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.
The recommendations below are categorized by my current view of the player.
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 appeared to be the lead back heading into Week 3. Details here. It appeared the Ravens were bent on using Devonta Freeman in the first half of the game but went back to Williams when that experiment didn't yield a lot.
- 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. Edwards came up big again in overtime against the Dolphins in Week 3.
- 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 but was invisible against the Ravens. Chicago is a good matchup this week for Cephus:
- Jacques Patrick: John Lynch described Patrick as a back in the style of John Riggins. Patrick is learning the scheme and could see the field in the next 1-2 weeks.
- Royce Freeman: Chuba Hubbard will be the lead back while Christian McCaffrey is out, but Freeman is the complement and could earn more touches if Hubbard struggles.
- Chris Thompson: Thompson has fantasy starter potential but if he's eventually used in the JaMycal Hasty role, that workload will be small and unpredictable for fantasy GMs. Still, his on-field value when healthy has often made him a compelling option who could earn more touches than what we saw from Hasty thus far.
- Demetric Felton: Felton earned some of Jarvis Landry's slot role but the Bears' game was never out of hand, which allowed the Browns to run the ball.
- Albert Okwuegbunam: Noah Fant is producing well, but his ankle injury is worth monitoring, which means we'll continue to see a steady amount of targets for Okwuegbunam.
- 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.
- 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.
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: WR Collin Johnson, RB J.J. Taylor, and WR Nick Westbrook-Ikhine
The Skinny on Johnson: A star receiver at Texas, Johnson's size and ability to win at the catch-point have earned him a professional career with stints in Jacksonville and now, New York. He has enough build-up speed to get open in the vertical passing game against zone defenders when used as a big-slot receiver.
My only real gripe with Johnson is that he doesn't use his size as well as he should. There's a technique in receiving called the jump-back. This is when the receiver stops and leaps towards an underthrown ball. This requires good footwork, timing, and tracking skill because the jump-back is a technique used on vertical routes.
Johnson leaps away from the ball and often gets parallel with the ground while making the catch. As a result, he exposes the ball to the defender in coverage and makes his job of securing the catch far more difficult.
Recommendation: Johnson is a desperation recommendation for 1-2 weeks only while Darius Slayton and Sterling Shepard are limited. I expect him to be on my Monitor List after a short-term stint as an Add-Now recommendation.
The Skinny on Taylor: A running back with excellent quickness, footwork, and better contact balance than one would expect from a 5'6" athlete, Taylor impressed in limited time last year with the Patriots. Despite New England having a packed depth chart at the position, Taylor's play in training camp was among the reasons the Patriots made Sony Michel expendable.
With James White out for the year, Taylor has the most experience playing in the system as the scatback. Although Rhamondre Stevenson has excellent receiving skills and he's a promising blocker, the Patriots activated Taylor this week. The Patriots haven't used Stevenson after he fumbled the ball away on his fifth snap in the season opener.
Until we see Stevenson again, bet on Taylor as White's replacement.
Recommendation: If you need a plug-and-play option now in a deeper PPR lineup, Taylor 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.
The Skinny on Westbrook-Ikhine: The definition of a good worker, this former starter at Indiana was not a top prospect and had a lot of holes in this game before arriving in the NFL. The fact that he's a top reserve earning snaps even when Julio Jones and A.J. Brown have been healthy has a lot to do with him improving his game. It also has a lot to do with Josh Reynolds still dealing with an Achilles injury that has limited him.
Westbrook-Ikhine lacks top speed, but he's a well-built possession option who can find openings against zone coverage and run after the catch. He knows the Titans' system and is often where Ryan Tannehill expects him to be when defense changes its coverage and Westbrook-Ikhine has to diagnose the adjustment on the fly.
Recommendation: Jones and Brown both have hamstring woes and until Reynolds is over his Achilles strain — if that even happens this year — Westbrook-Ikhine may deliver the kind of production we've seen from Zach Pascal and Tim Patrick.
PREEMPTIVE: WR Rashod Bateman and WR Josh Gordon
The Skinny on Bateman: Baltimore's first-round rookie had a promising training camp. Multiple players and coaches said that Bateman already plays like a veteran. He's a versatile threat who can play multiple spots on the field and he is especially good in the vertical game and after the catch. You can read all about Bateman here.
Recommendation: If you're not desperate for points at a receiver spot this week or you prefer to take your chances on starter upside for the rest of the year despite passing up the Collin Johnson type of options available to you, Bateman is your choice.
The Skinny on Josh Gordon: He's back (again) and if you play the odds, he'll be gone (again) in a matter of games. Still, you have to hand it to the guy because he continues training and when he's on the field, he's a factor if you actually watch the game and not examine the box score. I'm talking about the way he runs routes, when he's targeted, and how he performs the role of his position.
If Gordon hasn't slowed down significantly during his latest suspension, he can become a greater asset than Demarcus Robinson, Mecole Hardman, and Byron Pringle combined. However, you're only adding Gordon, who will likely be on the practice squad for 1-3 weeks, for one reason (see below).
Recommendation: I told the Footballguys Staff on Tuesday that I don't think there’s more than one percent of the FF playing population who was around to remember how great Gordon was and would seriously entertain him as an FF commodity beyond a lottery ticket with some extreme personal hope attached to the guy. It’s simply a desire to believe in the exceptional circumstance that makes sports a reflection of life’s magic.
Nothing wrong with that. But that’s all it is despite the fact he was still a capable football player from every exposure I have seen of him between injury and suspension. Gordon is the rarest of rare talents. The stuff writers oversell with other players who were ordinary by comparison. It’s the desire to see that quality that appears magical manifest on the field.
If there’s a felt obligation to warn the small percentage of readers/listeners seriously needing direction about it, then that’s what you do.
I might add him in a league just for the desire to see the slightest possibility of feeling a little of the magical feeling that I once felt about sports on a regular basis.
MONITOR: Jordan Wilkins
The Skinny on Wilkins: A sturdy runner with good vision and footwork, Wilkins is fourth on the Colts' depth chart but could wind up starting if Jonathan Taylor's knee injury that has limited him in practices this week also limits his workload. Marlon Mack may be the backup, but the Colts didn't use him last week because they hope to trade him. If Mack is available in your league, he also makes a good preemptive addition this week for this very reason.
Wilkins lacks top-end speed, but he's reliable and with Mack in the final year of his deal, Indianapolis would rather maximize the value it can get from dealing Mack for a pick or a player of need and use Wilkins as the first-call reserve.
Recommendation: Keep an eye on Taylor's injury status this week as well as any news about Mack.