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 1-13 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. With Jalen Hurts a better vertical passer than Carson Wentz, Fulgham could see revitalized opportunities down the stretch. But it's a volatile situation for Fulgham to play with a rookie.
- 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. He scored twice against the Chiefs in Week 12.
- #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.
- #Scott Miller: Miller knows the offense better than Antonio Brown and he's returning to health. This means he could play a little faster than Brown. He and Tom Brady had a strong rapport earlier in the season. He could be worth an add this weekend if you're desperate for a receiver and Mike Evans is a game-time decision with his hamstring injury.
- 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.
- *Quintez Cephus: Cephus scored last week and Marvin Hall got cut. With Kenny Golladay likely inactive, Cephus could be worth a preemptive pick as depth.
- Ito Smith: Although Todd Gurley played last week, Smith earned 10 touches for 34 yards and could remain part of a three-headed backfield thanks to Gurley's arthritic knee that dealt with recent flare-ups and will have a greater chance of limiting him as the season winds down.
Players Still Worth Monitoring
- *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.
- *JaMycal Hasty: Hasty is still one injury away from a bigger role and two injuries away from starting.
- *Mike Thomas: Tee Higgins has done enough that Thomas is an injury-substitute of note.
- *Kerryon Johnson: D'Andre Swift appears likely to play, which should limit Johnson's opportunities. Last week, Johnson earned 6 touches for 11 yards against the Bears.
- Devin Duvernay: Talented, but only saw 1 target despite playing 44 snaps against Dallas.
- *Kyle Rudolph: After a solid run, the return of Adam Thielen and a foot injury were enough to render Rudolph scoreless last week. He's likely to miss a Buccaneers matchup that should prove a high-scoring affair.
- *Robert Griffin 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.
- *TySon 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. At this point, the backfield appears 100 percent after its scare.
- *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.
- *Luke Willson: Mark Andrews is back and Willson did little.
Let's look at this week's recommendations.
Add Now: Chad Hansen, Collin Johnson, and Ty Johnson
The Skinny on Hansen: A former star receiver with the California Bears, Hansen began his career as a fourth-round pick of the New York Jets in 2017 and flashed some nice moments but never earned enough playing time to become a meaningful contributor. Since then, Hansen has bounced around training camps trying to latch on with the Patriots and then wound up the practice squads of the Titans, Broncos, and Saints.
Hansen has been with the Texans since 2019 as a practice squad option, earning the call last week after Will Fuller V's suspension, Randall Cobb's injury, and the release of Kenny Stills. Hanson promptly showed that he could find the open zones and make catches in traffic over the middle to the tune of 5 receptions for 101 yards against the Colts.
Hansen has adequate long-speed for a receiver (4.53-second, 40-Yard Dash), but it's his 4.13-second, Short Shuttle, and 6.73-second, Three Cone times that project well to the slot where he thrived last week. If needed, Hansen has shown excellent tracking on vertical routes to win contested targets on the perimeter, but it's unlikely that he and Deshaun Watson will have that kind of rapport.
Recommendation: The Bears are one of the stingiest passing defenses in the NFL but gave up fantasy-worthy PPR weeks to the likes of Danny Amendola (twice), Calvin Ridley, Robby Anderson, and Allen Lazard, and they've been 20 percent more generous than the average NFL defense to receivers for the past five weeks and 41 percent more generous for the past three.
The common factors with this information are that the Bears are more generous with slot receivers or players that see significant slot time and they weren't that stingy against the quality quarterbacking of Matthew Stafford, Aaron Rodgers, Kirk Cousins, and Drew Brees. Watson is good enough to create against the Bears and Hansen should be a viable beneficiary.
The Skinny on Collin Johnson: A top wide receiver prospect entering the 2019 college season, Johnson's stock fell at Texas after evaluators realized that he wasn't a speedster and he failed to build on his junior production. Add to the fact that the NFL has gone away from the big receiver as an early-round target if that receiver lacks top speed, and you get Johnson going to the Jaguars in the fifth round.
Johnson impressed enough in camp to make the final roster and earn occasional time with the offense. Those opportunities increase in Weeks 12 and 13, leading to 14 targets, 162 yards, and a touchdown during this span.
The rookie has a wide catch radius and a rugged frame for winning contested plays. He and Mike Glennon have a better rapport than Glennon has with D.J. Chark Jr. With Laviska Shenault Jr dealing with injuries that shuttle him in and out of the lineup, look for Johnson to earn at least another 35-40 snaps against the Titans' lackluster zone defense in Week 14.
Recommendation: Johnson has PPR value with Glennon under center. He's earning the type of targets that often generate chunk yardage--seam routes, corner routes, and play-action vertical routes. If you can't get Hansen, Johnson could prove as valuable, especially for a team that could be in catch-up mode.
The Skinny on Ty Johnson: Ty Johnson was a speedster out of Maryland with excellent return skills and promising work as a runner. The Lions drafted Johnson in the sixth round in 2019 and he showed a little with the team last year but the Lions weren't impressed enough to keep him.
Johnson has good downhill skills between the tackles and he catches the ball well. The Jets added Johnson after the Lions waived him in October and has contributed in New York as an active but limited part of the offense for multiple games.
Last week, Johnson earned 117 yards from scrimmage against the Raiders after Frank Gore suffered a concussion. There's a good chance he'll play this week against a Seattle defense that is the 12th-most generous unit against the run in the NFL.
Recommendation: After studying the past four games Johnson played as a Jet, he looks like the runner that I thought had legitimate contributor-potential at Maryland. He found creases, navigated penetration into the backfield well enough to earn positive yards, and caught the ball well. He also finished well when he got downhill.
He didn't take many opportunities to be creative in the open field, but he knew when to get downhill and make the most of his time past the line of scrimmage. It didn't hurt that left tackle Mekhi Becton looks great on the left side of the line and opened several strong creases. However, it wasn't just the left side of the line that Johnson accessed for positive yards.
While there's a chance Gore plays, if Johnson earns the start, he has a shot at another 100-yard afternoon against a Seahawks team that has been playing down to its competition during recent weeks.
Preemptive: Peyton Barber
The Skinny on Barber: Antonio Gibson will likely miss this week with a toe injury, and it means Barber will serve as the short-yardage runner and between-the-tackles thumper, complementing scatback J.K. McKissic. Barker only earned 23 yards against the Steelers last week, but he earned 14 carries and scored a touchdown. Washington faces a good San Francisco run defense this weekend, a forgiving Seattle defense in Week 15, and an even more generous Panthers unit in Week 16.
Recommendation: Because Barber's role is to earn first downs in short-yardage situations, his yards-per-carry average will look bad. Even so, he's a savvy runner who does a good job squeezing yardage out of difficult situations and he's a solid goalline option who can give you a reasonable shot at a touchdown, which makes him a worthwhile desperation flex play. Jene Bramel said on Thursday Night's Audible that there's a decent chance that Gibson could miss multiple weeks, so Barber could be worth keeping on hand.
Monitor: Lynn Bowden Jr and Josh Gordon
The Skinny on Bowden: Touted as a Randall Cobb-like option at Kentucky, Bowden was a wide receiver and electric return specialist who spent most of his senior year playing quarterback. The Raiders liked his skills as a runner enough to draft Bowden in the third round and labeled him a running back. Before the season began, the Raiders traded Bowden to Miami.
Bowden earned his first snaps with the Dolphins two weeks ago, earning 1 target on 22 plays. Last week against the Bengals, Bowden earned 52 yards on 5 touches and played 31 snaps. This week, Matt Breida is still on COVID-Reserve due to a positive test, Salvon Ahmed has a shoulder injury that will likely render him inactive, and DeAndre Washington is iffy with a hamstring.
Add to the fact that Myles Gaskin is practicing on a limited basis with a knee injury and Bowden could continue to see his playing time expand against the Chiefs.
Recommendation: Bowden looked like a developmental NFL slot receiver or flanker at Kentucky before he was forced into emergency quarterback duty last year. During that span, I was impressed with his change-of-direction suddenness and contact balance.
However, running the ball as a quarterback is still much different than operating as a running back and it will take some time before he makes a smooth transition beyond running draws, toss, and sweeps. Of his 52 yards last week, 41 came as a receiver from the backfield. Expect the same from him against the Chiefs if he's used in a similar capacity as last week.
Bowden is a high-upside desperation flex-addition due to his open-field prowess that could lead to a big play that makes starting him worthwhile if have few other choices.
The Skinny on Gordon: The super-talented and super-troubled Gordon's story is well-document. Reinstated once again, Gordon is eligible to play in Week 16. He hasn't delivered meaningful fantasy value since his 2018 season with the Patriots--or to be somewhat generous, early 2019 before joining the Seahawks later in the year before suspended once again.
Recommendation: So why recommend him? Because talent often creates opportunity and despite those who will tell you he's no longer the same athlete, I've seen enough to say that he's pretty close, and "pretty close Josh Gordon," is still a difficult matchup for every cornerback in the NFL.
While my peers will say, "you can't risk your fantasy team's season on Gordon," I'll leave it to you to make that decision. You know better than us when you need to take that kind of a high-risk, high-reward shot. And if you play in leagues that have playoff games in Weeks 16 and 17, you may need to keep an eye on Gordon.
Seattle has a 98 percent chance of making the playoffs. They currently have the fifth seed in the NFC. If they win out and get help, they could earn the No.2 seed. It means they can't earn a bye-week, which could lead Pete Carroll to sit key players in Week 17 if they know they've made the playoffs by then. There's also the risk of injury to a starting receiver and Gordon will be fresh enough to make an impact if that occurs.
For most of you, Gordon isn't remotely a realistic addition. However, when a player--even a trouble one--of Gordon's caliber is rejoining an excellent offense, if you're league is functioning during his eligible weeks, it's worth considering.
After all, when most people tell you to do one thing in a competitive environment, it's time to at least explore the opposite course just to make sure you're not missing anything.
"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.