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.
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.
- Rashod Batman: Bateman had a solid debut and should continue to see his volume grow until Sammy Watkins returns. After that, he could be moved outside where his ceiling for a big play improves but his target frequency could decline.
- Josh Gordon: Reports out of Kansas City say Gordon and Patrick Mahomes II have instant on-field chemistry. I've stated enough about Gordon, you know if you are the type of person to add him to a roster. If you've added him, then it's best to give him another 2-3 weeks to see if he emerges as an option. In the meantime...
- Byron Pringle: ...is the option who has earned consistent targets and production as of late. He's little more than a bye-week flex-play but he's steady.
- Tim Patrick: Patrick remains one of the Broncos' three most productive receiving options until Jerry Jeudy returns.
- Zach Pascal: Although he has red-zone value, the Colts aren't a top passing unit. Although consistently earning targets and yardage, it's not enough for weekly fantasy value.
- Devin Duvernay: Like Pringle, Duvernay earns targets every week. He has less upside with volume and yardage than Bateman but his big-play ability in the open field gives you a chance for a strong game on 2-3 targets.
- Preston Williams: Showing off his boundary work two weekends ago, Williams generated 60 yards on 3 catches that he converted from 5 targets. He'll remain a viable contributor with Will Fuller V being Will Fuller V and DeVante Parker dealing with an injury.
- Khalil Herbert: I recommended Herbert in last week's 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. He earned 100 yards rushing against Green Bay as the starter and despite Damien Williams having the title of the immediate backup to Montgomery, Herbert's fourth-quarter games with Williams healthy and then his 100-yard effort has shown the Bears trust Herbert and he's a better zone runner. Expect Williams to retain passing down and change-of-pace duties but he's likely in a split backfield with Herbert earning most of the rushing attempts.
- 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.
- 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.
- John Brown: The Broncos elevated Brown from the practice squad and while he may not be ready for extensive snaps, he's a skilled veteran who can deliver at least bye-week production once more acclimated to the offense.
- JaMycal Hasty: Likely a change-of-pace runner with few touches in store, because he's quicker than fast and the 49ers crave speed. Still, Hasty had green zone touches prior to his injury and could reprise that role.
- Demetric Felton: D'Ernest Johnson is the better play because he's experienced with the offense and understands how to follow blocks. Felton has more explosive athletic ability but struggled with setting up blockers as UCLA's starter. Think of Felton as a homerun threat in space but he'll need to make the most of limited touches.
- Van Jefferson: Jefferson continues to earn targets but Sean McVay shut the door on the idea of Jefferson overtaking Robert Woods this year, feeding Woods to the tune of 12 catches last Thursday night.
- Chris Evans: Samaje Perine is the backup and despite missing last week with a positive Covid test and opening the door for Evans to earn playing time, Evans is not an option worth a roster spot in most leagues.
- Davis Mills: The Texans recently stated that Tyrod Taylor would not lose his job to injury. Still, Mills has shown enough for the team to consider giving him extended playing time after Houston's bye week. Stay tuned.
- Penny Hart: Geno Smith has probably worked with Hart more than Russell Wilson, so keep tabs on Hart's usage because his snap count has gone from 2-3 snaps during the first two weeks of the year to 8-12 during the past three.
- Royce Freeman: With Chuba Hubbard producing and Christian McCaffrey close to serviceable health, Freeman is expendable but still worth monitoring in case there are unexpected setbacks or injuries to the depth chart.
- Bryan Edwards: Edwards is clearly behind Hunter Renfrow in the Raiders' pecking order for targets. Until Henry Ruggs III, Darren Waller, or Renfrow falter, Edwards is only a boom-bust option due to his usage.
- J.J. Taylor: After fumbling two weeks ago, Taylor did little. Branden Bolden and Rhamondre Stevenson will continue to contribute behind Damien Harris.
- Collin Johnson: After earning seven targets in Week 3, he only earned five snaps in Week 4.
- Jordan Wilkins: Marlon Mack wants a trade and he's getting enough playing time that could be a showcase for a deal within the next 3-4 weeks. Wilkins would be the next in line to Jonathan Taylor.
- Olamide Zacchaeus: Zaccheaus earned four targets as a starter against the Jets, but his production potential as a starter is high variance. Atlanta has seen him as a vertical option in the past and the offensive line hasn't given Matt Ryan that kind of time.
- Kylin Hill: A skilled running back behind two excellent options in Green Bay. An injury to one could open the door for Hill to earn playing time and he's a skilled receiver.
- Ty'Son 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. he is active this week for the Ravens.
- Anthony Miller: On the Steelers' practice squad.
- Quintez Cephus: He's on IR with a shoulder injury.
- Albert Okwuegbunam: IR.
- 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.
ADD-NOW: Deshaun Watson
The Skinny on Watson: You know the deal: Watson has dozens of pending civil suits and criminal charges and it is possible the Texans' star quarterback is placed on the Commissioner's Exempt List if traded to the Dolphins, as rumored. If Watson accepts the trade (he has a no-trade clause) and the Dolphins and Texans pull the trigger, it could still be a few weeks before Watson sees the field. Still, his improvisational skills could lead to starter production and he fits the bill for fantasy GMs desperate for production at the quarterback position.
Recommendation: Because we're playing a game, GMs span the gamut of attitudes regarding players dealing with off-field criminal matters. My job is to give my thoughts on players based on their skills. Telling you whether you should add someone based on their alleged off-field behavior is not my lane.
If you don't think it's right for you to have Watson on your team, good for you. If you divorce your feelings about Watson's off-field matters from what he does professionally and you choose to add him, more power to you. He's an obvious addition to a roster based on ability and upside. You have to decide how you feel about it.
Preemptive: Leveon Bell and Tommy Sweeney
The Skinny on Bell: You'll hear that Bell is no longer good but the same has been said for years about star producers who move to new teams, have a down year or two, and then experience a renaissance elsewhere. Bell was better in New York than credited and the playing time he earned in Kansas City behind a makeshift offensive line was too limited to judge — although many have.
Recommendation: Bell scored last week on a direct snap in the green zone. With Latavius Murray likely out for Week 7, Bell, Devonta Freeman, and Williams are on the active roster. Expect Freeman to earn at least half of the touches but Bell's usage could increase, especially when considering that the Ravens elevated him ahead of Williams in Week 6.
The Skinny on Sweeney: A second-year tight end from Boston College, Sweeney is a surehanded weapon who can stretch the seams of the opposing defense when the offense employs play-action passing. Sweeney scored his first touchdown last week in the green zone when Dawson Knox exited the Titans game with a broken hand.
Recommendation: Knox isn't expected to miss extended time but it opens the door for Sweeney to earn regular targets from Josh Allen in an explosive offense. Don't expect Sweeney to earn Knox's role in the receiving game because he's not that kind of athlete. It means you'll see more targets for Gabriel Davis and Jacob Hollister. However, it doesn't mean these two players will shut Sweeney out of the box score. He'll still earn play-action opportunities and that could include the red zone.
Monitor: Lamar Miller, Todd Gurley, and Mike Boone
The Skinny on Miller: A skilled zone runner with a smooth gait and an underrated career as an NFL starter, Miller performed well in recent seasons behind a mediocre Texans' offensive line before suffering an ACL tear, getting cut, and then bounced again by the New England Patriots after spending this summer with the team. Veterans like Miller often get cut due to the minimum salary they command as opposed to "being past their prime." It's likely the Patriots had him in camp as an injury hedge and once the team saw they made it to a certain point of the preseason with a healthy depth chart, it cut Miller loose.
The Saints signed MIller last week after Tony Jones got hurt. If Miller remains close to the skilled player he was, he'll work his way into the primary backup role behind Alvin Kamara. Dwayne Washington is a skilled athlete and special teams option who can catch but he has never developed his skills between the tackles to a starter level. Devin Ozigbo is sturdy and a good zone runner but not as quick or savvy between the tackles as Miller.
Recommendation: If Miller earns playing time this week, it could be worth adding him preemptively in Week 8 as a cheap option, especially if you have Kamara.
The Skinny on Gurley: The former Rams star, delivered strong starter production for a portion of 2020 in Atlanta but he's no longer the superstar of the past due to his knee injury from a few years ago. Gurley still has strength, burst, receiving skills, and smarts to set up blocks. However, he was once one of the fastest backs in the league who could accelerate better than most of his peers. That's gone.
No team has publicly expressed interest in Gurley but as injuries mount, Gurley could earn a role as an emergency starter or contributor. If that happens, a team knows it will have to manage Gurley's practice schedule and potentially his touches as well.
Recommendation: If a team that's already hurting at running back suffers an additional injury, adding Gurley on the cheap may not be a bad play in deep leagues.
The Skinny on Boone: A skilled runner who split time with Alexander Mattison in Minnesota, Boone has good contact balance, makes smart decisions, and exhibits good enough acceleration to contribute. Signed as a special teams maven in Denver, Boone also made Royce Freeman expendable despite Freeman having a strong preseason and training camp.
Recommendation: Although Melvin Gordon III appears recovered enough from his hip injury not to present a concern this week, it's always worth knowing who the skilled runners are on the back of the depth chart in an offense that wants to run. See Khalil Herbert.