Dwain McFarland’s RSP NFL Lens: Does Preseason Matter?

Rookie Scouting Portfolio analyst Dwain McFarland explains how to filter the signal from the noise during the preseason.

Follow Dwain on Twitter @dwainmcfarland

Does preseason football matter?

It depends. For some teams and players, it matters a lot. For others, it doesn’t matter at all other than emerging unscathed by injury.

For which teams and players does it matter most?

Teams and Players With a New Scheme

Teams that are installing a new scheme will often play their starters more throughout the preseason. These teams are still learning a new offense, and in-game experience is strong enough to warrant exposing players to injury risk. We saw Matt Ryan play into the second quarter of the second preseason game. While these teams won’t be trying to confuse their opponents by setting up plays early in a game to use later, they will deploy much of their base offense.

For these teams, we can gain a lot of valuable info on how they plan to deploy their offense. Personnel groupings utilized while the starting quarterback is on the field can be telling. Teams that like a more balanced offensive attack will often run more 12 and 21 personnel groupings. Sean McVay unveiled his heavy 11 personnel look from under center in the 2017 preseason.

Fifteen NFL teams have new offensive play-callers heading into 2019.

  • Arizona Cardinals
  • Atlanta Falcons
  • Baltimore Ravens
  • Cincinnati Bengals
  • Cleveland Browns
  • Dallas Cowboys
  • Denver Broncos
  • Detroit Lions
  • Green Bay Packers
  • Jacksonville Jaguars
  • Miami Dolphins
  • Minnesota Vikings
  • New York Jets
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  • Tennesse Titans

Because these teams are likely to give us more data points throughout the preseason, we can also get a feel for the pecking order of the offense. For example, Marquez Valdes-Scantling of the Packers is consistently on the field in two wide receiver sets while Geronimo Allison is not. This data point matches the preseason depth chart and the Packers camp observations. It is important to note which players didn’t play before evaluating the pecking order. In week one of the preseason, Allison was on the field much more. Why? DaVante Adams didn’t play that week.

Young and Developing Players

Rookies and developing players are important to monitor in the preseason for a few reasons. First, it is a great opportunity to see where they currently sit in the pecking order. Never overreact to this data point on one game. What is more important is if they are trending upwards or down.

Second, performing well in the preseason does matter for this group because it is another hurdle their coaches want to see them clear. Practice is the most important aspect, but coaches need to know how their young players will perform in a less controlled environment. Can they trust them? Can they handle an additional layer of pressure?

Third, this provides us as fans with a great opportunity to look for specific clues on whether players are transitioning and growing. For example, Darrell Henderson comes from a gap heavy run blocking scheme at Memphis.

Now he will be asked to operate much more in zone concepts, which requires a different approach to running. In the first preseason game, Henderson had 14 yards on 2 gap runs. He lost a yard on a total of four zone runs.

When you know what you are looking for, the preseason can be valuable in understanding where a player is on their developmental or transition curve. Monitoring for progress through the course of the preseason is key. If you aren’t sure what you should be looking for, then utilize the RSP. Matt provides an in-depth analysis of potential barriers to success as well as overlooked translatable traits for each prospect.

For the most in-depth analysis of offensive skill players available (QB, RB, WR, and TE), get the 2019  Rookie Scouting Portfolio. If you’re a fantasy owner the Post-Draft Add-on comes with the 2012 – 2018 RSPs at no additional charge.

Best, yet, 10 percent of every sale is donated to Darkness to Light to combat sexual abuse. You can purchase past editions of the Rookie Scouting Portfolio for just $9.95 each. 

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