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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, TySon Williams from Week 1 is on line one waiting for you to pick up, and he has a long list of players before him who would like to make an appointment to set you straight. James Robinson would like to tell you about his 2020 campaign. And, Raheem Mostert has time on his hands if you need a deeper consultation.
WEEK 1 REVIEW
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.
- TySon Williams: He'll continue to earn a significant share of the platoon system the Ravens will employ at this time but the offensive line play and the back's inexperience with Lamar Jackson will contract the breadth of the playbook and limit this offense for the next 3-4 weeks. Details here.
- Bryan Edwards: Edwards was largely silent in Monday Night's game until the waning minutes because he was rarely higher than the third option in the passing game for most of the contest. However, Derek Carr made him the primary option repeatedly went it count most and he made the most of it. Details here.
I still believe both options deliver weekly contributions with potential for every-week starter upside. However, Williams didn't close the door on the starting job and will have to deliver 3-4 consecutive weeks of work that transcends his offensive line and playbook to do it. Edwards is in a better position to become a weekly starter based on what he did at the end of the game but we're reliant on the Raiders making Edwards a higher priority in the passing game. Consider both "Add-Nows" with flex appeal throughout the year based on matchups.
ADD NOW: Tim Patrick And Zach Pascal
The Skinny on Patrick: A 2020 alum of the Replacements, Patrick is a tall and sturdy receiver with build-up speed who excels in the intermediate range of the field. He wins a lot of routes at the boundary and he finds open zones in the middle of the field.
Although K.J. Hamler has more athletic upside, Patrick is the proven reserve who has delivered starter production for the Broncos when called upon. Patrick communicates well with his quarterbacks during the play and knows his contingencies when plays break down. It makes him a great fit with Teddy Bridgewater, a field general who prepares well before the game and displays a ton of poise when forced to extend plays.
Recommendation: Patrick doesn't have WR1 upside, but he can deliver consistent flex production with occasional weeks of WR1-WR2 value because of his red-zone skills. If you are hurting with your starting WR corps or you prefer reliability over chasing high upside, Patrick is a great candidate. I recommend you only chase the high upside if you have as many capable reserves to put in your starting lineup as you have starters at the position.
The Skinny on Pascal: Another uninspiring option in name, but Pascal has the game your team can use. He's a smart route runner, who makes contested catches. This is something he needs to do this year because Carson Wentz often displays poor placement choices.
At first glance, I liked the placement behind Pascal, but upon further review, this could have been a low throw on the numbers without the need for acrobatics above the rim.
Wentz with tough but necessary placement and Pascal with a tough but necessary grab pic.twitter.com/12fLG4JjV5— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) September 12, 2021
While there's the risk of Wentz throwing a lot of hospital balls, Pascal has made his living as the underdog paired with a bevy of so-so quarterbacks.
Recommendation: If you need a plug-and-play option now in a deeper lineup, Pascal can fill in for you until you can find a better long-term candidate. And don't be surprised if he finds a way to stick to your roster.
PREEMPTIVE: Quintez Cephus, JaMycal Hasty, And Juwan Johnson
The Skinny on Cephus: A favorite of mine during the 2020 draft cycle, Cephus is a slower possession receiver with crazy contested-catch prowess and terrific physicality. If he continues to improve his game he has the upside to deliver the odd combination of receiver who would be the Frankenstein-like creation from Brandon Lloyd and Anquan Bolden with a touch of the Brandon Marshall highs and lows at the catch point. Not as good as any of those right now, but there are flashes.
This is a no-catch because he runs this too tight to the boundary and leaves it before returning to the field of play but it also epitomizes why Quintez Cephus is such a problematic prospect for his team and opponents alike… pic.twitter.com/UAuRhoBO9W— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) September 13, 2021
It was encouraging that Jared Goff went to Cephus late in last week's game. While Khalif Raymond was a more targeted option throughout the entire contest, Cephus was the player with the most meaningful targets from a contextual perspective. Cephus is the type of player who is at his best with trust targets because he lacks great speed. That's a tough skill set to break through the NFL's glass ceiling for slower receivers, but the need for good options in Detroit and Goff's willingness to make Cephus the go-to guy in clutch moments is worth monitoring.
Recommendation: Cephus is could give you that Patrick or Pascal type of reliability if he continues earning 6-8 targets. He earned most of these targets late last week, so if he earns more to begin the game in Week 2, he should be a preemptive addition for those in need of a quick fix or hoping for upside, especially with Tyrell Williams ailing.
Cephus is a preemptive short-term addition for the desperate whose potential to become Goff's go-to option generates flex-value upside if the 49ers' game proves to be more than a one-game occurrence.
The Skinny on Hasty: A skilled scatback from Baylor, Hasty has excellent short-area quickness and acceleration. His low center of gravity also helps him work through tight creases in and break arm tackles. He reminds me stylistically of Ahmad Bradshaw a productive runner for the Giants, Colts, and 49ers during his career.
The 49ers were excited about what they saw from Hasty in last year's training camp. So much so, they cut draft-pick Salvon Ahmed to keep Hasty and see what he could do during the season. Hasty delivered when called upon and despite the 49ers beat writers suggesting that Hasty wouldn't make the team when projecting his status in May, Hasty bucked the odds — in part due to injuries and his play.
Although Elijah Mitchell and Trey Sermon are considered the top contenders to earn the bulk of touches with Mostert done for the year, Hasty has the tools to be a Devonta Freeman type of runner for the 49ers with Mitchell as the Coleman-Mostert style of back due to his top speed. Sermon has more potential than Hasty as an inside runner and every-down back, but if another injury occurs to this depth chart, Hasty can thrive as a runner and receiver.
Recommendation: If you need a back but couldn't add Mitchell, Hasty is a cheap pick you can keep on your team until you find a better option or something happens in San Francisco that generates clear opportunities for Hasty.
The Skinny on Johnson: A former receiver at Penn State and Oregon, Johnson was a contested-catch and zone option for Trace McSorely and Justin Herbert much like Tim Patrick, but bigger and not as fast. Johnson had a flair for the spectacular but also focus drops due to inconsistent technique with his hands at the catch point.
Now a tight end used in tandem with Adam Trautman in New Orleans, Johnson only earned three targets against the Packers but caught two touchdowns. Trautman earned a 30 percent target share last week, but Jameis Winston praised Johnson as a legitimate target for him.
It could be worth adding Johnson as a tight end who essentially mimics some of Michael Thomas' old role as a big slot option, especially in the red zone. You're adding Johnson with the baseline expectation that he'll provide high-impact targets enough weeks to use him as a flex option, especially if you punted on tight ends this year and need something better in a temporary way as you shop for someone long-term. However, there's also a legitimate hope that Johnson delivers as the big slot and earns a larger target share moving forward, becoming a fantasy WR3 in a TE role.
Recommendation: Keep expectations low, but Johnson is worth a luxury addition if you have one player you know you can drop and just want to take a shot on a tight end who might vastly outperform his value and provide you trade bait to the needy.
MONITOR: Denzel Mims, Van Jefferson, And Quintez Cephus
The Skinny on Mims: After losing 20 pounds due to food poisoning before OTAs, Mims looked like he was no longer a part of the Jets' long-term plans because no one knew about the illness until August. Mims has understandably needed significant time to return to the athletic shape that earned him a first-round selection last year and promising returns late in 2020.
Mims has delivered occasional big plays during the preseason while undergoing the long process of adding back weight and getting into top shape. He had a 40-yard grab in the opener and it was his only target of the game.
Although not in the Jets' plans as a starter, he remains in the rotation and should continue to gain opportunities as he returns to form. He's a talent with a dimension of play that the Jets lack and that's the combination of height, speed, contested-catch prowess, and physicality as a ball carrier. Corey Davis isn't as fast as Mims and none of the other receivers are as tall or long.
Recommendation: Continue monitoring Mims and if he earns 4-6 targets in a game with production or has 2-3 weeks of at least 3 targets and that number increases over that span, it may be time to make him a preemptive addition to a receiver-needy roster or as a luxury addition, especially if one of the Jets' starters is struggling.
Van Jefferson: The Rams' second-year option had a long touchdown in the opener on a misdirection play-action throw-back play. Jefferson is a quicker-than-fast possession receiver. He is not a speedster, even if you see highlights that misuse the word speed.
Pro Tip: whenever you see a receiver only winning on deep crossing routes with play-action and long-developing roll-outs, the offense is scheming him open because he can earn that deep separation one-on-one without it. They use that receiver in these situations because crossing routes are ways to beat man-to-man or find open zones without the need for speed and there's an expectation that the slower receiver isn't going deep.
The son of former player and wide receiver Sean Jefferson, Van is a skilled route runner. However, if you think he has overtaken Robert Woods, you're likely getting ahead of yourself. Woods is one of the best all-around options on the team, if not the league. One week of a low target share isn't something to panic over with a player of Woods' caliber.
That said, it's worth monitoring Woods to see if there's some lingering injury that the Rams have kept quiet that might precipitate additional targets in Weeks 2-3.
Recommendation: If Jefferson earns more than four targets next week and Woods doesn't have more than four targets, it's time to consider Jefferson a preemptive addition. This will help you as you determine if Woods continues to struggle. You don't want to drop Woods, but you should be mildly concerned and get Jefferson while you can.