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Fantasy Fallout of the NFL’s Reserve/COVID-19 List

by Isaiah Sirois | @is_sirois | Featured Writer
Aug 2, 2020

This season is going to be weird. Very weird. But if you plan ahead, you should be able to take advantage of the weirdness if your league-mates aren’t equally prepared.

We’ve still got some time before the delayed deadline for players to opt-out, so we still don’t know for sure who’s going to play. Also, we have no idea how much of the season the NFL will complete.

But we do know the league’s planned roster protocols for next season. So let’s take a look at the league’s new policy and figure out the best way to handle it from a fantasy perspective.

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The NFL created a new player designation for this season: the reserve/COVID-19 list. If a player tests positive for the coronavirus, or if they have been in close contact with someone who has, the league can add them to the list. Players are only eligible to return until they are deemed healthy.

Teams won’t disclose whether a player tested positive or is just in quarantine. Players have the option to do so, but the NFL Player’s Association (NFLPA) leaves that up to them. So how will the story play out? We’ll get a notification like this:

So we won’t get to know why a player landed on the list. That will make planning difficult, as we’ll have no timetable for a player’s return unless they choose to communicate about it through social media. It might make your life more difficult as a fantasy football player, but we should be grateful for the chance to watch football in the first place. These minor inconveniences for us carry potentially life-changing consequences for the players, so let’s keep things in perspective here.


There are some changes you can make on a league level to prepare for the pandemic. These are things that you should discuss with your league-mates commissioner before the season kicks off.

Add Extra IR/Reserve Slots.
If your commissioner hasn’t promised additional IR/Reserve slots for this year, demand them. You wouldn’t want to pick between having a full lineup or dropping your fifth-round pick, but unless you have enough space on your roster, that’s something you might have to do.

Even if things run more smoothly for the NFL than the MLB, there’s a real chance that you need to replace a bunch of high-value starters for multiple weeks. Extra IR/Reserve slots are the best way to handle that problem.

Delay Your Draft
Yes, the opt-out deadline is set for next week. But it’s not like the NFL can force players to suit up — while they may no longer be eligible for opt-out money, players can flake. If you’re the commissioner, try to accommodate by pushing the draft back as far as you can. If you’re a player, suggest that your commissioner push it back.

Also, delaying your draft will give everyone a better sense of each player’s availability. You wouldn’t want to take someone who gets put on the reserve list right before Week 1 in the first round, especially if you’re playing for money.

Consider Nixing Buy-Ins
Speaking of money, maybe don’t do paid leagues this year? There’s far too much uncertainty surrounding this season for me to feel excited about risking that much money. Avoiding buy-ins in the first place could keep casual players interested, and it’ll save you the headache of refunds should the season get canceled.

Don’t Take it Too Seriously.
My biggest piece of advice for 2020: chill out. We’re lucky if we get any games at all, and surprise reserve listings will probably mess with weekly results. Your grade-A draft could get torpedoed by the pandemic, and you could lose to the league taco who took Mecole Hardman or Matt Barkley in the first round. That’s okay.

Fantasy football has always been a game of chance — it’s just going to play a much more significant role this year.


Once you’ve got your league set up, you can start planning your roster. Here are a few key things to consider as you get to that stage in the process.

Don’t Stack.
I love to stack in redraft leagues. In normal years, it allows you to maximize points for a quarterback’s big passing game. But this year, it just means you may have to replace multiple starters.

Let’s say you stacked Drew Brees with Michael Thomas in one of your leagues. Should one of those players get exposed, the other may have to quarantine as well. That’s a lot of that risk you didn’t have to stomach before.

Don’t Trust Strength of Schedule or Bye Weeks.
Lots of fantasy drafters look at bye-week opponents or the strength of a player’s schedule when drafting. This year, don’t do that. The chances that a team’s schedule changes are incredibly high, given what we’ve seen in the MLB, and the league would probably move rescheduled games to bye weeks.

Also, a player’s strength of schedule depends on their opponents’ defensive starters. Since just one or two missing starters can undermine an entire defense, that stat will mean a whole lot less this season.

Protect Your FAAB and Waiver Priority.
This one should be obvious. There’s a good chance you’ll need to replace a starter at some point this season. As a result, don’t throw away a high waiver priority or tons of FAAB on the “next big thing” — save it for when you need it most.

I’ll make one exception. Each year, a handful of players pop off in Week 1 and look like year-long starters (Terry McLaurin and D.J. Chark, anyone?). If you think you’ve identified one of them, shoot your shot, but don’t put more than a quarter of your FAAB on the line.

Give Added Weight to Good Offensive Schemes
In a world where we can’t trust players to start a full year, we may see lots of replacement-level guys take the field. Some teams will handle this better than others. For example, Minnesota’s Gary Kubiak can make stars out of mediocre running backs. So can Baltimore’s Greg Roman.

Likewise, we can trust Andy Reid’s offense to put up lots of points. Atlanta’s Dirk Koetter should continue to call tons of passing plays, and Kliff Kingsbury should do the same. Even if these coaches get sick and miss some games, we can trust that their teams will continue to reflect their coaching philosophy.

Complete early mock drafts using our free draft simulator >>

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Isaiah Sirois is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Isaiah, check out his archive and follow him @is_sirois.

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