NFL Preseason: What's Important, What's Not
Posted Jul. 31 at 08:38 PM
Some people will tell you the preseason doesn’t matter, while others will exaggerate its importance. Like so many things, the truth is somewhere in between. Here’s a quick overview.
Injuries: When players get hurt early in the preseason, it matters. Young players lose the opportunity to win jobs or pick up offenses quickly. Older players might not be able to bounce back as quickly, or the injury is a sign of a player whose body might be starting to break down. Even star players who are treated with kid gloves after a preseason injury can end up missing regular-season games as a result – Steve Smith a year ago. Important or Not Important? Important.
Holdouts: Most holdouts get resolved, either quickly or ultimately. Sometimes the players go on to have stellar seasons: LaDainian Tomlinson and Emmitt Smith leap to mind. All too often, though, the veteran player goes on to suffer an injury (Dorsey Levens) or have a subpar season (Deion Branch). Young players, particularly at positions like quarterback or wide receiver, fall behind in their development, and it costs them (Philip Rivers). Tough to say what will be the case with a guy like Larry Johnson, but the guess is it will be: Important.
Statistics: More often than not, a team’s leading rusher or receiver in the preseason is a guy who will never start a game – if he plays at all – when the games actually count. Musa Smith and Jerome Harrison tore things up in the preseason last year, then disappeared when the games actually counted. And at least with those guys you can make a case for them this year, as both are good candidates to be in No. 2 roles.
Far worse are the No. 3 and 4 running backs on teams who get all their carries in the second half with scrubs on the field for both teams. More often than not, those guys are getting those second-half exhibition carries because the coaching staff knows they’re headed to the practice squad (at best) anyway and don’t care if those guys break a leg or not. “You’re getting 20 carries not because I want to take an extended look at you, but because I want to kill the clock and don’t want to get anyone more important injured.” Stats, Not Important.
What the Media Says: People say the media only reports bad news, but that’s not really true with sports. Oh sure, they’re all over the Michael Vick thing, but that’s the kind of story that just makes them work even harder to find the feel-good puff pieces we see every preseason. The veteran who looks great coming back from injury. The youngster who’s shed 10 pounds and now has an extra gear, or whose offseason regimen has them stronger and more explosive off the line of scrimmage than ever before. (I’d love to find the workout that will make me more explosive, because I’ve read it’s out there somewhere.) The rookie who has already digested the entire playbook and is making his cuts perfectly.
While these stories EXIST, they are largely meaningless. Jabar Gaffney catching everything in practice doesn’t change the fact that he’s a mediocre veteran playing with his third team in the last two seasons, with a club that’s loaded at wide receiver and likes to spread the ball around. The media’s job isn’t to help you build your fantasy team, it’s to write stories that get the hometown fans excited about their team and to cut through the anti-sports fervor generated by discouraging tales of DUI arrests and the like. Not Important.
What Coaches Say: You can’t trust coaches during the regular season, when they’re only trying to win games and would lie to their own mother if they felt it would give them an edge on Sunday. Remarkably, though, coaches seem to be pretty honest in the preseason. Norv Turner says we won’t see much of LaDainian Tomlinson in the preseason, and we probably won’t. Herman Edwards couldn’t sound any less confident in Priest Holmes’ comeback if he were laughing openly at the very idea. The lies, by and large, are obvious ones, like when Cam Cameron says that there’s an open competition for the starting quarterback job in Miami. Right, I’m sure they spent half the offseason trying to acquire Trent Green just for depth. What coaches say is Important, particularly when it comes to their intentions for how to use players (“We prefer giving the ball to one running back”) or not use them (“We’d like to use a bigger back around the goal line to reduce the wear and tear on our starter”). In the preseason, actually, coaches are sometimes honest to a fault – remember “The Randy Ratio”? Nice one, Mike Tice.
What Players Say: “I think 16-0 is a real possibility.” “My goal is 2,000 yards.” Considering none of these predictions ever pan out, don’t you think people would give it a rest? Apparently not, because players keep doing it. When a running back says his goal is 2,000 yards, that’s usually my cue to move him DOWN, not up, on my draft board. That’s an injury waiting to happen, more often than not. I always enjoy when players talk as if they enjoy committee situations, saying it keeps them fresher, or it makes sense for the coach to give more carries to the guy with the hot hand, or whatever. Does anyone honestly believe that Fred Taylor wants to get pulled at the goal line, or that Clinton Portis doesn’t care if Ladell Betts gets more carries than he does in a given week? Right. Put no stock whatsoever in what players say; it’s Not Important.
I’m sure we’d all like the preseason to be shorter, especially those of us who drafted Frank Gore last week. But it’s not going anywhere, leaving you forced to make the best of it. So remember: Avoid players coming off injury who are predicting their best season ever and also tearing it up in camp while the media talks about how explosive they are, and you’ll be fine.
Posted by Drew Ehrlich | Mar. 17 at 09:33 AM
Ok, I like reading about baseball, fantasy and fantasy baseball, but, if I wanted War and Peace, I'd go to the original Tolstoy version. That being said, the problem with all this discussion is that so much depends upon the league you are in. I'm in a H2H league with 21 stat categories, so both of you bring up some good, but not necessarily all-inclusive points. Balance is good. But one simple approach is to pick the best player available, then fill in weak spots with later picks. I hope the posts get shorter. there's always the possibility that someone reading might... just... drop... off... to... sl
Posted by JUSTIN ELEFF | Mar. 17 at 06:09 PM
Drew: Agreed that much (if not everything) depends on the league you happen to play. We obviously can't account for all of them, but the prevalence of 5x5 - and the just plain weirdness of any league that counts 21 categories - does make the above as much of a general interest piece as we can muster. That said, I know it isn't an especially zippy read; most of the other pieces we'll post are half this length or so. But, hey, one dream of mine has always been to write something people would read on the toilet, so print the next one and keep it under the sink or something. Out of curiosity, mind sharing the 21 cat's?
Posted by Drew Ehrlich | Mar. 17 at 09:46 PM
The "weirdness" of my league notwithstanding, Justin, the article doesn't really address auction leagues, either. That being said, your goal should probably try to be as general interest as possible, adjusting after-comments to account for the different formats. For example: "If you're looking at Nelson Cruz, his 30 - 30 potential is hard to ignore, but his AVG and OBP might kill you, if those categories are counted in your league." And regarding writing a toilet piece being the pinnacle to which you aspire, hmm. I'm not sure having a bunch of baseball fanatics asleep on the bowl would be the best application of your writing skills. Anyway, as the commissioner of my 11x10 H2H, non-keeper league, my goal was to make the season as "real" as possible. Therefore, atypical categories were included in the hopes that participants wouldn't just try to grab bangers and speed merchants (for hitters), thereby drafting incomplete players. Also, pitchers that stocked the bases but had low ERAs, relievers that let in others' baserunners but kept their own ERAs low, and closers that get many opportunities for saves but blow a bunch were all considered sub-par. So, essentially, my thinking was "What players would a REAL GM value?" To that end, here are the categories: For hitters - Runs RBIs Singles Doubles Triples Homeruns Batting Average On-base Percentage Net Steals Fielding Percentage Grounded-into-double-play (Note: slugging % was not included since it would be redundant with tracking the individual hit categories) For Pitchers - Wins Losses ERA Homeruns allowed K/9 BB/9 H/9 Net Saves Holds Inherited runs allowed (Note: WHIP was not included since its individual components are already so, same as slugging %) As a result, if you want a one- or two-dimensional player (think Manny or Kevin Gregg), then you know you would need to balance him out somewhere else to compensate for his weaker categories, same as in the real world. The reason for the odd quantity of categories was to avoid the likelihood of ties, particularly in the playoffs, rather than to rely on tiebreakers, or heartbreakers, as the case may be. There you go. With all due humility, Dave may not be the only passionate, hilarious and articulate commenter you have.
Posted by Drew Ehrlich | Mar. 17 at 09:50 PM
BTW, it's a shame this commenting design doesn't allow for paragraph breaks and returns. The above post would have read much better if I'd known it would read thusly, since I had all the categories listed by line. Knowing this, next time I'll just use commas. Sorry 'bout that, chief.
Posted by Cam Fallon | Mar. 18 at 01:38 AM
Dave seems to know what he's talking about, so there's no way he's sticking strictly to any 'script', but his premise has merit. It's very interesting that both strategies yielded a 5 player overlap. Good job fellas, this is the kind of thing I'd like to see more of in the baseball edition of your mag. Fantasy Football Index is perfect.
Posted by JUSTIN ELEFF | Mar. 18 at 02:22 AM
Drew: Admire the effort to mimic how GMs value players; that was the idea behind the Indexball game we created a few years ago, but we used a few compound stats rather than having the game track a huge number of categories. For instance, we counted "extra bases" for hitters, where a double counted as one, a triple as two, a home run as three, a stolen base as one. Also, "win appearances" for pitchers - every pitcher who appeared in a win got one, regardless of role. The 11x10 format is certainly ambitious - I sure hope you're using a service that tracks the numbers for you - but I wonder if you might be able to simplify and make the game more fun. I mean, tracking singles AND doubles AND triples AND home runs separately demands a kind of balance that GMs wouldn't care about, right? Why not just track total bases? Or even combine all numbers into two master categories like "total of all bases" (including steals, maybe subtracting GIDPs for the base lost by the hitter who was already on base and is now thrown out) and "total outs"?
Posted by JUSTIN ELEFF | Mar. 18 at 02:31 AM
Cam: I actually consider the overlap a weakness of the piece. Problem was, I was using the same set of player rankings for all picks - the ones in the Internet Extra - and at certain points, as with Abreu, the rankings would simply demand that both teams take the same player. But that approach obviously depends on the accuracy of the player rankings, and I'm not sure Dave would agree with those rankings enough to take all of the players I was taking on his behalf. More compelling would be to have the two of us mock the draft out, not using any lists but our own personal rankings. Then there wouldn't be a five-player overlap, I'm guessing, but the piece would've been even longer, so Drew would've been unhappy. The next piece Dave and I are working on will compare our player rankings more directly; we'll talk sleepers, his list vs. mine. Look for that next week.
Posted by Drew Ehrlich | Mar. 18 at 06:31 AM
Justin: to be succinct - 1) we use the Yahoo fantasy game so, yeah, it's done for us (thank heavens). In that regard, we're kind of tied into what's available, category-wise. 2) Since most speed guys are dinkers (with some doubles and triples thrown in), I think a GM would definitely be cognizant of the balance between they and the blasters (with gap power and homers), the present Mariners notwithstanding. Maybe not down to the specific hit type, but you get the idea. Regarding your response to Cam: maybe an average of several ranking sources would be more accurate for each player. My friend purchased four different mags, and I purchased two, along with using MLB's own fantasy rankings. I was able to set up spreadsheets for each position averaging the each player's rankings. (Yes I need a life and have too much time on my hands... I know.) I'd be happy to e-mail that to you if you'd like.
Posted by JUSTIN ELEFF | Mar. 18 at 07:41 AM
Drew and Cam: Re the average rankings approach, I'll give you two responses - the Company Line and the Company Line That Works. Company Line: If you're averaging different rankings, make it a weighted average. Count ours four times, everyone else's once. I'm OK with that. Company Line That Works: Look, an average of all commercially available publications' rankings is pretty much exactly how your leaguemates are going to value the players available. Someone's using us, someone's using Shandler, several someones are using ESPN. All ADP rankings you'll see are, whether explicitly or not, some combination of publications' rankings. The way to make things work, here and in football both, is to find a set of rankings you trust (hey, I recommend Fantasy Index's rankings) and compare those to the average of several sets of rankings. Where the set you trust seems to have a player out of order compared to the average, that's a player you need to think about. There are reasons we like some players better than other rankings do; read our capsules about those players, think about the players' numbers and you'll come up with our reasoning, and then you just have to decide if you think it's sound or not. As I wrote in the mag, I want you to ENGAGE with what we write, there or on this website. If everyone's using some form of averaged rankings, you really want a set that stands far out, if for no other reason than because it forces you to do a specific, very useful kind of work in getting your head ready to draft.
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