The NFL bent over backward to accommodate teams in the 2020 season as COVID-19 ravaged the league and the country. Games ended up being played every day of the week to ensure that the season was played in full when the vaccine was not widely available.
That will not be the case this season. The league will enforce forfeits if a game is canceled due to a breakout among unvaccinated players. The league does not currently mandate vaccines, but there are incentives for players to get vaccinated.
According to the New York Times, close to 90% of the NFL has been vaccinated, as the Delta variant sweeps the nation. But several high-profile offense players, and thus key fantasy players, have indicated that they have doubts about the vaccine or come out and said they are not vaccinated. This could have an outsize impact on their position groups and teams if outbreaks abound.
Please be aware that the vast majority of players have not been asked about their vaccine status. Below is a list of fantasy players with noteworthy average draft positions who have beat around the bush regarding their vaccine status. This list is not comprehensive and we can only take this information at face value. Finally, I won't dive into Cole Beasley's situation too deeply as his public battle over the vaccine has been widely covered.
Christian McCaffrey, RB, Carolina Panthers
McCaffrey is one of the most prolific fantasy football players in recent history and will go 1.01 this season. But as recently as last week, he declined to say whether he was vaccinated. According to the Charlotte Observer, the Panthers have one of the highest vaccination rates in the league and were one of many teams affected by a breakout in the 2020 season. Carolina quarterback Sam Darnold said in June that he was not vaccinated, but the Observer reported that he did receive the shot last week and will soon be fully vaccinated.
Najee Harris, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Harris, a first-round pick expected to receive a massive workload in the Steelers offense, did not directly answer a question over the weekend regarding his vaccination status. According to Steelers Wire, Harris has been practicing with and without a yellow wristband that designates players who are not fully vaccinated. “Right now, I’m not really in a position to answer those questions,” Harris said. “I’m just here to answer the questions about football and worry about that at a different time.”
Josh Allen, QB, Buffalo Bills
The vaccine debate in Buffalo has been the most public in the NFL, with receiver Cole Beasley at the forefront. In June, during a podcast interview with Kyle Brandt, Allen said that he was undecided about getting the vaccine and hadn't "been paying attention to it as much as maybe I should have." Of course, Allen could have been vaccinated between then and now, but he has yet to come out and say so. Allen was an MVP candidate in 2021, and the Bills are legitimate Super Bowl contenders, so their situation is certainly worth monitoring.
DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Arizona Cardinals
Hopkins made headlines two weeks ago when he publicly questioned his future in the NFL after the league sent out a memo regarding its COVID-19 protocols. He deleted the tweet soon after and followed it up with "Freedom?" The league is not forcing its players to get vaccinated, but players with and without the vaccine enjoy different privileges. Hopkins has been one of the NFL's top receivers for several years, and he's now saying his future is in doubt due to the league's policies.
Joe Mixon, RB, Cincinnati Bengals
Mixon tweeted in mid-June that the NFLPA is "not for the players" due to its role in negotiating restrictions for unvaccinated players. These stipulations include daily testing and masks inside facilities for those without the vaccine. It's not clear if Mixon has had the shot, but he was vocal about any attempt to treat those with and without the vaccine differently. He dealt with injuries in 2020, but he's a high-volume back in what's expected to be a prolific offense with quarterback Joe Burrow returning from injury.
Lamar Jackson, QB, Baltimore Ravens
Jackson tested positive for COVID-19 for the second time last week. He missed a game against the Steelers in 2020 after testing positive on Thanksgiving. Pete Gilbert of WBALTV11 reported that Jackson is not vaccinated, which would mean he will miss 10 days of training camp. Earlier in the offseason, Jackson, the 2019 MVP, declined comment on his vaccination status. Ravens backup running back Gus Edwards also tested positive for the virus. Edwards’ vaccination status is unclear.
Allen Robinson, WR, Chicago Bears
Allen was undecided in June on whether he would get the vaccine, according to the Chicago Tribune. He said he wasn't opposed to it but would like to do more research into it. Last week, the Bears star receiver declined to comment on his status, saying, "That's between me and the club." According to the Chicago Sun-Times, he conducted his press conference without a mask, a sign that he has had the shot, or he faces a fine.
Adam Thielen, WR, Minnesota Vikings
In June, Thielen was among several Vikings players who said he was unvaccinated. Head coach Mike Zimmer expressed his frustration with the team after several quarterbacks missed practice over the weekend due to positive tests or being deemed a close contact: "I'm frustrated, not just with my football players who didn't get vaccinated, but I'm frustrated with everybody [who didn't]." Rookie quarterback Kellen Mond tested positive, and Kirk Cousins, who infamously said "If I die, I die," was deemed a close contact in regards to the virus.
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