I have a journalism background, and I have a lot of respect for what team beat writers do. They're covering players who by and large don't have a lot of desire to talk to them, and trying to extract meaningful information from coaches who act like it's important to shroud everything they do in great secrecy and mystery. And of course they're giving us regular folk glimpses into practices -- which is sometimes useful. And sometimes not.
One of the key catch phrases that I'm seeing crop up quite a bit is that players are "lining up all over the place." I think I first saw it this year with Sammy Watkins, lining up all over the formation in Kansas City practices. Yesterday I saw it again with Eric Ebron, who's lining up all over the place with the Colts. I think I've seen it with Trey Burton, and another receiver or two around the league over the past month.
Whimsically, I wonder just how many different places they're actually lining up. Quarterback? Running back? Or are we basically just talking about outside and slot receiver, sometimes on the left and sometimes on the right.
And then, is this just a case of them trying to find a player's best position, which they'll then leave him in for the entire year? Or are they actually going to be bouncing Watkins all over the place on different offensive series, befuddling poor defensive coordinators who are left with no idea of how to put a functional defensive player on this will-o-the-wisp athlete? "OK, we know exactly where dull, one-dimensional players like Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill are going to be...but what are they doing with Sammy Watkins? One play he's lining up as an outside receiver on the LEFT, and the next he's an inside receiver on the RIGHT. Madness!"
I kid a little. But the cautionary note is real.
Because some will recall that Brandin Cooks in New England was one of last preseason's "lining up all over the place" receivers, and Jimmy Graham was one of the previous preseason's. And they went out and had fine seasons, when healthy, but basically did the exact same kinds of things they'd done in their careers to that point. Cooks was one of a bunch of receivers in New England, Graham was one of a bunch of receivers in Seattle. Neither offense was built around getting them the ball, because those teams had other capable receivers. And it will be the same with Watkins, and Ebron, and Ricky Seals-Jones and all these other players lining up all over the formation.
I think either consciously or subconsciously, we read about a player lining up everywhere, and imagine Patrick Mahomes dropping back to pass, scanning the field, and seeing Watkins to his left, Watkins to his right, Watkins in the slot, and Watkins coming out of the backfield. He's lining up in so many different places he's going to catch 25 percent more passes than he did with the Rams....
...except Sean McVay was saying similar things about Watkins a year ago, after the Rams acquired him. "It will be exciting just to see him move around," McVay said, "and we'll start to try to meet with him and get him going up to speed as quickly as possible with some of our offense's verbiage and the different things that we'll ask of him." Watkins, of course, was a nice player last year, but not a fantasy difference maker.
I like Watkins. And Ebron, and particularly Seals-Jones. These guys are going to be on the field plenty, catching passes and being important parts of their offense.
But there's only one football. Kansas City is still going to be built around getting the ball to Kelce and putting it into Hill's and Hunt's hands in different ways. Ebron is a former first-round pick, but he disappointed in Detroit and will now be the No. 2 tight end in Frank Reich's offense. You weren't hustling Trey Burton into lineups in Philadelphia last year, and even though Jack Doyle isn't Zach Ertz, you won't be making room for Ebron either.
Like I said, we need this offseason coverage. Stats and projections and old game film don't compare to inside looks at training camps and what players and offenses are doing right now. The local media and beat writers get to watch some of these things, and we do not.
But the day I bump a player up a round or two in my head because Team A is lining him up all over the place is the day I forget that he's still just one player. He may be lining up in different spots, but I guarantee he won't be in two at once.