Week 1 of the NFL preseason is in the books and fantasy diehards are no doubt combing through box scores in search of the next allpro wide receiver or bust running back. But before you get too carried away with this week’s slate of games or any of the action in August, remember that this is just the preseason. As excited as we all are that football is back in our lives, it’s important to keep things in the proper perspective. With that in mind, here are some DO’s and DON’Ts to consider over the weeks leading up to the regular season kickoff on September 4th.
DO: Monitor Key Position Battles
The preseason is often the proving ground for NFL position battles, either at the top of the depth chart or in crucial secondary roles. Favorites can solidify their hold on the position or the perceived underdog can rise to the occasion. Key battles to monitor this year include the starting quarterback job for Cleveland, Minnesota, and the Jets, backfields in New Orleans and Oakland, and receiving corps in Carolina and St. Louis.
DON’T: Worry About the Final Score
NFL teams don’t care about the final score of preseason games and neither should you. Fantasy owners also shouldn’t be overly concerned if high-powered offenses don’t light up the scoreboard during practice games. In 2013, Denver was 2-2 in the preseason and averaged just 17.8 points per game (21st in the league). But in the regular season, the Broncos set countless offensive records on the way to a 13-3 mark and a trip to the Super Bowl.
DO: Pay Attention to New Additions
Whether it’s a rookie, veteran free agent, or even a new coach or coordinator, the preseason offers our first look at changes to personnel and offensive schemes. There are seven new head coaches in the NFL in 2014 and five additional changes at offensive coordinator, and the preseason can provide a glimpse into changing styles of play under the new regimes. Top rookies to monitor this preseason include Bishop Sankey, Sammy Watkins, and Kelvin Benjamin, while players like DeSean Jackson, Toby Gerhart, and Rashad Jennings are among the familiar faces in new places. Pay attention to how players are being utilized on their new teams and try to judge how well they are picking up new playbooks.
DON’T: Get Caught Up in Preseason Stats
Preseason statistics aren’t completely meaningless, but fantasy owners have to be careful not to get too carried away in analyzing player data from August. Josh Gordon might have shown flashes of what was to come in 2013 when he caught nine balls for 200 yards last preseason, but Ted Ginn actually out-produced Gordon, as did Marcus Easley. A lot of people fell in love with Christine Michael last year after he looked fantastic in the preseason, rushing for 201 yards on 40 carries. But once the regular season began, Michael appeared in just four games and had only 18 total carries. Be sure to keep in mind the context in which players are racking up yardage during the preseason, especially if they are padding their stats in the third and fourth quarters of meaningless games.
DO: Keep an Eye on Players Coming Back from Injury
As with most seasons, a lot of big names missed significant time in 2013 due to injuries. Those returning from season-ending maladies of a year ago should be watched closely this preseason. Are guys like Rob Gronkowski, Julio Jones, and Reggie Wayne getting normal starters reps or are they being held out of contact longer than normal? Once previously-injured players are back on the field, do they look like their old selves again or is there a noticeable loss of speed, burst, or elusiveness? As the preseason progresses, fantasy owners have an opportunity to take the pulse on last year’s injured stars.
DON’T: Worry About Your Studs
This isn’t to say that you should ignore signs of players starting to lose a step, like Ray Rice’s 2.9 yards per carry last preseason. But LeSean McCoy and Jamal Charles COMBINED for 79 yards rushing ahead of last season, and those guys went on to have pretty decent years. Established players aren’t going to see a lot of time in meaningless games, so don’t worry if Aaron Rodgers, Calvin Johnson, and Matt Forte don’t put up gaudy numbers over the next month. As long as the upper-tier players look healthy and continue to have a major role with their respective teams, don’t sweat any lack of production before the regular season kicks off.
DO: Monitor Injuries
The most important thing for fantasy-relevant players in the preseason is that they make it through without injury. Preseason history is littered with cases like Dennis Pitta and Jeremy Maclin from 2013, when a significant injury causes a player to miss most if not all of the season. Make sure you head into your fantasy draft with an understanding of players that are likely to miss time right away, those that are battling a nagging injury that could linger throughout the season, and the inevitable group that has already been ruled out for the year.
Self-described fantasy degenerate that has been participating in fantasy sports leagues since the spiral notebook scoring era. If you can make a fantasy league out of it, I’m in.