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 1-12 Review and Changes
It's been a crazy season. Hopefully, you've embraced your sense of adventure when it comes to your need for last-moment replacements. Let's see if we continue delivering decent plays.
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 with Alshon Jeffery's return. As long as he continues to play well, it's his gig, and he's playing well.
- Robert Tonyan Jr: Tonyan remains a viable option.
- James Robinson: Now an established starter in 2020, Robinson shouldn't be a free agent in any format.
Recent or Past Recommendations Who Are Worth Adding Immediately If There's A Need
- #Gabriel Davis: Davis is a productive player when considering his role in the Bills' offense and with John Brown hurt, he's one of the best must-add receivers available. The Bills understand how to leverage his strengths as a big receiver who wins the ball well at the catch point and can earn yards after the catch if targeted in-stride.
- Tim Patrick: Patrick played well upon his return and was on track for a starter day against the Raiders until he got in a fight and was ejected from the game. With Drew Lock back, expect Patrick to return to his role as the replacement version of Courtland Sutton in this offense.
- #Mohamed Sanu: Sanu earned over 50 targets and caught all 4 passes in Week 12, scoring a touchdown in the game. As mentioned last week, Sanu has formed a quick rapport with Matthew Stafford and there's a favorable schedule for Sanu to become a reliable option who can deliver 4-6 receptions per game 40-60 yards and a good chance of a touchdown. Kenny Golladay's setback gives Sanu additional opportunities to shine.
- Mitchell Trubisky: Named the Week 13 starter, Trubisky is exactly what I've described him as before last week, and really, throughout his career: A productive player between the 20s who has significant flaws in the red zone and backed up in his own territory. Detroit is weak enough for Trubisky to deliver fantasy starter production.
- Keelan Cole: Cole continues to show value as a flex-play with upside as an option who wins in the slot and outside.
- #Denzel Mims: He continues to produce well with the workload he's earning. He has consistently been one play away from fantasy value for the past four weeks.
- Sammy Watkins: Although he only gained 38 yards on 4 receptions, Watkins earned 7 targets and 57 snaps after missing several weeks. It's a good indication that he's in for a lot more work down the stretch and bigger games are ahead.
- 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 looked good against the Saints and is worth adding for stretch-run potential.
- *Tua Tagovailoa: I doubt he's available in most leagues, but with his recent thumb injury he may have been dropped. While likely that Ryan Fitzpatrick will start once again in Week 13, expect Miami to give Tagovailoa starts at the end of the season based on the totality of his recent performances. The Dolphins had a specific game plan with Tagovailoa since August and have stuck closely to it in hindsight.
- *K.J. Hamler: Although he didn't perform as hoped two weeks ago and COVID forced the Broncos to start a rookie wide receiver at quarterback, Hamler's target volume (6) was respectable in prior weeks—totaling 20 looks in Weeks 9-10.
- #Bryan Edwards: Edwards has earned five targets during the past three weeks and with Nelson Agholor dealing with an ankle injury, Edwards could earn a more prominent role on Sunday. Stay tuned.
- *Jordan Wilkins: Still, the No.2 "two-down runner" in this rotation behind Jonathan Taylor, Wilkins was productive in recent weeks until Taylor rebounded two weeks ago. Now off the COVID list, Taylor should get the most touches as the between-the-tackles runner in this offense. Because the Colts have a great slate of matchups ahead, if Taylor gets hurt or regresses, Wilkins is an easy choice for your roster.
Players Still Worth Monitoring
- *Scott Miller: Miller remains one injury away from delivering starting production for fantasy squads fielding 3-4 receivers.
- *Richie James: The 49ers receiver got wide open behind a pair of Saints defensive backs on a deep post that Nick Mullens underthrew but fumbled a punt later that took San Francisco out of the game. James still has a small window of becoming a significant contributor, he'll need to make the most of the opportunities afforded him. He blocked well on running plays in Week 12's game and it was his second week in a row with over 60 snaps, so don't write him off completely from your watch list.
- *Adam Shaheen: Shaheen is a red-zone threat that Ryan Fitzpatrick targets at least once a week when Fitzpatrick has been the starter. He's a low-target option but if desperate for some tight end production, Shaheen has a shot at 8-10 yards and a touchdown.
- *Brett Rypien: The Broncos' third-stringer had an up-and-down box score output but showed enough to consider him a potential emergency value who may be needed this weekend.
- #Darwin Thompson: At the rate that COVID-19 can decimate the availability of a position room, Thompson remains a talented enough name to remember in case the Chiefs backs get ill.
- Ty'Son Williams: Although not needed from the practice squad, if the Ravens backfield suffers additional complications from COVID-19, this rugged, smart, fast runner with good hands could be summoned to the active roster and called into action.
- *JaMycal Hasty: Hasty is still one injury away from a bigger role and two injuries away from starting.
- *Quintez Cephus: Marvin Hall has done more for the Lions offense with Kenny Golladay out, but Cephus continues to see the field even after Sanu's addition. He has earned two targets a week since Week 9. Although not startable, the Lions want him on the field earning experience and that's notable. He has also made contested plays, so he's not underperforming with his targets.
- *Mike Thomas: Tee Higgins has done enough that Thomas is an injury-substitute of note.
- *Robert Griffin III III: As mentioned last week, he was a one-week desperation addition at best. He strained his hamstring late in the game against the Ravens after a respectable rushing performance and gave way to Trace McSorely who showed more as a passer in limited time. With Lamar Jackson likely returning in Week 13 and McSorely offering a dimension that Griffin may lack, Griffin is no longer a viable option worth monitoring.
- *Olamide Zaccheaus: Currently on IR.
- *Marvin Hall: With Mohamed Sanu in the fold, Hall is no longer a viable option.
- *Danny Amendola: See above.
- *Marquez Callaway: A special teamer with injury-substitution value who is likely inactive this week due to injury.
- *Tyler Johnson: The Buccaneers are healthy enough at the position that Johnson is no longer a player worth monitoring.
- *Mack Hollins: Jakeem Grant appears to be holding his own enough to earn opportunities as the second option among the wide receivers. Hollins only earned 6 targets during the past three weeks.
- *Austin Mack: The rookie from Ohio State failed to build on his promising debut in Week 9. He wasn't bad in Week 10 but failed to garner a bigger piece of the workload. Golden Tate may be on the outs with the organization by year's end, but based on his workload, the year is far from over.
- *Dante Pettis: He's on the active roster this week after spending a week on the COVID list, but he hasn't seen the field yet. All seems forgiven between the Giants and Golden Tate.
Let's look at this week's recommendations.
Add Now: Kyle Rudolph and Kerryon Johnson
The Skinny on Rudolph: A well-known commodity in fantasy circles, Rudolph is still available in a lot of leagues. While Yahoo! leagues aren't the average format for most of our hardcore Footballguys readers, the fact that the Vikings tight end is only on 15 percent of rosters this week is an indication that he's probably not on rosters in 40 percent of the most hardcore leagues.
The reason Rudolph is on so many waiver wires is the Vikings' offense. The scheme focused so much on the run early in the season that Rudolph was a lesser factor. Defenses also focused more on Rudolph and Irv Smith than they did on rookie Justin Jefferson and Jefferson made opponents pay.
There's also the fact that the fantasy football hobby has been anticipating Smith's breakout at the expense of Rudolph and wrote-off Rudolph too early. Rudolph has become a bigger factor in the Vikings' offense since Week 9, earning 20 targets, 17 catches, and 199 yards during the past 4 weeks.
This total is the 15th-best among fantasy tight ends in PPR and non-PPR formats during this span and 10th overall during the past 3 weeks in PPR formats.
With Irv Smith dealing with back and groin injuries that led to him missing Week 12's game and the back injury still forcing him to miss Wednesday's practice, Rudolph should remain the best target on the tight end depth chart.
Recommendation: Jacksonville's defense is the second-most generous unit to tight ends this year, and Kirk Cousins has always had a rapport with Rudolph. This is a stellar matchup for a position that has been difficult for fantasy GMs to earn consistent production from in 2020.
Although Rudolph is best considered an Add-Now for Week 13, if Smith is slow to heal, or one of the Vikings receivers gets hurt while you have him on your roster, Minnesota has a favorable schedule of defenses that are generous to opposing tight ends. Chicago (Week 14) is the fourth-most generous unit to tight ends and the Buccaneers (Week 15) are the 12th-most generous. Even the 19th-ranked Saints are essentially a neutral matchup for a proven tight end-quarterback combo like Rudolph and Cousins.
Rudolph makes a wise pick for the playoff-bound GM who needs depth at the position due to inconsistent play at the position throughout the year. If choosing between Rudolph to past recommendations that might be available, I'd prefer Rudolph to Reed this week.
The Skinny on Johnson: Kerryon Johnson no longer as the acceleration that made him a promising first-round draft pick three years ago. However, he still has excellent vision to set up blocks and spot penetration into the backfield, and he has quick enough footwork to make the first man miss when heading downhill.
With D'Andre Swift potentially missing another game due to a concussion, Johnson will serve as the primary passing-down back while Adrian Peterson earns the run-down touches. Last week against the Texans, Johnson earned 98 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown on 15 touches. Although Houston has proven to be among the worst defenses in the league this year, there were things to learn about Johnson's potential Week 13 value after watching him play.
While Johnson's acceleration is no longer what it was, the Lions use Johnson in passing alignments where he has a greater shot of finding or manipulating an open crease with one cut downhill. He's not going to earn a lot of chunk gains on these plays but gains of 3-10 yards were common and had more to do with the alignment of the offense, the defense expecting a pass, and the down-and-distance scenarios Johnson earned the ball rather than the poor performance of individual Texans defenders.
Moreover, Johnson's greatest asset is in the receiving game. He tracks the ball well on routes where his back is to the quarterback and Matthew Stafford repeatedly showed confidence to deliver targets to Johnson where he dropped the ball into a difficult spot just ahead of a closing defender pursuing from the flat to the sideline. In addition to these flare routes, Johnson sets up the screen like a veteran and the Lions' athletic offensive line gets downfield well on these plays.
Recommendation: Despite the recent firings, it's not as if the organization cleaned house of the entire coaching staff. Expect a similar game plan with Johnson a prominent part of the passing-down offense if Swift misses another week.
Although the Bears are one of the stingiest defenses against running backs this year, they are a little more generous unit to running backs in the passing game, allowing 47 receptions for 323 yards and the only dynamic receiving back this unit has faced the entire year was Alvin Kamara, who earned 9 catches for 96 yards in Week 8.
If you looked, you'd know Nyheim Hines faced the Bears, but the Colts weren't making him a prominent part of the offense in Week 4.
And if Johnson's services are needed after this week, the Packers (3rd) in Week 14 and Titans (7th) in Week 15 are 2 of the 10 most generous defenses to running backs. The Packers allow more receiving yards to running backs than any unit in the league. Detroit's Week 16 matchup is against a Buccaneers defense that is the 11th-most generous to receiving backs.
Think of Johnson as a one-week desperation substitute for Swift who could give you multiple weeks of value if the turnover in leadership and Swift's slow recovery results in the team shutting Swift down rather than unnecessary put him at risk so early in his career. Ironically, Johnson's injury-ridden start to his career led to a swift decline in his production that could serve as a lesson to preserve the rookie.
Preemptive: Ito Smith and Devin Duvernay
The Skinny on Smith: The fantasy hobby's collective favorite to replace Devonta Freeman a couple of years ago, Smith couldn't stay healthy and when he was on the field, had underwhelming performances. A scatback from Southern Mississippi who split time with Jalen Richard, Smith has good short-area quickness and acceleration but inconsistent decision-making when it comes to setting up creases.
He's a good draw runner and solid screen receiver and outlet receiver who can thrive when used in spread sets. Smith and Brian Hill have had a tight competition for the No.2 role for the past two seasons. Last year, Smith edged out Hill because Hill dropped passes during the preseason games. This year, Hill's improved receiving skills earned him the nod.
Although Smith out-gained Brian Hill against the Raiders, earning 75 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown in a blowout of a Raiders, keep in mind that Smith's production didn't come as frequently from run-heavy sets that the Falcons like to use with Todd Gurley.
Recommendation: Todd Gurley's arthritic knee flared up last week and cost him a start. This week, we could be in store for the same outcome. If the Falcons act off last week's film, they may opt to roll with Smith as the starter in spread-heavy alignments. If Smith earns the starting nod, expect this offensive tendency to be the base sets they want to use this weekend. If Atlanta opts for Hill, they will want to maintain a gameplan that tries to establish the run between the tackles with heavier sets and use play-action off it.
If Smith starts, it means Atlanta will play to Smith's strengths and that will make him a reasonable flex-play in three- and four-back fantasy lineups. Even so, if you can start Gabriel Davis or Tim Patrick, I'd prefer them to Smith. I'd give Smith the edge over the rest on the Add-Now list this week if he is named the starter. Otherwise, Smith is merely a player to monitor.
The Skinny on Duvernay: The rookie out of Texas has been impressive in spurts through the 2020 season but hasn't seen enough snaps and targets to deliver consistent or predictable fantasy value. He's a speedster with excellent hands and a running back experience that makes him a good player after the catch.
Duvernay has earned most of his production from the slot and often up the seam as a vertical threat. He has spent much of his rookie year platooning with veteran Willie Snead IV in the Ravens' lineup.
With Snead on IR due to COVID and not scheduled to play this week, Duvernay could earn a majority of the seven targets per contest that Snead has seen in three of his past four starts. The likelihood of more targets increases with the COVID-related absence of Mark Andrews against the Steelers in Week 12 that could stretch into Week 13.
Recommendation: Duvernay has earned three targets in four of the past six weeks and two of the past three. Snead was active in all but last week's matchup and last week, the Ravens didn't have Lamar Jackson in the lineup. Expect Jackson to target Duvernay more than Robert Griffin III.
And with the combination of Sneak and Andrews out, Jackson will likely feel more trusting of Duvernay than recent addition Luke Willson (see below), who dropped a touchdown pass against the Steelers. With the Cowboys (2nd), Jaguars (5th), Browns (11th), and Giants (19th) on the schedule in this order, and the number in parenthesis representing how generous their defenses are with wide receivers compared to the rest of the league, Duvernay is a viable preemptive pick for a team with the luxury to hold onto him for a week and see what happens while sitting on your bench.
Even so, I'd prefer every receiver on the Add-Now or the past Preemptive list.
Monitor: Luke Willson
The Skinny on Willson: A former move tight end at Rice who played alongside Steeler tight end Vance McDonald, Willson has the speed to stretch the seam and the height and fluidity to attack high targets. He's had some success as a contributor for the Seattle Seahawks for six of the past seven years, including a career-high 362 yards and 16.5 yards per catch in 2014 and a career-high 4 touchdowns in 2017.
Wilson joined the Ravens a few weeks ago and saw his first game action against the Steelers, earning two targets and dropping one of them in the end zone. With Mark Andrews on the COVID list and possibly inactive for Week 13, Willson will likely earn significant playing time, especially with Willie Snead IV also out.
Recommendation: Lamar Jackson's likely return for the Dallas game makes Willson a more intriguing option than he was when paired with Robert Griffin III III against Pittsburgh. Jackson has a good feel for targeting tight ends and should find Willson open in the middle of the field.
One of the best things Jackson does as a passer is dropping the ball between zone coverage or into tight man coverage to the tight end on intermediate and deep routes. Willson's athletic ability makes him a decent match for Jackson, on paper. It could make Willson a surprisingly good one-week starter if you have to opt for a high-risk longshot.
While Rudoph and Reed are better options, Willson could be easy to obtain if you strikeout trying to acquire the other two. And if Andrews winds up missing additional time with COVID or later in the season for another reason, keeping an eye on Willson's performance with Jackson against Dallas may prove fruitful later.
"I look at you and see two men: the man you are, and the man you ought to be. Someday those two will meet. Should make for a hell of a football player."
-Jimmy McGinty, the Replacements
May those two men meet with the replacements you have to choose this weekend.