charge and earning a suspension.
Collins is a smart runner with excellent footwork, quickness, and contact balance. If he's in shape and mature enough to handle another shot, he could thrive in Seattle's offense as part of a rotation for as long as the Seahawks need him. Chris Carson's foot sprain may not be as serious as first thought, but there's also reason to be wary of Pete Carroll's weekly prognosis to the media about injured players. Carlos Hyde's hamstring also makes Collins worth consideration.
Recommendation: If you can add immediate starters, contributors who offer moderate weekly volume, or one-week fliers with a significant role in store for Sunday, they all earn priority to Collins. However, if you have the luxury to add a player who has starter ability and might give a good team the luxury of delaying the timeline for its injured backs to return, Collins is a low-risk, high-reward flier.
Monitor: Alfred Morris
The Skinny on Morris: Yes, we're at a point with pandemic football that Alfred Morris is now on a team. He earned 28 yards on 8 carries for the Vikings against the Buccaneers on Monday night. With Devonta Freeman returning to practice, New York sent Morris back to the practice squad this weekend. Still, his small workload gave viewers a chance to see that he can still play when called upon.
Recommendation: Giants' backs have been a revolving door of nicked-up players. Although this isn't an ideal offense for a fantasy running back, the Giants' schedule is more favorable than it was for the first two months of the year. New York faces four units with defenses that are in the bottom half of the league when it comes to fantasy points allowed to runners. Keep an eye on the Giants' injuries if you're not watching them on a regular basis.