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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.
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: On the COVID list as of Monday, but may have a shot to return. If he does, he's worth a start. .
- ***Boston Scott: Miles Sanders' broken hand opens the door for the 1-2 punch of Scott and Jordan Howard, who were a successful tandem during Sanders' extended absence earlier in the year.
- 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.
- ***DOnta Foreman: He has established himself as the red-zone back and the close-out runner of the trio of backs usually seen on the field.
- ***Braxton Berrios: Taking over for Jamison Crowder, Berrios has earned red-zone touches and scored in recent weeks. If your league also awards for kick returns, Berrios scored on a return in Week 16.
- ***Duke Johnson Jr: The former Brown has earned the starting role in Miami and despite only gaining 39 yards against New Orleans, the Saints are a strong defense. Expect a rebound in Week 17.
- ***Rashaad Penny: He's heated up since the Texans' game and is a top producer at his position since.
- 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.
- ***Byron Pringle: He shined last week in Travis Kelce's absence, catching a pair of touchdowns. If there are any late developments to the current corps of Chiefs' starters, Pringle is a must-have.
- 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 but Duke Johnson Jr remains the team's top option after two weeks of production. .
- 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.
- 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 but as a big-play option off slow-deverloping play-action throws.
- ***Rashod Bateman: With Tyler Huntley willing to throw along the perimeter in the vertical game, Bateman's upside is better right now with Huntley or Josh Johnson 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 has become a productive flex play in Carolina.
- Jeff Wilson: Wilson is a flex-play with a low ceiling who gives up meaningful red-zone touches to Deebo Samuel when Elijah Mitchell can't play. Mitchell is practicing on a limited basis this week.
- 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 has been held without a score since Week 11 and hasn't generated enough meaningful targets to count on unless truly desperate for any targets.
- Craig Reynolds: With Jamaal Williams back, Reynolds earned fewer snaps in Week 16. Expect even less from him in Week 17 unless Williams gets hurt and Swift doesn't return.
- DErnest Johnson: A skilled backup in Cleveland, the Browns finally figured out that Nick Chubb is the best back in football (no apologies to the excellent Jonathan Taylor) and that they need to lean on him with Kareem Hunt out. Johnson still gives you a puncher's chance at a big play but the touches aren't the split that Chubb had with Hunt.
- Jakeem Grant: Opposing defenses have appeared to catch up to the way the Bears utilized Grant in space, or Nick Foles isn't a good match for Grant at this point.
- 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.
- 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.
- Mike Boone: One injury away from earning potential committee reps but Melvin Gordon 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.
- Corey Clement: Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard are gutting out. Clement can be useful if there's a major development that sends Elliott and Pollard to the bench. Otherwise, he's no little use.
- Golden Tate: No call-up for Tate. He's worth monitoring in case this changes, but the odds are stacked against it happening during the regular season.
- Eno Benjamin: A quick and shifty runner with receiving skills who never earned extended playing time with Chase Edmonds out. With Edmonds back, Benjamin is only a guy to monitor in case of a depth chart catastrophe.
- 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.
- Brian Hill: A just-in-case option with veteran experience if something crazy occurs with the 49ers' running back depth chart prior to the 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.
- 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.
- Jermar Jefferson: Jefferson looked good against a tough Steelers defense. I studied his season-to-date here. Craig Reynolds earned the nod ahead of Jefferson due to Jefferson's healing ankle that limited him and earned the starting role while Swift and Williams were out. Both starters appear to be on track to play in Week 17.
- Dee Eskridge: A skilled rookie earning playing time but not gelling with Russell Wilson enough to count on him.
- Freddie Swain: He has the best rapport with Russell Wilson of the reserve Seahwks' receivers.
- Penny Hart: He'll earn occasional snaps, but not enough to predict production from it.
- 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.
- LeVeon 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 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: T.Y. Hilton and James O'Shaughnessy
The Skinny on Hilton: Plagued with various injuries this year, the aging Hilton has struggled to earn playing time for parts of the year and became expendable in most fantasy leagues. In recent weeks, he's earned more playing time. He scored last week and had over 50 yards receiving.
Recommendation: When healthy, Hilton is one of the better receivers in the league. He can play outside and inside, win after the catch, and get deep on perimeter routes. Expect the Colts to continue giving Hilton targets because they'll want him in peak form when the playoffs begin. If Hilton is available in your league, you should consider him a strong WR3 in fantasy lineups who should at least match his Week 16 output with a big game against the Raiders, a team he feasted on last year.
The Skinny on O'Shaughnessy: If tight ends are the need for you, O'Shaughnessy is essentially a middle-class athletic version of Travis Kelce. He's fluid, sure-handed, and runs smart routes for a tight end. He can win one-on-one in a lot of scenarios that you'd expect from a consistent NFL starter. An injury limited O'Shaughnessy for much of the year after a promising start to the year, at least on film.
Recommendation: O'Shaugnessy has at least four receptions during the past three weeks and he could sneak past the Steelers' inside linebackers who aren't great in coverage. Although the Steelers' defense has been stingy against tight ends this year, they've given up 30-50 yards to tight ends who have a similar athletic profile and skill set to O'Shaughnessy.
Preemptive: Antoine Wesley, Josh Johnson, and Breshad Perriman
The Skinny on Wesley: A UDFA originally signed by the Ravens out of Texas Tech, Wesley is a big slot receiver with decent length who can win contested targets and find openings against zone coverage. Since joining the Cardinals, Wesley has earned playing time in DeAndre Hopkins' absence.
Recommendation: Wesley isn't in line for a lot of targets, but he's on the field in situations where he can earn high-leverage targets in the red zone. With Rondale Moore a gametime decision this week and Hopkins done for the regular season, Wesley has a shot at meaningful targets once again.
The Skinny on Johnson: The 35-year-old journeyman out of San Diego who elevated Jim Harbaugh's status as a coach way back in the day, filled in for the Ravens' ailing depth chart of passers and delivered a 300-yard game against the Bengals despite only knowing the offense for 10 days. Johnson is mobile and maneuvers efficiently in the pocket. He has enough arm to deliver play-action deep targets and he's played enough against NFL defenses and a variety of offenses to make productive decisions.
Recommendation: Both Tyler Huntley and Lamar Jackson are expected back this week. But Jackson's practice tape shows a limited option who might only be capable of serving as the emergency quarterback. Add Johnson if you are desperate for a quarterback and in a league that hoards the position. You might get lucky at the expense of the Ravens' misfortunes.
The Skinny on Perriman: I don't like recommending speedsters with questionable hands and route running but here we are. Perriman caught a game winner a couple of weeks ago and certain provides a low-rent version of Ted Ginn Jr, Jr. for Tom Brady. He may only earn 3-5 targets, but he can deliver WR2 value with one successful catch. If he catches 2-3, he could be a WR1.
Recommendation: He's the ultimate boom-bust play for Week 17 and considering that Scotty Miller is seeing playing time, there's a good shot that Miller earns some of these big targets with the Buccaneers in need for receiver play.
Monitor: Shi Smith and Dare Ogunbowale
The Skinny on Smith: A rookie slot receiver and return specialist from South Carolina, Smith is the Panthers' version of Isaiah McKenzie, who looked great (yet again) in Cole Beasley's absence in Week 16. The difference is that Smith is a fundamentally unsound player with a lot of flaws but the promise of skill after the catch. With the season ending, it appears that Smith is earning enough playing time for meaningful targets.
Recommendation: If in a PPR format and desperate for at least five points, Smith is probably the safest bet of the players in this tier. He also has a decent shot as a red-zone playmaker because of his role and fit in the offense. The downside is that he could play like he did at South Carolina and get send to the bench for a lot of unforced errors. He should be a much better prospect than he was, so if he has matured with his preparation, he could do good work this weekend.
The Skinny on Ogunbowale: A return specialist and scatback from Wisconsin who had stints with the Texans and Buccaneers, Ogunbowale has primarily been a special teams option. However, he has improved as a scatback during the past three seasons and he earned the lead role last weekend for the Jaguars with James Robinson still struggling with injury.
Recommendation: Robinson is likely gutting out an injury that an early-round pick might decide to call it quits in a season like Jacksonville's. Count on Ogunbowale to continue earning significant touches. He's not a strong decision-maker between the tackles, but he catches the ball well and when he can produce on draw plays, delays, screens, and outlet passes.