A Study in B.S. (Bad Science): The NFL COVID-15

Seven months ago, the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2 if you’re a nerd and COVID-19 if you’re less of a nerd, landed in the United States. Its inevitable spread setting in motion an unimaginable series of events that put professional sports as we know them in jeopardy. For months, sports fans have been relegated to watching reruns of classic games and championship matchups from seasons past (AKA what Cowboys fans call “a Friday night”). Millions flocked to Jelle’s Marble Runs, watching in amazement as marbles of all colors and swirly patterns delivered that spirit of live competition, and color commentary, we’ve all been missing. As legitimately awesome as marble racing is, professional, human-driven sports are back, baby! 

Okay, Bryan What About Real Sports?

The NHL and NBA are living that COVID-19-free bubble life, while the MLB has returned for a semi-normal, bubble-free season. As one would expect, the bubbles seem to be the safest choice, with the NBA reporting zero positive tests since going under the dome. The MLB, on the other hand, had to postpone games due to positive COVID-19 tests just four days into their season. They’ve also now constricted roster sizes in an attempt to keep their season going. This doesn’t exactly bode well for the NFL, which will also be a bubble-less venture. Further, unlike baseball, football is full contact, with players touching, grabbing, holding, squeezing, and meeting face to face on every play. To that end, I decided to utilize some arbitrary statistics and general bad science to evaluate the risk of infection for the fantasy football community consensus top players at each skill position.

To do this, I am calculating the average number of times per game each player makes direct contact with another player, using total touches, broken tackles, and touchdowns as reference points. For example, If Alvin Kamara breaks two tackles on a nice run, but is ultimately taken down, he has come into contact with three potentially coronavirus loaded superspreaders (the two he broke, plus the one that broke him)! If that same run ended in a TD, he would have only come into contact with the two would-be tacklers. Yes, it’s possible that the run may have ended out of bounds. Yes, it’s possible he was tackled by more than one player. And yes, I’m totally making this up on the fly, and it has no real basis in science. I have no practical way to account for all those variables. So this is the best we got.

I Was Promised Science…

To find a baseline, I read through this study of COVID-19 transmission risk on public trains and tried to find the closest metric to giant man-beasts slamming into and spitting on each other. According to that article, “those who sat directly next to an infected person had the highest risk of contracting the infection, with an average attack rate of 3.5%.” Works for me! Using that baseline of a 3.5% chance of infection, multiplied by my average number of contacts per game should give us a COVID Score (very roughly based on a 0-100 scale, with no actual basis in reality).

Not so fast. We’re overlooking the ever-important use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)! Virtually everyone wears gloves these days, but are these guys wearing masks or what? Wearing a helmet with a facemask will drastically reduce one’s COVID Score. Let’s crunch some numbers, and see what nonsense we come up with. For the record, I am using combined statistics from the last two seasons.


Running Backs

The running back position is easily the most at risk here, with way more contacts per game than any other position (besides linemen, but they don’t score us fantasy points. Well, not directly. You know what I’m trying to say!). Who of our top five is MOST at risk?


# Contacts/Gm Gloves Mask COVID Score

Christian McCaffrey





Ezekiel Elliott





Saquon Barkley





Dalvin Cook





Alvin Kamara 19.7 Y Y


As you can see, McCaffrey is not only the consensus fantasy RB1, he’s also our clear leader in COVID Scoring. The lack of a face shield pushes him head-and-shoulders above the rest of the group, even though Ezekiel Elliot averages more contacts per game. Based on my pure, infallible scientific research, Alvin Kamara is the best bet of the consensus top-five running backs to NOT contract COVID-19. 


Wide Receivers

Our wide receivers group should fare far better than our running backs since they don’t typically face the same workload and consistent abuse. Prepare for some much lower numbers.


# Contacts/Gm Gloves Mask COVID Score

Michael Thomas

8.4 Y N


Davante Adams

6.8 Y Y


Julio Jones

6.8 Y Y


Chris Godwin

4.7 Y N


Tyreek Hill

5.8 Y Y


Once again, we have the consensus #1 refusing to follow proper PPE guidance! Michael Thomas is our clear cut Covid Score leader for the wide receiver group. We also see Chris Godwin suffer from failure to wear a mask, putting him at higher risk than Tyreek Hill, even though Godwin has fewer contacts per game. 



The quarterbacks are going to be a little tricky. Running quarterbacks are obviously at higher risk, but the use of gloves and masks is also hit or miss. Who can you trust to stay healthy and lead your and their teams to victory?


# Contacts/Gm Gloves Mask COVID Score

Patrick Mahomes

8.1 N N


Dak Prescott

8.2 N N


Russell Wilson

7.2 N N


Lamar Jackson

12.5 N Y


Kyler Murray 6.8 N Y


And boy, do QBs hate PPE! As you can see, Mahomes and Prescott top the list with equal COVID Scores, thanks to their blatant disregard of safety protocols. The (arguably) two best runners in the group, Jackson and Murray, both wear visors, putting them in a better position to fight COVID-19, and placing them safely at the bottom of our quarterback list. 

So, there you have it! My COVID 15 for 2020. Let this be a lesson to all of us, professional athletes, and civilians alike. Protect yourselves. Wear your PPE, and keep your COVID Score low. Good luck and good health in all your fantasy and reality endeavors!

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