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, Ty'Son 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.
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.
Add Now Recommendations
- Ty'Son Williams: The Ravens addressed the issues with its offensive line from Week 1 and Jackson and his new backs built rapport with the zone-read exchange, which expanded the playbook back to its 2019-2020 capabilities. Williams also ran with greater confidence and appears to be the lead back heading into Week 3. Details here.
- Bryan Edwards: Edwards didn't have a fantasy-caliber Week 2, but he had two key targets nullified by offensive line penalties — one of them a touchdown pass that would have elevated him to fantasy contributor status. Details here.
- Tim Patrick: The Broncos' new starter earned a touchdown in consecutive weeks despite never earning more than four targets in either game. Expect his rapport to grown with Teddy Bridgewater as the season unfolds.
- Zach Pascal: Pascal scored another touchdown in Week 2 — his third of the year. Although there are fears that Pascal's run of fantasy value is running out, this is one of the first times Pascal is considered a primary starter and he has performed well with multiple quarterbacks with limited targets.
- Quintez Cephus: A preemptive pick recommendation last week, Cephus followed up on a final quarter in Week 1. He subbed for Tyrell Williams in Week 2, earning a long pass and later in the same drive, benefitting from a coverage breakdown in the end zone for a score. He's the best playmaker in the passing game when it comes to "trust targets," and nearly came down with a third score on a catch of great difficulty later in the game. He's worth adding now with Williams now on IR.
- Juwan Johnson: Carolina's defense confused the Saints' offense last week and Johnson wasn't a factor. However, when Jameis Winston is on the right track, look for Johnson as a potential factor, especially with this weak receiver corps struggling without Michael Thomas.
- Van Jefferson: Jefferson has earned three targets in each of the first two games and it appears Matt Stafford targets him more on schemed plays (the offense creates openings) rather than talent plays (the individual's skill as the main factor). Jefferson also dropped a low throw in this game. The targets are steady, but not enough to consider him for your roster.
- Denzel Mims: The idea that Mims isn't a fit for this offense is a convenient "fake it" piece of analysis. Mims fits fine when he didn't lose over 20 pounds in a short span and only had weeks to build it back while also competing in camp. Not that his teammates are fairing much better with an overwhelmed rookie quarterback.
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: Jacques Patrick and Royce Freeman
The Skinny on Patrick: A UDFA from the 2019 NFL Draft, Patrick toiled behind Karlos Williams, Dalvin Cook, and Cam Akers — all starter-level NFL targets — for much of his FSU career despite being a 5-star recruit out of high school. Patrick impressed in the latest iteration of the XFL before earning a contract from the Cincinnati Bengals. Despite impressing beat writers with his power and short-area quickness in Bengals' camps, he has been relegated to Cincinnati's practice squads for the past two years.
The 49ers signed Patrick off the Bengals' practice squad due to its rash of injuries to its backfield and with Trey Sermon still limited in practice as of Thursday and Elijah Mitchell not practicing at all, Patrick could earn significant touches this weekend. He's a big back with quick feet, but average-to-below-average long-speed. He has experience running the range of plays that the 49ers use — at FSU and Cincinnati — and he's a skilled pass protector and pass catcher. You can learn more about him and the state of the 49ers backfield in my Gut Check column.
Recommendation: I expect the 49ers are resting Mitchell to get him ready for Sunday or they are confident that Sermon will be ready and they can combine one of these two backs with Patrick and Trenton Cannon for Week 3's action. If either Mitchell and/or Sermon is healthy, Patrick is no more than a Week 3 lottery ticket. However, if neither is available, Patrick could start and earn at least 8-12 touches on Sunday.
This touch count is a conservative estimate based on the fact that Patrick may understand the scheme, he doesn't know the team's terminology and it may limit what the team can do with him. Nonetheless, Ty'Son Williams learned the playbook quick enough for the Ravens last year in camp to lead an important intrasquad scrimmage in touches and production, so it's not impossible.
The Skinny on Freeman: Christian McCaffrey suffered a hamstring injury in Thursday night's game and while most fantasy GMs will be advised to get Chuba Hubbard, Freeman is a quality hedge to acquire now and for cheap. Freeman had a good camp for the Broncos but never was in this team's good graces because he lacked speed.
Freeman is a powerful runner with good feet, who can make efficient cuts. This is more important than top speed and a problem than Hubbard has with plays that aren't perimeter runs, draw plays or gap plays with big creases.
Freeman gets more done on the dirty plays than Hubbard has shown on film despite lacking Hubbard's big-play ability. Don't be surprised if Freeman works his way into a split with Hubbard, if not a lead role, if McCaffrey's prognosis for recovery is the worst-case scenario.
Recommendation: You'll have to bid on Freeman next week to get him, but you can probably get him at 1-5 percent of your FAAB as a big discount alternative to Hubbard, who is a boom-bust option, at best.
PREEMPTIVE: Chris Thompson and Demetric Felton
The Skinny on Thompson: A former teammate of Kyle Shanahan's in Washington, Thompson was one of Mike Shanahan's final picks while the elder Shanny was in the twilight of his career. Thompson has always been an excellent talent with great athletic ability and terrific hands. He's a skilled scatback who was a PPR starter during the one season he remained healthy for most of the year.
Good health has been the exception rather than the rule for Thompson's career and at 30 years of age, he hasn't earned meaningful playing time in two seasons. He still has great speed and he has the vision to do quality work between the tackles despite his size. Signed to the 49ers practice squad, Thompson offers the potential to replace JaMycal Hasty for much of the year.
Recommendation: Although Hasty has been the team's RB2 for the past two weeks, he's had a low touch count but with relevant weight to those touches as a PPR and green-zone option. Thompson's skills could earn him an expanded version of Hasty's role if the 49ers aren't happy with the all-around performances of Sermon or Mitchell. It's possible but less likely. Still, adding him now if you have the luxury in a larger league gives you the first shot at him and you can drop him later.
The Skinny on Felton: A starting running back at UCLA, drafted as a running back in Cleveland, Felton's most promising work comes in the receiving game. Many teams thought he had a better shot in the NFL as a receiver.
As someone who scouted his film, I agree with this assessment. He's not a savvy runner between the tackles and didn't display the breadth or depth of knowledge for setting up blocks to a professional standard. It doesn't mean he won't learn, but there's not a pressing need for him to do so with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt manning the best backfield in the NFL.
However, there is a need in the Browns' receiving corps. Jarvis Landry is on IR and Odell Beckham Jr is still making his way back from an ACL tear. Last week, Felton earn two targets on three snaps, earning 51 yards and a touchdown. He's a dynamic threat on schemed plays that get him to space where his talent can take over as an open-field runner.
While Donovan Peoples-Jones is a promising young receiver with some open-field skill and rookie Anthony Schwartz has the speed to burn, Felton is the best of the remaining options to provide Cleveland some of what Landry can offer.
Recommendation: Consider Felton a low-touch option heading into this weekend, but one with the potential for high-impact. If you're desperate, Felton offers 3-5 touches this week against the Bears. If he builds on last week's performance, there might be signs Cleveland will incorporate him as an active gadget option for at least the next 3-4 weeks.
MONITOR: Albert Okwuegbunam
The Skinny on Okwuegbunam: After a terrific junior year with Drew Lock at Missouri, Okwuegbunam had an underwhelming senior campaign with a new quarterback. Despite great size and speed for the position, there was talk that his effort flagged and it dropped Okwuegbunam to the fourth round of the 2020 NFL Draft where he reunited with Lock.
Okwuegbunam had an instant impact on the field, displaying strong red-zone skills as a player who can win one-on-one on the basis of his talent. In contrast, Noah Fant is best known for being more of a scheme player despite having great athletic skills. Despite limited targets in 2021 and an ACL tear in 2020, Okwuegbunam is healthy and making good on his opportunities.
A good run blocker, Okwuegbunam's first two weeks of the season have earned him 37 snaps in each game and 3-4 targets. He's a superior red-zone threat to Fant and while Fant is off to a strong statistical start, he's dealing with an ankle injury that the team is monitoring. If Okwuegbunam earns the starting role, he can become a fantasy starter and do it without Denver scheming him open nearly as much as it must do with Fant. It will make the offense less predictable.
Recommendation: If you're in a deeper league with a 1.5 PPR value for tight ends, it's unlikely that Okwuegbunma is setting on your waiver wire. Still, Okwuegubnam is worth a late addition before kickoff if Fant's recovery backslides or something happens with another tight end in the league prior to 1 pm EST.