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 is performing adequately on the field, building on his debut with a 3-catch, 80-yard day against the Bengals.
- 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 and made a tough catch in a blowout that should further endear him to coaches and players.
- 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. 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 the 100-yard effort against the top-ranked Buccaneers offense serves as additional confirmation that Herbert is a RB1-RB2 fantasy until Montgomery returns.
- Deshaun Watson: He's a preemptive pick in terms of potential impact but recommended last week that he is a player you need to be adding sooner than later.
- Bryan Edwards: Edwards is clearly behind Hunter Renfrow in the Raiders' pecking order for targets. Until Henry Ruggs, Darren Waller, or Renfrow falter, Edwards is only a boom-bust option due to his usage but his targets are consistent enough to take chance on him in any given week.
- 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 four weeks ago, Williams generated 60 yards on 3 catches that he converted from 5 targets. He'll remain a viable contributor with Will Fuller being Will Fuller and DeVante Parker dealing with an injury but until he's healthy, his target priority in the offense will be lower.
- 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.
- Tommy Sweeney: With Dawson Knox out short-term, Sweeney has the skill to deliver bye-week value if the Bills don't give more of the passing-game workload to Gabriel Davis.
- 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.
- LeVeon Bell: Devonta Freeman and Latavius Murray have shown they are the most effective runners that earn extended use in Baltimore. Bell has only seen limited opportunities and one could argue that TySon Williams has been better.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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. So far, we've barely seen a peep.
- Tim Patrick: Patrick remains one of the Broncos' three most productive receiving options until Jerry Jeudy returns and Jeudy is back this week.
- 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 up.
- J.J. Taylor: After fumbling four weeks ago, Taylor did little. Branden Bolden will continue to contribute behind Damien Harris with Taylor and Rhamondre Stevenson rotating weeks.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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. he is active this week for the Ravens.
- Anthony Miller: On the Steelers' practice squad.
- Lamar Miller: The trade for Mark Ingram indicates the Saints weren't satisfied with any of the players on its depth chart behind Alvin Kamara.
- Todd Gurley: Worth keeping tag on future workouts for the former superstar.
- Mike Boone: One injury away from earning potential committee reps.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
The Skinny on Pettis: A player that Kyle Shanahan rode out of San Francisco, criticizing Pettis' work ethic while also telling the media that Pettis had the talent to be among the best receivers in the NFL — something that sounds similar to what he's said about Brandon Aiyuk this fall — Pettis has been on the Giants' practice squad. Likely labeled an underachiever, Pettis has managed to earn playing time due to significant injuries to half of the Gaints' depth chart and he's performed well enough to displace some of the healthy reserves who were on the active roster.
Recommendation: Pettis hasn't delivered massive production as a contributor, but he has scored a touchdown and generated a few plays on passes of 20-30 yards. He's getting open and demonstrating enough rapport with Daniel Jones to consider him an emergency starter. Pettis is capable of playing all three receiver positions, wins contested catches, and makes plays after the catch.
The Skinny on Scott: A tough runner with a low center of gravity and excellent change of direction skills, Scott is quicker than fast but dynamic at making defenders miss in the hole and in the open field. He breaks tackles well for his size and he's a skilled receiver on outlet passes. With Miles Sanders week-to-week with an ankle injury, expect Scott to see touches.
Recommendation: Kenneth Gainwell has looked much better in space than he has between the tackles and Scott had an excellent spring and summer as a follow-up to a strong first year with the team during the regular season. Unless Gainwell has a revelation as a between-tackles runner, Scott could become the touch leader at the running back position if the Eagles can keep games close or take an early lead.
Preemptive: Rashaad Penny
The Skinny on Penny: A first-round physical talent with receiving skills and skills in a gap scheme when the Seahawks made Penny its top draft pick four years ago, Penny was making incremental strides with Seattle's zone scheme last year before suffering a difficult season-ending injury. He returned to the field against a tough Saints defense, earning 6 carries for 9 yards. Although not a good output, his 20 snaps were only 2 shy of Alex Collins' total in the game.
Considering the draft capital of Penny and it being his first game back, expect Seattle to give Penny another week or two of playing time to see if Penny gains his bearings and plays to his potential.
Recommendation: Penny is worth adding as a speculative option with a fantasy starter upside. Based on their work from the past 2-3 years, Collins has been the superior talent for the Seahawks' zone game but if Penny demonstrates development, his top-end athletic ability could lead to Seattle making him the lead back. Understanding this dynamic, Penny is worth adding if you have the room.
Monitor: Jaelon Darden and Tyler Johnson
The Skinny on Darden: A lightning-quick rookie from North Texas, Darden earned an active roster spot in Tampa Bay despite failing to win the return duties for the Buccaneers to begin the season. Considering the talent and number of players on that depth chart, this alone is a great indicator that Darden is a talent. Darden impressed the team during training camp as a wide receiver, especially for his ability to separate at the line of scrimmage.
Tom Brady spent extra time with Darden this summer, another telling indicator that Darden has future value. Last week, the Buccaneers released veteran receiver Jaydon Mickens, who was handling return duties for the past six weeks and gave the job to Darden. With Antonio Brown still on crutches with a heel injury, Darden could earn more playing time, especially if there's a second or third injury to this wide receiver corps.
Recommendation: Darden is a big-play athlete with skill after the catch and will likely split slot time with second-year receiver Tyler Johnson. A big-slot option, Johnson is slow for an NFL starter but makes contested catches and finds openings in zone coverage. Both Darden and Johnson could have low-end fantasy value that's hard to predict until we see Tampa's deployment of their roles while Brown is out. If a second starter gets hurt, both players could have enough value to add to your roster.
The Skinny on Johnson: A second-year option from Minnesota who paired with Ravens rookie Rashod Bateman as an excellent 1-2 punch for the Golden Gophers, Johnson was out of shape during his rookie training camp but redeemed himself in Year Two, forcing his way onto a crowded and all-world roster with his summer performances.
Recommendation: Darden gives the Buccaneers an explosive slot and perimeter option for the vertical game and a YAC option for schemed plays. Johnson's big-slot role is good for zone defenses, two-minute offenses, and the red zone. They'll split the slot role with Brown hurt and when they are outside, Tampa is hoping to create a mismatch for Mike Evans or Chris Godwin. If Evans or Godwin gets hurt while Brown is still out, look for both Johnson and Darden to become options worth adding to your fantasy team.