Every year, the preseason rolls around and with it, the first taste of football. Which only lasts for the first drive until the backups come in. Many people tend to either zone out or turn off the TV when the second, third, and fourth stringers take the field, but this is when hardcore fantasy owners are paying the most attention. Plenty of news and nuggets can be gleaned from preseason games in regards to super late picks, or end of the roster dynasty stashes.
This the position that is the most difficult to evaluate during the preseason. Either a starting QB plays for a few drives or a backup is playing against other backups who are backups for a reason. There are only a few scenarios where the preseason tells us anything about a quarterback.
The first is when a backup is starting, due to the starter being held out, and has a fantastic game against the first string defense. A 2016 example, would be Jimmy Garoppolo for the New England Patriots. If (when) Jimmy G comes out this preseason and puts up good numbers, first of all, Twitter will call for Tom Brady’s head, and secondly it will make Garoppolo worth owning in most dynasty leagues, because he showed intriguing signs, Tom Brady is 39, and if he sucks filling in for Brady during the season you can easily cut him.
Secondly, there are occasional training camp battles to be decided in training camp. With RG3 being named Cleveland’s starter early in the week, the San Francisco 49ers are still unsettled at QB. With Chip Kelly coming out and saying that the 49ers will use preseason to decide the battle, this preseason just got a lot more interesting for Blaine Gabbert and Colin Kaepernick. The thought would be that whoever starts Preseason Week 1 would be the leader is likely. Kelly needs to get them both reps, but the starter will play against the first team defense and could win the job with a good performance.
Other than these few scenarios, not much else can be gleaned from the quarterback position during preseason.
Running Backs are the best and easiest position to evaluate during preseason. With the running back position is it much easier to look at the players and see how they changed during the offseason. Whether they look much stronger or in some cases (Eddie Lacy) is slimmer than last year and looks quicker and more agile.
During the 2015 preseason, there were signs of a few breakout RBs. Thomas Rawls ran 30 times for 158 yards and 1 TD, an average of 5.3 YPC. Jeremy Langford rushed 28 times for 153 yards and 1 TD, averaging 5.5 YPC. Langford also had a carry of 46 yards. Doug Martin also hinted at his resurgence, rushing 20 times for 118 yards, 1 TD, a 5.9 YPC, and a rush of 30 yards. Chris Ivory was another player who flashed, with 17 rushing attempts for 99 yards, 1 TD, with a long rush of 33 yards on a 5.8 YPC. While I’m not trying to say that preseason stats predict the top RBs, it can be helpful when looking for bounce back or breakout candidates.
Again, wide receiver is easier to examine than QB during the preseason, while not as easy to evaluate as the RB position. What I tend to look for in WRs in preseason is how much they improved as a route runner and technician over the offseason. This typically applies to the younger WRs such as Dorial Green-Beckham or Kevin White. If in a preseason game I can see significantly more crisp routes and better releases against press coverage I go into the season with more faith in that WR to produce and to continue to get better.
Again, much of what can be seen for a TE is the same for a WR. The route running and how he reacts to various types of coverage is a major skill area I expect a young TE to improve upon. Tight Ends also have to be able to block, making their blocking skills another skillset that bears watching as it is necessary for a TE to be able run/pass block to stay on the field, therefore being able to produce.
Even with all the hype surrounding the return of football, it’s only going to take a week or so before the only ones paying attention are the hardcore fantasy players that want to get the jump on their league. Knowing what to look for during preseason games can help you find a super deep guy who may contribute to your fantasy team.