What to Take and What to Ignore from the Preseason (Fantasy Football)

by Jason Katz | @jasonkatz13 | Featured Writer
May 24, 2019

Sam Darnold’s inability to carry over his preseason success in 2018 shows why preseason stats can’t be fully trusted

Unlike any other sport, people actually care about the NFL preseason. I care about the NFL preseason. After six months of no football, it’s exciting to see real live football, even if it doesn’t actually count. While absence makes the heart grow fonder, it also can play tricks on you.

Studying the preseason has value. That value just isn’t necessarily what you may think. Let’s go through the main takeaways from the preseason and how much you should care about what happens.

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We start with injuries because it is obviously the most relevant information. Whether it is a player sustaining an injury in the preseason or a player returning from an offseason/previous season’s injury, reports on player health are immensely important.

If a player suffers a preseason injury, that can and should impact his ADP. The single most predictive factor of future injuries is past injuries. A player that enters the regular season injured is more likely to miss time during the season. When selecting a player coming off a preseason injury or a player that is still injured, be sure to weigh the costs and benefits of drafting that player. If you are not getting enough of an injury discount, it is probably best to stay away.

If a player is recovering from a previous season’s injury or offseason surgery, all you really need to know is if that player is healthy. If he’s playing in the preseason at all, it’s a very good sign. Often times players coming off serious injuries will be held out of the preseason, especially if they aren’t fully recovered in time for training camp. NFL players have access to the best possible doctors and treatment, so you needn’t worry too much about any lingering effects an injury may have. If the doctors say he is healthy and a full go, then he’s a full go…just make sure that if he’s playing in the preseason, he at least looks like his former self.

Team Records
I will keep this short and simple. Whether a team is winning or losing games in the preseason literally means nothing. There are plenty of things to pay attention to in the preseason. A team’s win/loss record is not one of them.

I need to preface this by stating that I do not think statistics are completely meaningless. However, everything in the preseason needs to be taken with context. When you have established stars, you don’t care about their preseason stats because you know they’re good. When you have rookies or lesser known players, seeing them perform well is definitely eye-opening, but typically it is against second or third stringers. Every year, there are players that pop during the preseason who go on to do nothing in the regular season. Unless there is serious discussion of a player pushing for a relevant role, do not overvalue preseason performance.

Starting Lineups
What you should care about is what players are running with the first team. This is especially important on teams where there may be running back timeshares or uncertainty regarding who a team’s WR2 is going to be. If a starter is not putting up gaudy numbers in the first quarter of a preseason game while a backup is lighting up in the third quarter, the most important takeaway is who is playing in the first quarter.

Volume is king in fantasy football. Running backs need carries. Wide receivers need targets. In order to get the ball, a player has to be on the field. The players playing at the start of preseason games are the likely starters and that fact is more important than anything they do on the field.

Rested Players
The players a coach chooses to hold out of action can be extremely telling. If you weren’t sure whether a particular player was a starter or likely to see significant usage, a team’s decision to rest that player along with the guys you would expect to be kept out of action can clue you in as to how the team feels about that player. Just be sure to not conflate a rested player with a player not playing because he is completely irrelevant.

Preseason Week 3
This week is widely known as the regular season dress rehearsal. While more and more teams are playing starters less and less during the preseason, most teams still treat their third preseason game mostly like a regular season game, with the starters playing into the third quarter. The snap distribution of players in the third preseason game serves as a strong indicator of who is in the driver’s seat for a WR2 role or who the more valuable member of a backfield may be. And for the teams that don’t care and rest their starters, those are almost exclusively players whose roles are well defined.

Fantasy Football ADPs
I know this isn’t technically something that happens in the preseason, it’s rather an impact of the preseason, but it is important to track. Fantasy ADPs are going to move based on the preseason. This shifts value and can present opportunities that are both positive and negative.

You may end up priced out of a player that you like because the preseason hypes up his value too much. You may end up being able to get a player you want later in your draft because of the preseason, but you also may not be as interested in him for the exact reasons that create his depressed ADP. Whatever the outcome, pay attention to how the preseason affects ADPs and use that information to your benefit.

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Jason Katz is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Jason, check out his archive or follow him @jasonkatz13.

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