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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.
- Matt Breida: Although he has only earned 12 carries during the past two weeks, the production is strong and the context behind his touches indicates promise for a bigger role. The Saints are a tough matchup, but if you're desperate for 6-8 touches with the potential for a breakaway play, Breida is that option.
- Russell Gage: As forecasted, Gage led the Falcons wide receivers in targets and yardage against New England. Expect more of the same, including the low ceiling for a primary receiver, until Cordarrelle Patterson is completely healthy.
- 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. He has shown some skill to make tough plays over the middle, but as mentioned last week, Gage is the safest option.
- DOnta Foreman: The Titans cut Adrian Peterson on Tuesday after Peterson was productive early against the Texans. Based on their offense, they probably felt they were getting similar work from Foreman at a cheaper price even if Peterson did work in difficult scenarios that Foreman hasn't proven.
- 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. However, Deebo Samuel is now the high-volume option for perimeter runs when Mitchell is on the bench and the 49ers' ground game between the tackles has stalled.
- Bryan Edwards: After a strong Week 10, Edwards didn't earn a target in Week 11. He'll be an inconsistent producer, at best.
- 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).
- 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.
- Josh Reynolds: Reynolds did nothing last week, but reserve Tim Boyle was the starting quarterback. Jared Goff should be back and he has rapport with Reynolds.
- 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.
- Harrison Bryant: He's the No.3 tight end in Cleveland and the Browns want to give him more opportunities. However, there are only so many three-tight-end sets Cleveland will use in a game. If Austin Hooper or David Njoku gets hurt, Harrison could become fantasy relevant, at least as a bye-week option with a puncher's chance in the red zone.
- Tajae Sharpe: He's essentially tied with Zaccheaus in the receiving pecking order in Atlanta which means hes' the fourth or fifth option overall for the team with little PPR upside.
- 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.
- Rashard Higgins: He earned targets last week for the Browns' injured offense, but the Cleveland tight ends offer greater volume and red-zone potential while Baker Mayfield is still starting while hurt.
- 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.
- Wayne Gallman: After a solid Week 10, Gallman was non-existent. He may earn more chances, but not before we see what Qadree Ollison can do.
- 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. He earned a vertical target last week.
- 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.
ADD-NOW: Dontrell HIlliard
The Skinny on Hilliard: An undrafted free agent from Tulane who began his career with Cleveland, Hilliard has burst and pass-catching skills that he put on display during his three seasons with the Browns and again last week in his Titans debut. Hilliard delivered 82 yards from scrimmage on 15 touches — a near-even split between rushes and receptions.
Jeremy McNichols hasn't been effective and Hilliard's production in conjunction with DOnta Foreman, likely spelled the end for Adrian Peterson, who ran well enough but becomes a predictable piece for the offense whenever in the game and his veteran minimum is far more expensive than Foreman and Hilliard.
Recommendation: The Titans also added Rodney Smith this week, a good decision-maker but lacks size and burst, so expect the back half of Tennessee's running back depth chart to be a turnstile until Derrick Henry returns. Hilliard's workload and production are enough to consider him immediately with the hope of him solidifying his production for the rest of the fantasy season. However, let's be realistic and keep expectations to Week 12 with the hope of more. Foreman is the better choice but if you missed out on Foreman, dropped Peterson, and have room, Hilliard can help short-term as you shop for more.
Preemptive: Qadree Ollison and Golden Tate
The Skinny on Ollison: A big back out of Pitt, Ollison is the son of a coach and a smart football player who earned his way onto Atlanta's special teams as a UDFA rookie two years ago. He also displayed excellent feet, power, and decision-making as a short-yardage runner during the regular season of his rookie year. Ollison had a strong camp during the past two seasons but because he wasn't one of Arthur Smith's guys and Smith was the new coach in town, Smith cut Ollison late in the summer — and not long after, cut some of "his guys" that he brought into camp.
Ollison isn't a fast running back, but his burst is underrated for his size and he can reach the perimeter on cutbacks and bounce-outs. In a surprise move, Atlanta re-signed Ollison and activated him for the Patriots game, earning two strong runs that got the team's attention. Smith told the media that Ollison has earned more opportunities.
I've been a fan of Ollison's game and recommended him multiple times during the past two years as a deep sleeper to monitor. He needs a better line to be a consistent fantasy threat, but there are enough skills to his game that he's been worth monitoring.
Recommendation: Atlanta's offensive line is a bigger problem than its backfield, despite the injuries to the running back unit. Still, if you're looking for a player who could usurp touches from the existing members of his depth chart and deliver a shot at fantasy value, Ollison gives you a shot to do so. When struggling teams look for a spark, they often shake up depth charts. Adding Ollison is a ticket to wait and see if that shakeup occurs and his touches are enough to flex him as needed.
The Skinny on Tate: A talented slot receiver with perimeter speed and running back toughness in the open field, Tate had a string of 1,000-yard seasons for the Lions after beginning his career in Seattle where he made some clutch catches for Russell Wilson. Tate's statistical decline began after getting sent to Philadelphia in 2018. He began missing games due to injury after five straight years of "perfect attendance" between 2013-17.
Tate missed nine games in two years with the Giants in 2019-20. Still, he caught six touchdowns in 2019 while playing with Daniel Jones and a lackluster offensive line, which is a quietly impressive feat. Tennessee signed Tate on Tuesday, a smart call due to his versatility and the injuries to the Titans' receiving corps.
Recommendation: It's possible that Tate has little left, but it's equally possible that Tate simply wore out his welcome as an older receiver who couldn't stay healthy and once lacked a great reputation in the locker room. That said, I'm down with adding Tate to some of my large-roster teams because it's more likely that Tate's skills aren't in decline as much as the intersection between the price of his veteran-minimum contract and the potential of younger receivers on rosters make Tate less attractive.
If Tate is still capable, he can play inside or outside, which allows the Titans to use A.J. Brown more often as a vertical threat as well as opens the field for Brown because Tate is a legitimate deep option. Tate can also help generate rushing yardage with his work as a receiver in the running game.
If you're in a deep league, I'd add him and see if he can prove a quick study and earn a significant role during the next 2-3 weeks. If you aren't in a deep league, monitor Tate until you see signs of usage and then make the call on adding him preemptively.
Monitor: Phillip Lindsay
The Skinny on Lindsay: You'll probably have to add Lindsay as a preemptive pick because he's a known name with production in Houston before the team cut him. Lindsay has great speed and acceleration and he's an underrated decision-maker between the tackles. If he were 210 pounds, Denver would have never needed to draft Javonte Williams or add Melvin Gordon.
The problem with adding Lindsay right now is that Miami has a committee of backs and Lindsay isn't much of a pass-catch. This makes his future usage specialized to an extent that Miami's choice to sign Lindsay may be out of a sense of curiosity than having a real plan for him this year.
Recommendation: If you add Lindsay, you're accounting for the possibility that Myles Gaskin gets hurt and the Dolphins need Lindsay's skills as a two-down threat. He's the most talented runner of the backs available but the least versatile and that makes him the most boom-bust in terms of viability.