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.
- ***Duke Johnson Jr: The veteran earned a featured workload and ran hard, scoring twice. His schedule has two tough run defenses and one easier option.
- Braxton Berrios: He didn't earn many targets, but he's a good red-zone option who makes the most of his opportunities. He scored last week.
- D'Ernest Johnson: One injury away.
- 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.
- 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 continues to outplay Chuba Hubbard.
- 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.
- Craig Reynolds: A smart and efficient runner who can earn a featured workload if D'Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams remain out.
- Jakeem Grant: A limited route runner with great open field skills.
- 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: Duke Johnson Jr might be the man in Miami with Gaskin as the complement. 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.
- 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.
- Dee Eskridge: He's not generating fantasy production, but he has taken over Freddie Swain's contributor role.
- Le'Veon Bell: Signed by the Buccaneers with Leonard Forunette doubtful and Gio Bernard on IR.
- 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: Chase Edmonds is back and Benjamin only had a bit part while Edmonds was gone.
- Brian Hill: He'll need Jeff Wilson and Elijah Mitchell to be out.
- Corey Clement: Ezekiel Elliott is playing hurt but Tony Pollard was healthy enough to go last week. Clement is a just-in-case option.
- 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..
- 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. He's active this week.
- Penny Hart: Barely used. Behind Eskridge and Freddie Swain.
- Freddie Swain: Eskridge has taken over Swain's role.
- Ty'Son Williams: With Devonta Freeman performing well enough and Latavius Murray back, Williams isn't worth a roster spot.
- tJaMycal Hasty: Mitchell and Wilson are healthy enough.
- 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.
- Rashard Higgins: He's rarely a factor.
- Kylin Hill: IR.
- 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: Justin Jackson, Gabriel Davis, Nico Collins,
The Skinny on Jackson: This nomination feels like cheating because Jackson's a talented runner who was a top waiver wire choice this week after 99 yards from scrimmage against the Chiefs. He's a shifty back with burst and vision whose rookie-year injury in training camp opened the door for Austin Ekeler to get his shot to shine and the rest is history. Jackson hasn't stayed healthy throughout his career but when he's on the field, he makes plays.
Recommendation: With Jackson splitting time with Ekeler and leading the team in rushing last week, expect more of the same this week. He's a solid fill-in as your flex or emergency RB2 this week.
The Skinny on Davis: Another "I feel like I'm cheating here," because Davis is a well-known commodity who has already delivered in the place of Emmanuel Sanders last week. Still, if Davis is available, you should grab him. He'll deliver in the red zone and on routes in the middle of the field where he has a shot at yards after the catch when targeted in stride.
Recommendation: Davis has WR2 upside if he scores and a flex floor, otherwise.
The Skinny on Collins: A well-built rookie from Michigan who wins contested plays and has enough speed to separate on vertical routes 25-35 yards downfield, Collins has 14 targets, 7 catches, and 83 yards during the past two weeks. Davis Mills is playing well and Brandin Cooks is currently on the COVID list. Collins will see targets regardless of Cooks' status but that total will climb if Cooks is out.
Recommendation The best COVID-emergency option out there, if Jackson and Davis were taken during your free agent bidding period.
Preemptive: DeeJay Dallas and Jaret Patterson
The Skinny on Dallas: With Alex Collins close to returning and Rashad Jennings earning significant playing time, Dallas could be reduced to specific passing-down duties. Even so, he's a physical runner with receiving skills who gets downhill in a hurry and isn't afraid to collide with defenders.
Recommendation: Dallas won't give you more than flex production unless he scores a touchdown and because he won't earn red-zone touches unless something happens to Collins and/or Jennings, don't count on it happening. Monitor Seattle's depth chat before considering Dallas.
The Skinny on Patterson: A rookie from Buffalo, Patterson lacks top speed and size but he's quick enough to hit creases, he has the vision to find holes, and the movement and contact balance to deliver as a productive contributor or short-term starter. Antonio Gibson's toe injury is a development to monitor, which makes Patterson a logical addition in case Gibson can't go.
Recommendation: Add Patterson and keep him until you know that Gibson's toe won't be an issue. If it is, Gibson can be a low-RB 2.
Monitor: Isaiah Ford AND Ihmir Smith-Marsette
The Skinny on Ford: He earned extended playing time last week and even caught a vertical route, which is something Ford hasn't done much of in the NFL although it was a big part of his game at Virginia Tech. For has reliable hands and can win contested targets. He lacks deep speed, so his vertical routes come on play-action and from the slot.
Recommendation: Miami's receiving corps will be healthy enough to limit Ford's opportunities this week.
The Skinny on Smith-Marsette: An athlete similar to teammate Dede Westbrook — undersized and dynamic in the open field — Ihmir-Marsett scored on a seven-yard pass last weekend. If Adam Thielen misses another game, Smith-Marsette could see the field again. The Vikings may also decide that Smith-Marsette would benefit from playing time as the season reaches its conclusion.
Recommendation: An end-of-roster consideration in only the deepest leagues.