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.
Season-To-Date Review (****Asterisks for Players I Like This Week)
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: Look for him to continue to be the Lions' primary outside receiver on a team where weapons are dwindling. Reynolds should be among the top-two target getters on this offense.
- Corey Clement: Ezekiel Elliott is playing hurt and it's unlikely that Tony Pollard will be healthy enough to go. Clement had 46 yards on 14 touches against Washington last week and could earn more playing time this weekend. He'll at least give you points as an emergency starter for your squad.
- DeSean Jackson: Twoo 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.
- ***Rashod Bateman: With Tyler Huntley willing to throw along the perimeter in the vertical game, Bateman's upside is better this weekend than it was with Lamar Jackson in the lineup.
- Foster Moreau: 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: As long as he is healthy enough to play, Jordan and Davis Mills have some rapport, especially in the red zone.
- 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's concussion and knee issues will likely give Wilson the starting job this weekend with Deebo Samuel getting the most meaningful touches. Wilson is a flex-play with a low ceiling.
- 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.
- ***Rashaad Penny: He had done little until the Texans' game. Alex Collins' injury may give Penny more opportunities to stay hot. The Rams are in the middle of the pack against the run, giving starter production to good run units and completely shutting down bad offenses. Penny's speed gives him a puncher's chance at a big day, but he's likely due for a 15-touch day for 60-80 yards.
- Peyton Barber: With Kenyan Drake out for the year and Josh Jacob often banged up, Barber is a solid preemptive addition who can give you strong production when given the lead role.
- Matt Breida: Breida gave way to Zack Moss two weeks ago after an early-game fumble against the Patriots. After earning 39 snaps in Weeks 11-12, he has less than half since.
- 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 in the lineup and Craig Reynolds emerged from obscurity to earn starter touches against Denver. Look for Reynolds and Jefferson to split the workload early (which they did this week in practice) and the hot hand get the bulk of the workload.
- 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 than the handful he's been getting.
- 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 playing time may remain minimal. Keep an eye on Edmonds' status with Conner out because Benjamin could earn a big role.
- Brian Hill: Part of last week's active roster, we may see the same for the recent signee of the 49ers. Don't count on playing time this week but it's good to have him on your roster if you have the space to keep him this weekend.
- 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.
- 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. He's slightly outproducing Fant over the past 3-5 weeks.
- 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 due to injuries to Scott and Miles Sanders could open the door for a significant contribution.
- Tim Patrick: Patrick remains one of the Broncos' three most productive wide receiver options.
- Davis Mills: Tyrod Taylor is out again. Mills is worth consideration if you're desperate for QB play.
- 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. Still, he's the only game in town.
- Jordan Wilkins: Cut by two teams this year, Wilkins is now a Titan and he has the skills to overtake the current backs if he earns an opportunity to play.
- Lil'Jordan Humphrey: He was inactive last week and likely this week due to a hamstring injury, but he has a rapport with Taysom Hill when 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 Gage is the safest option.
- 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.
- Jake Fromm: He didn't get the start last week but keep an eye on the Giants' depth chart.
- 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.
- Royce Freeman: Earning touches in Houston behind Rex Burkhead.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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: A touchdown in Week 14 and Covid in Week 15.
- 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..
- 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.
- 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: Craig Reynolds, Jakeem Grant, and Braxton Berrios
The Skinny on Reynolds: A UDFA signee with three years of experience in the league, Johnson is a product of Kutztown who had a solid preseason. With the injuries to D'Andre Swift and Williams, Reynolds drew the most playing time against Denver thrived behind a lot of gap plays like Counter and Power, earning 99 yards from scrimmage. Reynolds lacks top speed but he performed well enough that he split first-team reps with Jamar Jefferson this week.
Recommendation: The Lions will likely roll with the hot hand this weekend, which means there's some risk that Reynolds could be limited to 3-5 touches or wind up with 15-18. Jefferson is the better talent but Reynolds has been in the league longer and that could make him wiser with the opportunities that he earns. With Williams likely back in Week 16, Reynolds is my least-favorite recommendation in this category due to the hot-hand situation that may unfold. Continue monitoring Lions' news before committing to Reynolds on Sunday.
The Skinny on Berrios: I added Berrios in a league this week because I may need an emergency PPR starter capable of top-24 production at the position and with the Jets' receiving corps dealing with injuries, Berrios is one of the only healthy veterans who has extensive playing experience. Berrios has three games this year with at least 5 catches and 50 yards and all three were with Zach Wilson in the lineup. Miami's pass defense is among the league's most generous and with Berrios in the slot, expect little man-to-man coverage.
Recommendation: Berrios earned 10 targets, 6 catches, and 52 yards last week against the Saints, This is likely his baseline production this weekend. If you're in a PPR format and you need a flex play with rest-of-the-year value, Berrios is a solid candidate.
The Skinny on Grant: A former teammate of Patrick Mahomes II at Texas Tech, Grant was one of the best open-field threats of his draft class. He displayed these skills during his years with the Dolphins but never fully emerged as an every-down threat. Now a Chicago Bear, Grant generated two big plays last weekend — one in the return game and one in the passing game.
Recommendation With Allen Robinson out and David Montgomery limited this week, the Bears could opt to use Grant more often on screens and RPOs. He's earned 10 targets, 6 catches, 108 yards, and 2 scores during the past two weeks against the Cardinals and Packers. The Vikings' defense allows more fantasy points to receivers than any in the league. I'm tempted to start Grant over Berrios. I'm still undecided here. Both are good candidates, given the situation.
Berrios has the higher floor and he'll probably be more reliable than Reynolds due to the potential for the hot-hand scenario. Grant has the bigger boom-bust range than Berrios but likely a higher floor than Reynolds as of right now.
Preemptive: D'Ernest Johnson and Duke Johnson Jr
The Skinny on D'Ernest Johnson: A former starter at USF, D'Ernest delivered against the Broncos with Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, and Baker Mayfield out of the line. With Hunt and Mayfield once again out for the week, D'Ernest may earn Hunt's role. He's a competent receiver who has also displayed balance and vision between the tackles.
Recommendation: D'Ernest gives you Hunt's upside that we've seen when Hunt and Chubb work together, which means red-zone touches and receptions. He has a slightly higher fantasy floor than Reynolds because Reynolds may fall victim to the hot hand being Jefferson but his upside is about the same. This is all dependent on him playing. With COVID ripping through Cleveland's roster, D'Ernest could either be the last running available by Sunday or diagnosed as well. Add now, stay tuned, and adjust as needed.
The Skinny on Duke Johnson Jr: An early-round pick of the Cleveland Browns out of the University of Miami, Duke has bounced around the league because he always gets nicked up long enough to miss much of the game but not appear on an injury list for very long. He has functional power, good burst, but lacks top speed. He was an early-iteration of D'Andre Swift but without the massive opportunities.
Recommendation: Duke had 6 snaps and 18 yards against the Jets last week. With the Saints being the stingiest defense in the league to running backs, Duke isn't a great option but New Orleans has given up big plays to running backs in the passing game. Christian McCaffrey, Saquon Barkley, D'Onta Foreman, Matt Breida, and Ty Johnson have all generated enough points as outlet receivers against the Saints to make them worthwhile emergency flex plays during those weeks.
With Duke likely the only healthy option with more than one week of knowledge and playing experience in the Dolphins' offense, you might as well take the chance if you know you're hurting at running back.
Monitor: Dee Eskridge, Penny Hart, and Freddie Swain
The Skinny on Eskridge: A speedster with YAC skills and a physical blocker, Eskridge spent much of the season recovering from a concussion. He has seen the field with increasing frequency during the past month. Two weeks ago, he scored on a short pass and earned a few short-range targets. Last week, he earned only one target but had the most snaps (28) of his career.
He was notably featured as the only receiver in a three-tight-end set and used as one of the lead blockers on a run play to spring Rashaad Penny for a breakaway score. This is important because every play has a constraint built into it and the constraint for this play is a play-action pass. As the only true deep threat and best YAC threat on the field in this set, it's only a matter of time for Eskridge to get targeted on this play in the vertical game.
While one play can make a fantasy week worthwhile, one opportunity does not – you're playing the lottery with one ticket in this case. However, with the combination of Eskridge's skills, the potential absence of multiple Seahawks' contributors on the receiving corps, and how the Seahawks like to throw the ball, Eskridge could wind up one of 2-3 most productive receivers for Seattle this weekend.
Recommendation: The biggest potential obstacle for Eskridge may not be his opponent but his foot, which has kept him out of practice this week. If he logs a full practice and it's more than a walkthrough, he has the most upside of the reserve receivers who could face the Rams. However, he'll also be the option most likely to draw Jalen Ramsey for much of the day so there's a massive boom-bust element here.
The Skinny on Hart: A slot receiver with enough speed to earn separation on vertical routes like corners, deep crossers, and seam routes, Hart has a profile that's similar to a former Russell Wilson favorite, Doug Baldwin. Hart had a strong offseason and made a number of contested catches during practices. He's a good route runner with efficient movement to bait opponents playing over him. If D.K. Metcalf and Swain and play, but Eskridge is out, Hart will earn opportunities from the slot. If Eskridge is in and Metcalf is out, you can count on the same opportunity for Hart.
Recommendation: Hart is an underrated player but he's only had 11 targets this year, and never more than 2 in a game. He could earn 4-6 targets this weekend due to the status of the receiving corps, but Seattle could also opt for more two- and three-tight-end sets. Hart is worth considering if we learn that two of Metcalf, Eskridge, and Swain are unable to play. In this case, Hart could generate enough targets to deliver 40-60 yards of value.
The Skinny on Swain: Swain is the safest play of the reserve receivers in Seattle. He's had two weeks this year with at least 5 targets, including a 5-catch, 95-yard afternoon against the Titans that included a score. He's a lot like Jermaine Kearse in the sense that they like to use Swain inside and outside. He was Florida's "YAC receiver" before Kadarius Toney arrived in Gainesville but lacked the refinement of Toney on the perimeter.
His outside game has shown improvement as he's worked his way up the Seahawks' depth chart. If Locket and Metcalf can't play, Swain will likely be the target leader among the wideouts on Sunday. If Metcalf plays then Swain and Eskridge have the best chance of earning big-play targets when Ramsey on covering Metcalf.
Recommendation: Swain's touches have declined since Eskridge has returned to health so there's some risk that if both players are healthy enough to play this weekend, the trend that's been favoring Eskridge continues. Swain is also banged up and limited this week so you should monitor this situation through Sunday.
I realize none of these Seahawks receivers seem enticing on the surface, but with more than 75 players on the COVID list as of Thursday afternoon and the spread of the illness not about to make a U-Turn to oblivion, you may find yourself in a situation where you need to roll with a pass-catcher at the last minute. With Wilson being one of the best deep throwers in the league who can also buy time, this is the trio I'd want in my pool of short-list candidates. In fact, adding one or two of them on Friday or Saturday in a deep format might be a good preemptive play so no one beats you to them. In shallower formats, you probably don't have to do this.