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.
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: Breida gave way to Zack Moss last week after an early-game fumble against the Patriots. If he doesn't earn a shot at redemption this weekend, it will be an indication of how the Bills hand fumblers.
- 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.
- Dontrell Hilliard and D'Onta 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 Jr still a few weeks away from getting truly comfortable with the Rams' system, Jefferson has produced during the past two weeks.
- JaMycal Hasty: A change-of-pace runner usually good for only a few touches because he's quicker than fast and the 49ers crave speed. Still, Hasty could be needed with the 49ers backfield wearing down once again.
- Foster Moreau: A 34-yard catch is not a strong fantasy week but he's a talent with a potential opportunity and if you have the need, he's on the shortlist of legitimate options who can help at the position.
- Brevin Jordan: Just when we thought we were out, Jordan had another decent week and then went silent the following contest. He's getting his shot to establish himself as the starter although the production is coming in fits and starts.
- Ameer Abdullah: He could earn a split with Chuba Hubbard and if he outplays Hubbard again, he could become the lead back during your playoff run.
- Jeff Wilson: Elijah Mitchell might be wearing down and with Deebo Samuel and Trey Sermon ailing, Wilson could have a bigger role this week if the knee injury that has limited him in practice doesn't limit his production.
- 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 may earn more playing time, if not the start this weekend if David Montgomery's injuries force him out of the lineup.
- DeAndre Carter: Carter had his worst output in five weeks against the Raiders, but I'd give him another week or two if you have a spot open on your roster and need emergency receiver depth.
- Jermar Jefferson: Jefferson looked good against a tough Steelers defense. I studied his season-to-date here. With D'Andre Swift injured, Jefferson hasn't earned significant playing time with Jamaal Williams but an injury could make him the lead back.
- Byron Pringle: Fans and local analysts see Pringle as an option more deserving of the ball, but against Denver, he dropped multiple targets and that may kill his chances for earning more targets down the stretch.
- Devin Duvernay: Like Pringle, Duvernay earns targets every week. He has less upside with volume and yardage than Rashod 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 is a bit player with a healthy Mike Davis and Cordarrelle Patterson in the lineup but an injury away from earning legitimate touches.
- Eno Benjamin: A quick and shifty runner with receiving skills who has earned touches as a change of pace to James Conner but with Jonathan Ward returning and Chase Edmonds designated to return, Benjamin's time may be running out this year.
- Rashaad Penny: He has done little, but Alex Collins' limited practices may give Penny a greater chance to see touches and get rolling. He outgained Adrian Peterson, but the film didn't reveal him as a standout who commands more touches.
- Rashod Bateman: Bateman is performing adequately on the field, but he's not a featured option and his point value is minimal.
- Bryan Edwards: An inconsistent producer, at best, who isn't as reliable as Hunter Renfrow, Darren Waller, or Foster Moreau and not as explosive as Jackson.
- 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 his injury.
- Jordan Howard: He's had a nice run as the starter and may still be worth having in Week 14 when the Eagles return from its bye week and injuries to Scott and Miles Sanders could open the door for a significant contribution.
- 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 Gage is the safest option.
- Davis Mills: Tyrod Taylor is out again. Mills is worth consideration if you're desperate for QB play.
- Zay Jones: After a promising workload against the Cowboys, Jones' production dropped to what we've typically seen from him, which isn't enough to add him.
- Tyler Johnson: He worked the Saints' zones for 6 targets, 5 catches, and 65 yards but with Rob Gronkowski and Scotty Miller back, Johnson's production has declined.
- 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.
- 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.
- Ty'Son 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.
- Mike Boone: One injury away from earning potential committee reps but Melvin Gordon III expects to return this weekend.
- 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.
- Jauan Jennings: Much like the rest of his season, he's catching 1-2 passes a week, at best. Don't expect his role to grow unless injuries mount.
- 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 multiple times during 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.
- Trey Sermon: IR with an ankle injury.
- 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.
- Le'Veon 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 II 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.
- Todd Gurley: If he hasn't been signed by now, it's not happening.
Add Now: Peyton Barber And Lil'Jordan Humphrey
The Skinny on Barber: A late-round pick from Auburn, Barber is an intelligent decision-maker between the tackles with contact balance, slippery moves, and enough burst to move the chains. If he had legitimate starter speed, he'd still be in Tampa Bay. Instead, he's a career contributor that a team will love to have as a fill-in when necessary.
Recommendation: Kenyan Drake is on IR and Jalen Richard is on the COVID list. Josh Jacobs has practiced all week but has a history of missing games. Barber already delivered 142 yards from scrimmage and a score against the Dolphins when called to the starting lineup in Week 3. He's a good plug-and-play starter like Jordan Howard.
The Skinny on Humphrey: Recruited to Texas as a running back, Humphrey converted to wide receiver after his freshman year and had a productive career in a role similar to what we see with Allen Lazard in Green Bay. The Saints signed Humphrey as a UDFA and the tall and rangy wideout has worked his way into a small-time contributing role by the end of his first season.
This year, Humphrey only saw 65 snaps in three games during the first 10 weeks of the year, but he has a rapport with Taysom Hill and has generated 5 catches for 96 yards and a touchdown during the past two weeks against the Cowboys and Bills. The Jets' secondary is vulnerable in the middle of the field.
Recommendation: Standout linebacker C.J. Mosely's back injury could make the prospect of Humphrey's over routes, corner routes, and crossers a great match for fantasy GMs in a desperate position. The Saints like to run these longer-developing routes over the middle with play-action and it leads to big plays. These are also some of the easiest routes for a less-skilled pro passer to deliver. Humphrey has a 100-yard ceiling in this game.
Preemptive: Corey Clement and Jordan Wilkins
The Skinny on Clement: A starter at Wisconsin who went undrafted, Clement has feature back size and enough strength to move the chains. He has delivered on occasion with the Eagles as a reserve and practice-squad call-up. He's not a top athlete but he does everything competently at the position, which could lead to 50-60 rushing yards behind the Cowboys line if Tony Pollard's foot injury keeps him out of the line and Dallas' ground game is working well enough to give Clement 10-12 carries as a change of pace to Ezekiel Elliott.
Recommendation: There are better talents usually available but if you know you need a lottery ticket on Sunday, Clement gives you a longshot opportunity. He's a more reasonable preemptive addition for the rest of the month because Pollard's plantar fascia injury will be troublesome and Elliott was clearing gutting out last week's game with a knee issue.
The Skinny on Wilkins: One of the smarter decision-makers between the tackles among NFL reserves, Wilkins also has good contact balance. Jonathan Taylor credits Wilkins for helping him acclimate to the league. Like Peyton Barber, if Wilkins were faster, he'd probably be a starter instead of a journeyman. The Colts cut him this year after Marlon Mack returned from injury and UDFA Deon Jackson's speed appealed to them.
The Jaguars signed him last month but cut him a week ago. Fortunately for Wilkins, the Titans are still looking for a back and they signed him this week.
Recommendation: Dontrell Hilliard and Donta Foreman have delivered enough to continue earning playing time, but Wilkins has the skills to earn a shot at the expense of one of these options. He's worth adding to see if he's promoted to the active roster and earns playing time. If Wilkins makes the most of a legitimate opportunity, he can help fantasy GMs. In 560 snaps of playing time for the Colts in what amounts to 3 seasons of legitimate work, Wilkins has 195 touches, 951 rushing yards, and 4 touchdowns as well as 35 receptions for 133 yards.
If I'm coaching the running back room in Tennessee or a scout, I'd be smiling about Jacksonville letting Wilkins go to add the younger BJ Emmons, a top recruit of Alabama's who wound up at FAU. Urban Meyer has a love for players who made Tom Lemmings' high school recruiting lists -- may be too much so.
Monitor: Jake Fromm and Brian Hill
The Skinny on Fromm: A former starter at Georgia that many thought could earn an early second-day pick heading into draft season, Fromm didn't display arm strength in workouts and it appeared to fit the flaws from his college tape. I use the word "appeared," because Georgia's former offensive coordinator incorporated quarterback drop lengths that mismatched the routes. This plan was unusually backward for a major college coach and it's one of the reasons he's a former Georgia coach.
When a quarterback has to take a drop that's longer than what's typically prescribed for a route, the ball will arrive late. When the ball arrives late, it appears to lack velocity if the viewer doesn't note the drop length with the route type. While this doesn't negate the arm concerns for Fromm, it mitigates some of the criticism.
The Bills drafted Fromm late and when Mitchell Trubisky became available, the Bills jumped at the chance to get a former starter with a similar athletic profile to Allen as a redundancy option for their offense during this window of contention. This relegated Fromm to the practice squad.
With Daniel Jones and Mike Glennon ailing, the Giants signed Fromm to the practice squad in recent weeks. There's a good chance that Fromm will be the starter this weekend and considering that Jones has a neck issue and awful pocket awareness, it would be wise to shut Jones down until he's completely recovered.
Fromm's play at Georgia was good enough to send Jacob Eason and Justin Fields packing. It's not that he was necessarily a better talent than Fields but Georgia wasn't going to bench a successful leader and producer for a team in contention for a National Title. Considering what Alabama did with Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts, you might have an argument that they should, but no use going there. The point is that Fromm has skills worth monitoring to see if an opportunity opens up for him to earn legitimate playing time.
This week may appear to be legitimate playing time but his preparation will be minimal.
Recommendation: Fromm reminds me a lot of Kirk Cousins when Cousins was at Michigan State. Neither player had a big arm, both could hang in the pocket and read the field effectively and have underrated mobility to throw on design movement. Fromm was a little better as an improviser but his arm might have been weaker than Cousins at the same point of their careers.
If Fromm can show that he's improved his arm strength and he survives his first start, which is a "thrown-to-the-wolves" scenario considering his limited time with the Giants and the team's injured offensive line and skill talent, Fromm might have been the smartest passer of his 2020 class. If he can adapt quickly and limit mistakes, the Giants might decide to give him more playing time as an extended tryout. Fromm is a quick decision-maker who will attack downfield but excels as a quick-game thrower who goes vertical off play-action.
Expect Fromm to be a disaster given the situation, but if he doesn't throw an interception or fumble the ball and keep the Giants in the game, he'll be worth a preemptive addition in dynasty and two-QB formats just on the fact that he was heady enough to acclimate fast. If he performs well, he's a must-add because few quarterbacks can deliver in the circumstance is about to enter.
The Skinny on Hill: A sturdy downhill runner who starred in a gap running scheme at Wyoming, Hill improved every year in Atlanta after Cincinnati cut him. He had a tight training camp competition for two years with Ito Smith for the backup role to Devonta Freeman and Todd Gurley. Injuries and inconsistent line play and individual work cost Hill. The Titans signed Hill this spring but he didn't stay healthy and got cut. The 49ers signed him to the practice squad this week.
Hill lacks top speed, but like Jeffery Wilson, he's a hard runner who recognizes creases well. He improved as a receiver during his years with the Falcons.
Recommendation: Monitor Wilson, Hasty, and Mitchell because with San Francisco's rate of injuries, Hill could earn playing time.