Just as it's changed the larger world, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected and will continue to affect how the NFL operates. We've seen that at times in training camp, and we're seeing it with the team's plans for whether fans can attend. Even Fantasy Football, a game based on reality but with tons of imaginary factors, will be affected by potential player absences, game postponements, and more — just look at how the MLB season has gone so far for an example. If you're a league commissioner, you need to plan ahead. If you play in a bunch of leagues, you need to plan ahead. If you love football and are just a casual Fantasy player, you need to plan ahead.
I'm not a doctor, I'm not a disease expert, and I'm not privy to the NFL's plans for the season. I'm just a Fantasy writer, dadgummit! But you've got questions, and I'm going to try to answer them as best as I can.
Q: Will there be football this year?
A: Know that the NFL is a multi-billion dollar business. It will do everything in its power to have a season. If baseball and basketball can do it, so will football.
Q: How many players have contracted COVID-19?
A: You may be pleasantly surprised to learn that less than 1% of the league's players tested positive through the first two weeks of training camp. The highest-profile player to land on the list, Matthew Stafford, had a false-positive test and wasn't even actually ill. Here's our list of notable Fantasy players who landed on the reserve/COVID-19 list and opt-outs for the season.
Of course, this doesn't mean we're in the clear. Players will begin making contact with each other on the field soon, and traveling will begin in September. We're sure to see some sort of jump in positive tests, but we should at least be encouraged by the start.
Q: What's different about training camp?
A: Players, coaches and team staff are tested daily and maintain distancing from each other as much as possible. The first two weeks of camp were basically OTAs. They'll put on pads and start practicing seriously from the middle of August through the end of the month. That's about it.
Oh, and there won't be any joint practices or preseason games. Forgot that not-so-little tidbit. Oops.
[Fantasy managers enter the chat]
Q: Wow, so this could seriously negatively impact rookies and veterans who are new to teams or learning a new system?
A: Rookies will basically get their first taste of NFL practices in August, three months later than normal. It could absolutely stunt their development. As for the veterans, at least they have experience on their side.
It might lead to some sloppy football to start the year. Our Heath Cummings pontificated on our Fantasy Football Today podcast that it might give an early edge to run games because defensive players won't have as much time to refine their tackling techniques, and passing games might not quite be in sync.
Q: Fine, but isn't this amazing rookie class going to struggle without a preseason?
A: It's not just the preseason, it's that they're barely going to have any full-padded experience before Week 1. All of the acclimating to the speed, intensity and power of the pro game is out the window, and it's been that way since they were drafted because there were no offseason minicamps for them to attend. They'll literally have a handful of padded practices and that's it.
That being said, some positions can adapt better than others. Running backs, for example, aren't really doing anything new that they weren't doing in college except for pass blocking, which is an issue for every rookie anyway. Defensive tackles and pass rushers also won't have as much of a learning curve to overcome. But most rookie receivers and quarterbacks are for sure going to have a tough time playing well right out of the gate. You may wish to avoid them on Draft Day, particularly the ones who came into the league without a refined skill-set.
Q: What should Fantasy managers do right now to prepare for an uncertain season?
A: We made that question bigger for a reason. It's an important one. The low positivity rate is a big plus, but it would be foolish to assume there won't be any COVID-19 issues once September comes around.
We all want the amusement of the game, but understand that it might be really different this year. If enough players test positive and miss games, you could get frustrated with the basics like setting a lineup or picking up players off waivers. Fantasy Football's results can be frustrating, but there's nothing like the draft and getting a lineup ready each week to crush your friends.
Once you're committed to playing, talk to your league commissioner about changes to your rosters. There's a lot more on that, so please keep reading.
Finally, just pay attention to football news. It's something you should do year-round anyway if you care about winning your leagues. That's how you'll learn about which players will and won't play.
[League commissioners barge into the chat]
Q: We got here as soon as we could. What should commissioners think about doing to prepare for this season?
A: In previous years, we knew if a player was questionable to play and could plan ahead by having an alternate starter on the bench. This year, landing on the COVID-19 reserve list would automatically rule out a player on the day of a game.
The easiest and best solution is to expand rosters. I even bolded and italicized the sentence to make sure you caught it. This way, each team can shelve enough depth at each position to not have to sweat last-minute dilemmas caused by a sudden illness. Besides, Fantasy managers love to draft — what's wrong with adding two or three more rounds or 15% more to an auction budget?
Q: Yeah but a lot of the peeps in my league won't draft their own backups, even if they're encouraged to. They'll just draft more sleepers and further diminish who's on the waiver wire. How does that help?!
A: It doesn't, but it also takes any responsibility off your shoulders and puts it squarely on the manager. If on a Sunday morning a manager has an unfixable hole in his or her lineup, a commissioner can basically punch up the shrug emoji and say, "Not my problem, you blew it, you big dummy." It's one less headache for a commissioner to be forced to deal with.
Q: But I'm a hands-on commissioner, and our league likes having solid options on waivers. We don't want a longer draft. What could we do instead?
A: The next best option is to give each team several IR spots to put players who are placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list. CBS Sports leagues will allow such players to be placed on IR, so you could easily create as many or as few IR spots for teams to have at their disposal.
Maybe the next-easiest option after that is to allow emergency pre-game add/drops. In case someone is ruled out at the last-minute, let managers hit the waiver wire to find lineup replacements. FAAB leagues that hold auctions for free agents could allow for last-minute moves for a fee (say $5 per add). But that would mean the commissioners would have to be available to facilitate adds and drops every Thursday, Sunday and Monday.
Q: How about using Team Quarterbacks instead of individual quarterbacks?
A: Alright, this would guarantee that every Fantasy manager would have *somebody* starting every game. So that's a plus. Just remember that not all TQBs are created equal — the Saints have used multiple quarterbacks in the same game and teams like the Eagles, Patriots, Dolphins, Chargers and Raiders might copy them in 2020. This does theoretically boost those TQB values.
Q: Problem solved! Uh, but what about the other positions?
A: There aren't similar designations for running backs, wide receivers or tight ends, at least not officially. Commissioners could automatically assign the primary backup running back or tight end to the team who selects the starter on Draft Day, but that could lead to arguments among league managers, not to mention a shorter draft because there are fewer players who could get picked. This seems neither fair nor fun.
Q: Extra spots? Team QBs? A bunch of guys in my league are freaking out. This isn't normal. I don't want to lose my league. Help?!
A: I'm in a keeper league that's entering its 23rd season. Several managers in the league expressed concern about a "normal" season. So instead of our normal draft and our normal keepers, we opted to run a league with alternate rules.
Q: Ooh! Alternate rules!
A: I know! Kinda cool. We're basically taking this season as an experimental year and changing our league format -- trying to make it fun without risking our long-built rosters.
Q: So ... out with it. What are the alternate formats?
A: There are plenty to choose from ...
- Auction league: For the love of Pete (Prisco, that is), try an auction one time! They're so much fun. You bid on players for your team instead of waiting your turn for players. You get who you want!
- FAAB add/drops: Ditch waivers and use Free Agent Acquisition Budgets to pick players up. It's basically like an auction each week. Again, it's so much fun.
- SuperFlex or 2QB drafts: More quarterbacks might mean more problems this year, but drafts are more lucrative and scoring goes way up.
- Guillotine Leagues: Everyone drafts as normal but there are no head-to-head matchups. The lowest-scoring team each week is eliminated until one team is left standing. The crazy part is that teams that are eliminated have their players hit waivers, so all of the surviving teams each week pillage the losing team's roster. This makes waivers a lot more interesting.
- Vampire leagues: Everyone drafts as normal EXCEPT one manager doesn't draft anyone! That team is the Vampire. When the draft ends, the Vampire builds his or her team. This is where there are Vampire league variations -- sometimes the Vampire gets everyone on the waiver wire (yes, everyone), sometimes they just get first crack at waivers each week. But when the Vampire beats someone, he gets his pick of one player off the team he just beat! It's pretty fun and most everyone wants to be the Vampire.
- DFS leagues: You and your buddies pick fresh lineups each week and play against each other in a DFS-style format. No lineup holes to worry about, and you can all use Christian McCaffrey as much as you like.
- Super simple leagues: It might be a crazy year. Why not dial it back with a 1 QB, 1 RB, 1 WR, 1 TE, 1 FLEX, 1 DST league? No one should run into terrible lineup problems with such little requirements each week.
- Your usual league, but with different scoring: Not in a PPR league? Change it. Want to use first downs for scoring? Change that too. Get creative with the scoring and do all the things you used to wish you could do in your leagues.
In addition, it might be a good idea to discount or eliminate any league fees you may normally charge. Some people might be sensitive to putting up big bucks these days.
Q: Great ideas. Well, some of them.
A: Thanks, I think. Ask your league what they want to do and then do it.
Note: CBS Sports can handle any of these except for the DFS leagues. Commissioners may have to put in some elbow grease to smoothly run Guillotine and Vampire leagues, however.
Q: When should I schedule our league's draft?
A: One thing the pandemic hasn't changed is the value of having your draft as late as possible. Any player who's hurt or suspended will be known by the time training camp is over. The final cut-down day is Sept. 5 at 4 p.m. ET, and the first game of the year (Texans at Chiefs) is Sept. 10 at 8:20 p.m. ET. Sometime in between then would be swell.
Q: How should Fantasy commissioners adjust if the NFL is forced to alter its schedule?
A: Unfortunately, there's a chance some games get cancelled. It's also possible that complete weeks could get wiped out. Hopefully not a big chance. But in the event the league shortens it season, Fantasy commissioners can re-calibrate their schedules pretty easily by simply working backward from when you intend to hold your league's title game. Assume you'll need three weeks max for playoffs — the rest of the remaining schedule is the regular season.
If and when it happens, CBS Sports will suggest some alternatives, but in the past when single games were postponed for whatever reason, there was not any retroactive scoring when the game was made up.
Q: What if it's something more random? Like for instance, a team is forced to quarantine because of too many infected players, but only that team and their scheduled opponents don't play and the rest of the league plays on as scheduled.
A: A scenario like this just underscores how important it is to have expanded rosters and how necessary depth is. Otherwise, commissioners may have to allow some leeway with how managers replace players from a quarantined team.
But the question was about a unique circumstance, potentially something you might not have thought about. In the event something totally unforeseen happens, I think it's very important for league commissioners to create a protocol. At the very least, the league as a whole should be open to an email chain or group text to discuss a problem and come up with a fair solution in real time. A commissioner shouldn't have authoritative powers to make decisions on behalf of the league unless the managers all agree to give that person such power. But everyone in the league should have a vested interest in how the league moves forward regardless of the circumstances. In other words, no deadbeats — especially deadbeats who complain about decisions made that they didn't participate in making. So, be sure your league has no deadbeats.
This scenario, however likely it may be, might force you to think about one of those alternate leagues.
Q: And if (gulp) the season ends abruptly, how should a league champion get crowned?
A: Man, I don't even want to address that. I hate this question.
IF the season ends like a Thanos snap, I'd argue that however playoff spots are determined in a league is how a winner is crowned. If playoff seeds are based on record, then so too should this. If points scored is a tiebreaker, then use it when necessary to determine a champ. And if a league uses points scored for playoff seeding, then that's the primary way to determine the winner instead of win-loss record.
A commissioner may wish to set a certain number of weeks for a Fantasy season to "count." In other words, if the NFL's best efforts aren't good enough and we only get three or four weeks of football, commishes can cancel their seasons, refund their league fees and pretend nothing ever happened. I think seven weeks of football would be enough to satisfy managers and crown a champ. Your leagues may vary.
So what Fantasy football sleepers should you snatch in your draft? And which WR1 candidate can you wait on until late? Visit SportsLine now to get cheat sheets from the model that was all over Derrick Henry's huge season, and find out.