Fantasy football: What you can do to prepare for COVID-19's impact on your roster

An increase in the number of players in COVID-19 has created additional uncertainty for fantasy football managers as we enter the playoffs. Photo by Nick Tre. Smith/Icon Sportswire

The increase in players entering the NFL's COVID-19 protocols might leave you with questions about how this could impact your fantasy football team as we enter the first week of the playoffs for ESPN standard leagues. We'll try to answer what we can for you here.

What happens when a game is postponed or canceled?

With Rams/Seahawks and Eagles/Washington set to be postponed until Tuesday, we will extend the scoring period to account for it. This will also delay the waiver process by one day. Note that should your league use multiple-day waiver periods, this could create a situation where it overlaps with the Thursday night game (the Titans and 49ers are currently scheduled to play Thursday in Week 16, which is the final scheduled Thursday game of the season). Players in that game would be locked and would not be able to be used as conditional drops for waiver purposes.

Remember that custom league managers have access to certain roster editing tools and can also adjust scoring for any matchup, allowing your league to deal with specific situations how it sees fit.

When and if a game gets played is entirely up to the NFL. During the summer, the NFL indicated games could be forfeited due to COVID-19 outbreaks. A forfeited game will be treated like a bye week. Players will obviously not accrue points, but nor will they lock at the originally scheduled game time, allowing you to bench or drop those players as per your league rules.

The NFL made changes to the protocol for Week 15. What does that mean?


"Throughout the pandemic we have continuously evolved our protocols to meet our goal of advancing the safety of the players, coaches and staff. The changes we are making today aim to address the increase in cases and the advent of the Omicron variant. Effective immediately, all clubs will implement preventative measures that have proven effective: masking regardless of vaccination status, remote or outdoor meetings, eliminating in-person meals, and no outside visitors while on team travel. We will continue to strongly encourage booster shots as the most effective protection. Finally, and based on expert advice, we will adjust the return-to-participation requirements for those who have recovered from COVID-19. All of these changes are grounded in our data and science-backed approach, with safety our number-one goal for the entire NFL community."

Adjustments to "Testing Out" of Quarantine for Fully Vaccinated Players, Tier 1, Tier 2 and Tier 3 Staff

Following a confirmed positive test for a fully vaccinated player, Tier 1, Tier 2 or Tier 3 staff member, these individuals will be subsequently tested daily and shall be released from quarantine provided they are asymptomatic for at least 24 hours AND meet the established criteria for COVID test results. The new criteria allow for the possibility of a continued positive test result IF the cycle threshold (CT) - which reflects a measurement of viral load - meets a certain threshold.

The new criteria would allow for the possibility of a player to return the day following a positive test which could have an impact on player availability for games this weekend.

So when will I know for sure if a player will play or not?

The current rules state that in order to play on Sunday, a player must be activated from the reserve/COVID-19 list by Saturday at 4 p.m. ET. For games occurring Monday or Tuesday at 7 PM ET or later, the deadline is 4 p.m. the same day. For the Browns/Raiders game rescheduled to Monday at 5 PM ET, the deadline for teams to submit transactions will be 2 PM ET.

In the case of Sunday games (where activation of players must occur prior to 4:00 p.m. ET on Saturday), a club could choose to activate a player prior to his clearance to play. However if that player continues to receive a positive test result and is not eligible to play, the club must deactivate him and will NOT be permitted to elevate another player to the active roster for that game. You will want to confirm that with the usual rollout of inactives 90 minutes prior to game time.

There are no changes to the criteria for unvaccinated players. Following a positive test, they must remain away from the team facility for at least 10 days.

Clubs will continue with weekly testing for fully vaccinated individuals and daily testing for unvaccinated individuals.

a) Currently vaccinated players only tested once once per week UNLESS they develop symptoms...which is why vaccinated asymptomatic players positive tests tend to be on Monday

b) BUT for anyone who develops symptoms there is immediate testing so that can happen anytime.

c) Unvaccinated players are tested daily so those cases could appear any day of the week. -- Stephania Bell

How does a player's status impact his projection and ranking on ESPN.com?

We use our best judgment. The vast majority of players who have been added to the COVID-19 list on Monday through Friday preceding a Sunday game have gone on to miss that game, with a few notable exceptions. Our approach has been to remove those players from our rankings and to zero out their projections, barring a report that suggests otherwise. For players who have been on the list longer, we are more optimistic of their chances to clear protocols and play. That was the case with Darrell Henderson Jr., now scheduled to play Monday, and Myles Gaskin, who has since been activated, for example, but as with any medical situation, this is only our best guess and not an indication of inside knowledge of the situation. -- Mike Clay

What advice can you give me to manage my roster through all this uncertainty?

I often stress that, during the fantasy playoffs especially, one should maximize every roster spot. That doesn't mean simply filling every spot with an active player, but rather, in the current COVID-19 environment, making sure every spot is utilized in a way that maximizes your ability to make lineup decisions at every game-block lock time.

Here's how: As the Sunday 1 p.m. ET games approach and you lock in your initial lineup, if any player relegated to your bench serves minimal future purpose, cut that player and either leave his roster spot blank or add someone at the same position at a corresponding game start time or later to any players you have in 4 p.m. or night games.

That way, you'll be able to either add an emergency plug-in (thanks to the empty bench spot) or slot in that pickup if your player unexpectedly lands on the COVID-19 list. This is most critical if you have players in the Sunday or Monday night games -- David Montgomery, Dalvin Cook and Justin Jefferson most notably, this week -- as the later the game, the more time for unexpected outcomes, so grabbing understudies for those three is so much more important in advance than doing so for players going early on Sunday. This week, postponements may provide some additional need for planning ahead, as while the teams involved will get more time for their players to clear protocols (see above), it also means more decisions will need to be made Sunday without the benefit of knowing which players get to play on Monday or Tuesday.

Think it can't happen? Think again: In a home league of mine this past week, one manager had Tyler Higbee in his lineup with an outside chance at winning a critical matchup. Unfortunately, that league doesn't allow post-Sunday-at-1 add/drops, which is simply a bad-luck outcome, but in an ESPN league without any bench spots -- as was the case for that team -- you'd be pressed to cut Higbee himself to field his replacement. That's a no-go if you roster, say, Montgomery or Cook. (Note: Make sure you are familiar with your league's specific rules regarding when and how you can add players and adapt the above to your specific conditions.)

Which brings us to our final piece of advice: Always avail yourself of the opportunity to put your last-playing player of the week in your flex spot, maximizing your ability to move in replacements as late news breaks. That way, if Montgomery is your flex rather than your running back, you can choose from a RB, WR or TE as his replacement if there's bad news, rather than from among only running backs if he was slotted there. --Tristan H. Cockcroft