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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 or unexpected late-week events.
I won't be updating this piece over the weekend, but you'll get the goods on players worth consideration, and based on last year, this column offered a lot of quality short-term and long-term options — many of them as preemptive picks:
- James Robinson
- Robert Tonyan Jr
- Travis Fulgham
- Tim Patrick
- Scott Miller
- Ty Johnson
- Brett Rypien
- Tyler Johnson
- Marquez Callaway
- A.J. Dillon
- Tyler Conklin
This is a partial list, but you get the point.
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.
Many of these players are late-round picks and street-free agents. I'm not giving you obvious waivers candidates that will command a large percentage of your FAAB dollars. These are options you'll often find in your First-Come, First Serve section during the latter part of the week prior to kickoff.
If you think street-free agents won’t be factors, James Robinson would like to tell you about his 2020 campaign. And, Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson have time on their hands if you need a deeper consultation.
Apologies for missing last week. Contractors cut my cable line (my Internet provide didn't correctly update where they reburied it the last time it was cut) last Thursday and I had limited Internet access until Saturday. I tried to use my phone as a hotspot but it didn't work out.
I appreciate those of you who inquired about Week 10 going missing. On Twitter, I made a shortlist of players to consider in this order of priority: Jermar Jefferson, Eno Benjamin, Dee Eskridge, and Brian Hill.
I'm adding them to the Season-to-Date Review section below. I don't want you to think you missed something if you've been keeping track and didn't remember me mentioning them in the past.
In the coming weeks, I'll provide brief thoughts and recommendations for the previous week's candidates as we move forward. Since I recommended Williams to this site's readers as a long-shot emerging force back in the first week of June and have been touting Williams as a future contributor talent since April 2020, we'll make him and Bryan Edwards the unofficial Week 1 candidates.
The recommendations below are categorized by my current view of the player.
- Olamide Zacchaeus: Atlanta has used him as a vertical option in the past and the offensive line hasn't given Matt Ryan that kind of time but with Ridley, Hurst, and Patterson out this week, it's his best shot at production because the Patriots will be triple-teaming Kyle Pitts.
- DOnta Foreman: As usual, the big outlets are pivoting (with the speed of battleships) to the idea that Foreman is a must-add. While I don't agree he's the long-term answer, Houston is a good matchup and Foreman is likely to earn better looks compared to Adrian Peterson because opponents are doing more to play the run when Peterson is in the game. Still, this is a risky add-now because Peterson has been eased it due to his age and lack of training camp and there should come a point where Peterson winds up the more productive option.
- Van Jefferson: With Robert Woods out for the year and Odell Beckham still a few weeks away from getting truly comfortable with the Rams' system, Jefferson should have an elevated role.
- Jermar Jefferson: Jefferson looked good against a tough Steelers' defense before suffering a high-ankle sprain. I studied his season-to-date here. Add him if you have the luxury to wait on his recovery and have no other needs on your roster. Otherwise, monitor him and a potential preemptive pickup in 3-4 weeks.
- Jeff Wilson: The injuries could be adding up for Elijah Mitchell and Kyle Shanahan put Wilson on the field as soon as he was healthy, which tells you that Shanahan values him.
- Bryan Edwards: Henry Ruggs' release means Edwards could earn 2-3 more targets per week, including vertical shots where he excels in contested situations. This was the case against the Chiefs.
- Tyler Johnson: He worked the Saints' zones for 6 targets, 5 catches, and 65 yards. With Antonio Brown week-to-week, Johnson is a solid addition for at least another week or two.
- Rashod Batman: Bateman is performing adequately on the field, building on his debut with a 3-catch, 80-yard day against the Bengals.
- Byron Pringle: ...is the option who has earned consistent targets and production as of late. He's little more than a bye-week flex-play but he's steady and earns just enough targets to potentially help you (and tease you for more).
- Eno Benjamin: A quick and shifty runner with receiving skills who will be earning touches as a change of pace to James Conner. Benjamin is questionable this week, so keep an eye on Jonathan Ward, who is also questionable.
- Rashaad Penny: He has done little, but Alex Collins' limited practices may give Penny a greater chance to see touches and get rolling. As of now, Travis Homer and DeeJay Dallas limit his potential workload to acclimate.
- Josh Gordon: Reports out of Kansas City say Gordon and Patrick Mahomes II have instant on-field chemistry. I've stated enough about Gordon, you know if you are the type of person to add him to a roster. If you've added him, Andy Reid told the media Thursday that Gordon has a great work ethic, he's a joy to be around, and that he's very close to making an impact on the field. Reid reiterated last week that Gordon is close to earning more opportunities.
- DeSean Jackson: It might be a few weeks before Jackson becomes a legitimate flex play but he's worth adding if you are desperate for receivers and haven't found any answers yet.
- Albert Okwuegbunam: Fant is the starter, but it's clear the Broncos like using two tight ends and targeting Okwuegbunam, including high-impact red-zone opportunities.
- Boston Scott: Scott or Howard may still have a role when Miles Sanders returns and, it's worth adding one of them for a week or two in case Sanders aggravates the injury.
- Jordan Howard: He's had a nice run as the starter and may still be worth having this weekend, but Nick Sirianni reiterated to the media this week that Miles Sanders returns as the starter once he's healthy.
- Khalil Herbert: I recommended Herbert earlier this month in the Gut Check as a speculative addition who would earn reps with David Montgomery out. Herbert split the workload with Damien Williams and even salted away the game. Herbert won't be cutting into David Montgomery's workload, but he'll be the immediate and proven backup worth having behind Montgomery if someone in your league cuts him.
- Trey Sermon: It's unlikely that Shanahan uses Sermon unless he's desperate for tailbacks, but with Mitchell ailing and needing almost 30 carries to earn decent yardage and Wilson looking rusty, Shanahan might need to hold his nose and give his most talented runner some touches.
- JaMycal Hasty: Likely a change-of-pace runner with few touches in store, because he's quicker than fast and the 49ers crave speed. Still, Hasty had green zone touches prior to his injury and has reprised that role until Jeff Wilson returned to the active roster.
- Zach Pascal: With TY Hilton likely to return -- and showing two weeks ago he could deliver a fantasy impact -- Pascal is the fourth or fifth option at best but offers bye-week value as a high-floor, low-ceiling option in deeper formats.
- Jaelon Darden: The rookie has earned targets during the past three weeks but hasn't managed enough to add him. Tyler Johnson is the best bet for fantasy production of the two Buccaneers receivers I recommended and there are better options out there.
- Devin Duvernay: Like Pringle, Duvernay earns targets every week. He has less upside with volume and yardage than Bateman but his big-play ability in the open field gives you a chance for a strong game on 2-3 targets.
- Tim Patrick: Patrick remains one of the Broncos' three most productive receiving options until Jerry Jeudy returns and Jeudy is back this week.
- TySon Williams: With Devonta Freeman performing well, Williams isn't worth a roster spot unless you're in a deep league, desperate for a back, and hoping that Latavius Murray's injury gives Williams earns yet another shot.
- Todd Gurley: Worth keeping tag on future workouts for the former superstar.
- Mike Boone: One injury away from earning potential committee reps but out this week with an injury.
- Brevin Jordan: It looks like his production was a one-week blip on the radar, but keep an eye on him because rookies don't develop in a linear fashion.
- Rex Burkhead: He's about as consistent of a producer as he was in New England, which is like saying a leopard has spots in Africa and New York.
- Preston Williams: He's still in the mix for the Dolphins but not enough to rely on.
- Deshaun Watson: The trade deadline passed and Watson is still in Houston. Watson is no longer a thing for 2021.
- J.J. Taylor: After fumbling several weeks ago, Taylor did little. Branden Bolden will continue to contribute behind Damien Harris with Taylor and Rhamondre Stevenson rotating weeks. He's a weekly gamble for touches at best.
- Chris Evans: Samaje Perine is the backup and Evans has a bit part, at best.
- Tommy Sweeney: Dawson Knox is back.
- John Brown: Cut and signed by the Jaguars, which is his third team this calendar year.
- Kylin Hill: IR.
- Davis Mills: Tyrod Taylor is back. Mills is worth consideration if Taylor gets hurt again. and you're desperate for QB play.
- LeVeon Bell: Cut this week.
- Dante Pettis: A shoulder injury sidelined Pettis early in Week 8 and he's now on IR after surgery.
- Jordan Wilkins: Cut and signed by Jacksonville, Wilkins could have value if James Robinson and/or Carlos Hyde get hurt.
- Anthony Miller: On the practice squad until further notice.
- Lamar Miller: Mark Ingram had an instant impact and Miller was cut this week.
- Penny Hart: Unless there's an injury, Hart's targets are minimal even if they are consistent.
- Demetric Felton: He's a gadget player in a run offense that sees him as a third or fourth option on the depth chart, at best.
- Juwan Johnson: A red-zone threat who offers boom-bust value but has the trust of Jameis Winston on a team lacking great options in the passing game but it hasn't shown up on the field consistently.
- Royce Freeman: With Christian McCaffrey back, Chuba Hubbard producing, and Ameer Abdullah looking better than Hubbard at times, Freeman is expendable.
- Collin Johnson: Dante Pettis overtook him as a priority target despite a lot of injuries to the depth chart.
- Quintez Cephus: He's on IR with a shoulder injury.
- Chris Thompson: The 49ers waived Thompson from the practice squad a few weeks ago but signed with the Bears this week.
- Denzel Mims: He may earn an opportunity later in the year, but Corey Davis, Elijah Moore, Keelan Cole, Jamison Crowder, Braxton Berrios, and even Jeff Smith are ahead of Mims when it comes to playing time.
- Nick Westbrook-Ikhine: Westbrook doubled his target totals between Week 3 (4) and Week 4 (8) but decreased his productivity from 4 catches for 53 yards and a score in Week 3 to 3 catches for 29 yards in Week 4. With A.J. Brown returning, Westbrook could earn better coverage looks if Julio Jones remains out, but he was really only worth 1-2 weeks of consideration. He's also limited this week with a hamstring.
- Jacques Patrick: John Lynch described Patrick as a back in the style of John Riggins and then dumped the Riggins-like back once Elijah Mitchell got healthy.
The Skinny on Breida: I've been monitoring Breida in deep dynasty leagues since he left San Francisco. Although Breida didn't work out in Miami, what he showed in San Francisco was too good to completely write him off as a viable talent. He's a breakaway runner with excellent decision-making and decent strength for his size.
San Francisco rode Breida during the middle of 2018 and early 2019 as its lead back. Breida delivered 1,437 yards and 4 touchdowns on 276 attempts during this span, including a quartet of 100-yard games. He also generated 46 catches, 381 yards, and 3 scores in the passing game. If it weren't for frequent injuries that cost him parts of games, if not entire weeks, you may have never heard of Raheem Mostert.
In one dynasty league with deep rosters that I recently joined and inherited a squad with Nyheim Hines and DAndre Swift as my running backs — not some of my running backs, but my running backs, period — I added Breida this summer and kept him until a few weeks ago. Finally thinking it was safe to drop him since he hasn't been on the active roster, Breida got promoted and earned two scores during last week's romp of the Jets.
While easy to think that Breida only earned this playing time due to the blowout, but his speed and hard running style have impressed his teammates (again, speed is the cleavage of the NFL) and the coaching staff liked his one-cut style. Neither Zach Moss nor Devin Singletary offers the speed Breida brings to the team. Although Singletary has earned five yards per carry, he and Moss are at a near 50/50 split in touches. In this sense, neither runner has stood out this year.
Recommendation: Breida remains on the active roster this week and his eye-catching speed will earn him more touches in the coming weeks. If he can make the most of his touches, hold onto the ball, and stay injury-free, there's a legitimate chance for Breida to carve out a role in the rotation and diminish Singletary and/or Moss' fantasy value.
If you're desperate or you have the roster space to add a luxury pick with high upside, Breida's proven skills could fill the vacuum in Buffalo for an explosive runner.
The Skinny on Gage: If Cordarrelle Patterson plays this week, he'll be on the field as an attempt to dissuade Bill Belichick from triple-teaming Kyle Pitts. It means Patterson will be a decoy or high-leverage target, at best. Hayden Hurst is also out this week, which means Atlanta's best options with Pitts likely triple-covered will be Mike Davis, Olamide Zaccheaus, Tajae Sharpe, and Gage.
Gage has speed and quickness for big plays but functions best as a zone receiver who can find open space. He's not a proven producer against tight man-to-man coverage. If you're looking for field-flipping plays, Zaccheaus is the best option. If you're looking for an option to make tough catches over the middle, Sharpe might be the better fit.
Gage fits somewhere in between as a player and Atlanta has always been high on him as a reserve with contributor potential. He'll likely lead the Falcons in targets this week but most of these targets will likely occur in the middle of the field and underneath the Patriots' zones, meaning his best bet for meaningful fantasy production will be an output of 7-10 catches and 60-80 yards.
Recommendation: Fortunately for you, Gage is in a good position to earn these 7-10 catches and 60-80 yards thanks to the personnel issues in Atlanta. Sharpe is the only real threat to threatening this outcome. Look for Gage to offer 2-3 weeks of play that's similar to what we saw from Tennessee's Marcus Johnson — 2-3 schemed plays designed to get him the ball with the hope of one working him into a massive amount of open field for a huge gain. Still, I'd opt for Zaccheaus as the higher-priority addition.
Preemptive: Rashard Higgins, Harrison Bryant, and Wayne Gallman
The Skinny on Higgins: A Baker Mayfield Favorite, Higgins has been a frequent contributor for the Browns since the team drafted him from Colorado State. With Donovan Peoples-Jones as the only truly healthy receiver in the starting rotation, Higgins is a good bet to earn playing time in the coming weeks. He lacks top speed, but he finds openings in zone coverage and has the rapport with Mayfield to get behind the defense on scramble drills.
Recommendation: Higgins is also a decent preemptive addition when considering that Mayfield is playing hurt and accumulating injuries as the season unfolds. If an opponent knocks Mayfield out of the game or out of the line for several weeks, Case Keenum has been working with Higgins on the second team for months and there's a good chance that they have a nice rapport.
Higgins is an unlikely candidate to deliver 100-yard weeks for fantasy GMs because Cleveland's offense is predicated on the ground game and there's a strong chance that tight ends David Njoku and Harrison Bryant will earn more targets. In fact, Bryant may wind up the better play ahead of Higgins if Cleveland finds success with more three-tight end sends or splits Bryant or Njoku outside rather than using its reserve receivers.
If you need points, Higgins gives you a puncher's chance at 4-6 catches and 50-60 yards.
The Skinny on Bryant: The Browns' coaches have repeatedly told the media that they wish they could find ways to use Bryant more than they do. He's a skilled player against zones with skills after the catch. He's not the athlete that Njoku is, but he's arguably a more reliable pass catcher. With Jarvis Landry and Anthony Schwartz banged up, Bryant could be the beneficiary. He proved a savvy red-zone route runner last year on film although Mayfield couldn't find him or ignored him.
Recommendation: Bryant and Higgins will likely split touches so the winner of this duel for fantasy value will likely come down to game-script and defensive matchups. If you believe Cleveland's offense will author several drives that get them into the red zone, Bryant is your pick. If you believe Cleveland will be playing from behind, Higgins may offer more. I'm recommending Bryant for the next few weeks because Baltimore and Detroit's linebacker and safety play has holes.
The Skinny on Gallman: A straight-line runner with some tackle-breaking skill and reliable hands in the passing game, Gallman showed enough ruggedness in New York to earn decent production (for a fantasy reserve) while Saquon Barkley was rehabbing. The 49ers signed Gallman this summer but cut him after Elijah Mitchell's speed wooed Kyle Shanahan. Gallman earned yardage during the Cowboys' blowout last week and with Patterson hurt, he should earn touches this week against New England.
Recommendation: Gallman earned most of his touches after Atlanta was down by 33 points. A lot of fantasy GMs and writers will be down on Davis to the point that they will tout Gallman simply because of box scores. I'd still give Davis the benefit of the doubt while adding Gallman as the preemptive pick in case Patterson is out multiple weeks and Gallman gets an extended shot to prove himself or, more likely, earn touches against nickel and dime defenses when Atlanta is down 2-3 touchdowns, yet again.
Monitor: Josh Reynolds and Tajae Sharpe
The Skinny on Reynolds: A tall receiver with strength and excellent rebounding ability, Reynolds never earned the type of targets in LA that made him a star at Texas A&M. However, he developed into a decent middle-of-the-field receiver for the Rams and displayed rapport with Jared Goff. An Achilles injury derailed his opportunity to make a splash as a free agent signing in Tennessee and this likely tipped the scales in favor of trading for Julio Jones.
It took all summer and much of the season for Reynolds to get healthy and it's likely he won't be 100 percent until next year. Still, the Lions are lacking talent at wide receiver and it was a wise move to give Goff a former teammate who, when healthy, has starter upside.
Recommendation: It's worth making weekly searches of Lions' practice reports to see if there's any mention of Reynolds on schedule to earn playing time in the near future. I've added him in deep dynasty formats as a luxury pick for next year.
The Skinny on Sharpe: The former Titan is a middle-of-the-field receiver who is tough at the catch point but lacks a vertical game. He has bounced from Tennessee to Minnesota to Atlanta during the past few seasons.
Recommendation: A reliable possession target if judging by the standards of a reserve with contributor potential, Sharpe could benefit from Atlanta's recent injuries and the likelihood that opponents will double- and triple-team Pitts. You're essentially playing fantasy roulette with Zaccheaus, Gage, and Sharpe. The safest play will be Gage but he may have only slightly more upside than Sharpe. Zaccheaus has the most boom-bust potential of the trio.