For whatever reason, this is the first NFL pre-season I can remember that has had absolutely no impact on my fantasy thinking. I haven’t watched a game, and I haven’t paid it any mind. I know who is playing well and who generally isn’t, but as for watching the games, count me out. I feel like I need to justify my actions, especially since twitter has introduced me to journalists who cover team practices and tweet everything that happens from preseason games. For instance, I get a play-by-play from Dolphins practices (for no particular reason) and hear only positive things about Brandon Marshall and the Dolphin pass rush. However, Marshall only has seven catches and the Dolphins as a team only have two sacks in three games. But still, I feel like I must justify paying no attention to the preseason, so I’m going to look into big preseason performances and see if they translate to the regular season in any way.
Let’s start with an anecdote from a Twitter follower of mine (follow me @Rotomania). I asked if anyone pays much mind to the preseason, and I a was greeted with this:
“I passed on CJ last year because of his low preseason YPC, then look what happened. I thought sophomore slump was being exposed.”
This quote just about sums up my entire stance on the preseason. It doesn’t provide us with anything we didn’t already REALLY know. Who would have thought that Matt Leinart wasn’t very good? Um, me for one. And probably a lot of you too.
To get this going, I’m going to look at what is probably the best way to evaluate any player’s effectiveness and efficiency, yards per carry. Yards per catch, receptions, touchdowns, and total yards are all too fickle and dependent upon more than one quarter or half of playtime for starters. I started by compiling numbers of the best 15 yard-per-carry guys in the NFL since 2006 (100 attempts to qualify) to compare to their preseason yards-per-carry. For whatever reason, NFL.com did not have 2009 numbers so I couldn’t use last year’s numbers (although we have the Chris Johnson example). From there, not every one played in the preseason, so I eliminated those that did not. This leaves me with only 39 data points to use, so the correlation will not be perfect.
As it turns out, yards per carry in the regular season and yards per carry in the preseason have a correlation of about 23%. Of the 39 high YPA I profiled, 70% of them actually had better yard-per-attempt numbers during the regular season than they did during the preseason! Only 26% rushed better during the preseason than they did during the regular season and the remaining 5% actually performed the same.
Since 2006, we’ve seen darling preseason performances from players who have become very good. Tony Romo, Matt Cassell, and Jay Cutler all burst onto the scene in 2006 with great preseason performances. That year, only Romo was a top 20 QB. It took until 2008 for Cutler and Cassell to become fantasy options. That same preseason we saw a guy named Quincy Wilson lead the NFL in rushing. Quincy spent most of his time on the practice squad for the Bengals in his NFL career before being cut. He went to the Florida Tuskers of the UFL but was cut before his first game. Preseason is so important.
The statistics from preseason production does NOT show us what a player will do in the regular season. There are too many variables and not enough touches to go around. The preseason is for kids trying to make the team, not studs-in-disguise biding their time before they become blossom into fantasy MVPs.
Pay attention to what preseason games do in terms of injury and depth chart. What we need to know from the preseason is who moved where on what depth chart, and who will suffer due to injury. Those are, without a doubt, the only two things a fantasy owner has to worry about.
With all of that being said, enjoy the preseason for what it is: an exhibition in which guys are busting their tails to make an NFL roster. The effort is unparalleled to anything you’ll find in the regular season. Just don’t take the stats too seriously. They don’t matter.