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Nigel Eccles, Co-Founder, FanDuel
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.
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.
- Josh Reynolds: Reynolds delivered with Jared Goff back in the lineup. The Lions used him as a perimeter threat and deep option. Look for him to be the Lions' primary outside receiver.
- 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.
- DeSean Jackson: Two weeks into his tenure with Las Vegas, Jackson delivered a 100-yard game and drew three defensive pass interference penalties. Jackson has an injury that has limited his practice availability. He's worth having on medium-size and large rosters because when he's healthy, he's still capable of fantasy WR1 production.
- Russell Gage: As forecasted, Gage has been productive enough for a desperation play.
- 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.
- Dontrell Hilliard and DOnta Foreman: The Titans cut Adrian Peterson but Hilliard outscored Foreman and appears poised to earn at least a split with Foreman for another week.
- 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 has produced during the past two weeks.
- 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. He played last week against the Bears, which means the sprain wasn't serious. With D'Andre Swift injured, Jefferson could earn a split with Jamaal Williams if healthy enough.
- Brevin Jordan: Just when we thought we were out, Jordan had another decent week. He's getting his shot to establish himself as the starter.
- Tyler Johnson: He worked the Saints' zones for 6 targets, 5 catches, and 65 yards. With Antonio Brown suspended for three weeks, Johnson is a solid addition.
- Rashod Bateman: 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.
- Phillip Lindsay: Myles Gaskin is the man in Miami, but if Gaskin gets hurt, Lindsay already showed the Dolphins that he can be the lead back paired with a pass catcher.
- Golden Tate: It might be a week or two before Tate gets called up from the Titans' practice squad.
- Qadree Ollison: Ollison fell ill last week and the Falcons put him on the practice squad. He's better this week, but his Week 13 usage is a mystery at this point.
- 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 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 the past 2-3 weeks that Gordon is close to earning more opportunities. If you feel conned, remember that Gordon is the ultimate buyer beware option.
- Jeff Wilson: Elijah Mitchell looks healthy enough but with Deebo Samuel and Trey Sermon ailing, Wilson could have a bigger role this week as Mitchell's complement.
- Bryan Edwards: After a strong Week 10, Edwards didn't earn a target in Week 11. He'll be an inconsistent producer, at best.
- 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. He's dealing with an ankle injury this week, but with Samuel ailing, Sermon is worth keeping on hand in larger leagues in case the 49ers have another rash of injuries, which has been common for them during the Shanahan era.
- 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 wide receiver options.
- 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.
- 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...and cut again.
- 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: DeAndre Carter and Foster Moreau
The Skinny on Carter: An undrafted free agent from Maine who has bounced around the league for several years as a return specialist and one-year rental as an offensive contributor, Carter has delivered in Washington. Troy King shared in our Roundtable this week that, "Carter has scored three times out of the last four weeks. He has also received a target share of 15% or above the last four weeks. He is a sneaky flex play in a league in deeper leagues or leagues with multiple flexes."
Recommendation: Curtis Samuel is back (finally) but I fear he's becoming the NFC's Will Fuller, a talent who can't stay healthy. Carter is in shape and has a rapport with Heinecke.
The Skinny on Moreau: An excellent college tight end, Moreau was an underused receiver at LSU whose limited film of pass-catching and route-running was as impressive as his testing at the NFL Combine. If the Raiders didn't strike gold with Darren Waller, Moreau might be emerging in a similar way we've seen Dawson Knox reach the forefront of fantasy production.
Don't get me wrong, Knox is the superior athlete but Moreau might be the more refined player at all the skills the position demands. In a similar way that Kyle Pitts is the freak athlete and pass catcher but Pat Freiermuth offers everything but top-end speed, you can see a similar contrast between Knox and Moreau, who has already delivered for the Raiders earlier this year when Waller missed time.
Recommendation: Moreau is a savvy red-zone player who makes difficult catches against tight coverage in the middle of the field. Think of him as a combination of Freirmuth and Dalton Schultz. Derek Carr trusts Moreau and will look to him even when Waller has been healthy. Expect fantasy TE1 upside while Waller is out, especially with DeSean Jackson stretching opposing safeties to their limits.
Preemptive: Ameer Abdullah and Zay Jones
The Skinny on Abdullah: I mentioned in this week's Gut Check as a player to monitor for dynasty leagues during the next 6-12 months.
The Panthers made a terrific midseason acquisition when they signed Abdullah. Minnesota had good things to say about Abdullah's tenure with the team after the Lions gave up on him as its lead back after injuries and fumbles. Abdullah has the quickness, contact balance, receiving skills, and vision to approximate some of the things that Christian McCaffrey does well.
So far, he's earned a split in the workload with rookie Chuba Hubbard and while I haven't watched Carolina's offense in a few weeks, I'm reading that Abdullah outplayed Hubbard. Don't expect a career-renaissance from Abdullah as a long-term starter, but he could work his way into a long-term role for Carolina that either stalls or derails Hubbard's development.
Don't give up on Hubbard if you have him, but you should monitor Abdullah's play so you can make a clear assessment of Hubbard's value.
Multiple staffers in this week's Roundtable recommended Abdullah for this week's Replacements. First Ryan Weisse's thoughts:
It is widely known that Christian McCaffrey's season is over and that Dalvin Cook is likely to miss some time. Every waiver wire article you read for the next week will focus on Alexander Mattison and Chuba Hubbard, and they are not wrong. However, the guys backing them up might be worth a look too.
You're forgiven for not knowing who Nwangwu is. He is a rookie that ended up a team with an established starter and backup. The Vikings took him in the 4th Round of last year's draft with an eye on special teams, and he has delivered. After an early-season stint on the IR, Nwangwu has two return touchdowns in the last four games. He's only carried the ball twice, but each was for more than seven yards. With a 4.29 forty time, he is fast, and the Vikings now have reason to use him.
Andy Hicks agrees:
Chuba Hubbard may have hit a rookie wall and while Abdullah is limited, his experience will keep the offense moving. As a fantasy option he needs better production at quarterback, but with McCaffrey deservedly acquiring an injury-prone reputation they need production in all facets of the running game. Abdullah just offers a higher floor. If Mike Davis can be productive here, there is no reason Abdullah can’t. The fear is the two backs in Carolina cannibalize each other's value, but at this stage of the season, the upside is worth the investment.
Recommendation: Consider Abdullah a hedge for your investment of Hubbard or, if you don't have Hubbard, depth for your roster that you can stash until he proves useful or someone better comes along.
The Skinny on Jones: An early-round draft pick of the Buffalo Bills, Jones had a reputation as a promising route runner who could win the vertical game at East Carolina. Jones never materialized in Buffalo and he's been biding his time in Las Vegas.
Chris Allen nominated Jones this week and makes intriguing points about Jone's fantasy promise:
Jones is second in wide receiver targets since becoming a starter in Week 9, and Darren Waller is week to week with a knee injury. Fantasy managers will turn to Foster Moreau, who’s played well in Waller’s previous absences, but Jones should see more opportunity, too. Jones earned a season-high seven targets last week and got a carry out of the backfield. Washington is 25th in schedule-adjusted fantasy points allowed to wide receivers, and Derek Carr has targeted Jones at all levels of the field. He doesn’t offer the most upside as a flex play, but he’s a viable option.
Recommendation: With Bryan Edwards having difficulty beating man-to-man coverage and the potential emergence of Jackson, Jones could wind up the player who benefits opposite Jackson. He's at least worth adding to your roster if you have the space so someone else in your league can't benefit.
Monitor: Jauan Jennings
The Skinny on Jennings: A second-year receiver out of Tennessee. Jennings was the most physical wide receiver of the 2019 NFL Draft class and that's saying a lot for a player who behaved with the ferocity of a 227-pound option but wasn't even 210 pounds. A fan favorite with the Vols and evaluators because of his skill as a blocker, ball-carrier, and flair for big plays, Jennings lacks speed and he had a lot of egregious drops in college.
Injuries to Richie James, Mohamed Sanu, and now, Deebo Samuel have opened the door for Jennings to become a much bigger part of the offense in Week 13. Here's what Jason Wood had to say in this week's Roundtable nomination of Jennings for this article:
Jennings should be a starter in San Francisco this week and perhaps a few weeks beyond, as Deebo Samuel is set to miss a chunk of time. Jennings has only made a blip on the fantasy radar thus far, but he's scored twice on 13 targets. The 49ers face Seattle, Cincinnati, and Atlanta over the next three weeks, and Jennings could be a shot of adrenaline for WR-needy squads.
Recommendation: Jennings is a big slot receiver, whose best moments come when he wins contested plays. The 49ers have a creative offensive coordinator who can use its top match-up players to scheme Jennings open in the red zone. If you're struggling to find a receiver, Jennings could benefit from scheming the same way LilJordan Humphrey did last night against the Cowboys.
More on Humphrey next week? Perhaps...