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The NFL Preseason Is Not Predictive — But It Can Often Seem That Way

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Pittsburgh Steelers rookie QB Kenny Pickett has shined within the preseason. That success might carry over into games that count… or it may not.

Justin Berl / Getty Images

This time last yr, Cincinnati Bengals wideout Ja’Marr Chase was being labeled a ‘bust’. With only one catch — on an unremarkable bubble screen — and loads of drops, Chase’s first preseason didn’t appear to bode well for his skilled reunion with college quarterback Joe Burrow. All Chase went on to do was break rookie receiving records, be named the AP Offensive Rookie of the 12 months and help the Bengals make the Super Bowl. Meanwhile, Chicago Bears rookie quarterback Justin Fields’s preseason debut had fans and analysts alike calling for him to start out Week 1. But after putting up a 90.2 preseason passer rating — seventh amongst qualified QBs — he finished the regular season rated thirtieth out of 33 qualifiers.

NFL preseason contests have the fame of not telling us much about how players will perform in games that count, particularly after we consider how teams approach them. But that doesn’t stop fans or analysts from jumping to conclusions.

We should always know higher by now: There’s no correlation between preseason and regular-season passer rating, rushing yards per attempt or receiving yards per game. And it’s no wonder, with so many alternative mixtures of players and circumstances being thrown together in games that don’t actually count. 

Preseason stats are quite limited to start with, and offensive skill-position players are the simplest for people to evaluate (and construct narratives around). Since 2000, listed here are among the most extreme examples of fine and bad preseasons that heralded — or didn’t — the identical caliber of standard season, starting with quarterbacks:

How some quarterbacks followed up their preseasons

Highest or lowest preseason passer rankings for qualified quarterbacks since 2000, grouped by the standard of performance within the regular season

Player12 monthsPre. RtgRS RtgPlayer12 monthsPre. RtgRS Rtg
Kerry Collins2004140.474.8Aaron Rodgers2009147.9103.2
Matt Hasselbeck2001116.070.9Aaron Rodgers2010141.2101.2
Sam Darnold2021116.071.9Dak Prescott2016137.8104.9
Tony Banks2001113.271.3Daunte Culpepper2004134.4110.9
Kelly Holcomb2003112.674.6Drew Brees2009132.7109.6
Player12 monthsPre. RtgRS RtgPlayer12 monthsPre. RtgRS Rtg
Kordell Stewart200039.873.6Michael Vick201038.2100.2
Josh Freeman200941.059.8Philip Rivers201348.3105.5
Jimmy Clausen201046.858.4Aaron Rodgers201253.8108.0
Marc Bulger200751.070.3Matt Ryan201654.7117.1
Patrick Ramsey200452.274.8Carson Palmer201558.6104.6

Good performance was defined as a passer rating of at the very least 100 within the regular season. Bad performance was defined as a passer rating below 75 within the regular season. To qualify, a quarterback needed at the very least 25 attempts within the preseason and 250 attempts within the regular season.

Source: nfl gsis

Kerry Collins is our poster boy for a great-but-meaningless preseason. Having been replaced in Recent York by No. 1 overall pick Eli Manning, Collins arrived in Oakland in 2004 to exchange 38-year-old Wealthy Gannon. Collins put up monster exhibition numbers, going 14-of-25 for 344 yards, 4 touchdowns and no interceptions, but he went on to steer the league in picks and oversaw a 3-10 record for the Raiders in games he began.

Quarterbacks who put up good preseason stats are sometimes adequate to start out Week 1, but you don’t really know in case your team has a Sam Darnold or a Dak Prescott until the actual games begin. A rough preseason can actually bode ailing for brand new starters — Jimmy Clausen couldn’t money the big reputational check ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper wrote on his behalf — but they may also precede a coming-out party. After which we have now cases like Michael Vick in 2010. By the top of his second preseason since coming back from prison, he had given no indication he’d ever throw the ball at a high level ever again; Vick went on to have his best yr as a passer.

How some running backs followed up their preseasons

Highest or lowest preseason yards per carry for qualified running backs since 2000, grouped by the standard of performance within the regular season

Player12 monthsPre. YPCRS YPCPlayer12 monthsPre. YPCRS YPC
Jahvid Best20108.63.2Matt Forte201010.24.5
Warrick Dunn20017.82.8Matt Forte20139.94.6
Rashard Mendenhall20136.13.2Michael Turner20089.44.5
Travis Henry20015.53.4Tiki Barber20007.84.7
Maurice Smith20014.93.2Ryan Mathews20117.84.9
Player12 monthsPre. YPCRS YPCPlayer12 monthsPre. YPCRS YPC
Rashad Jennings20161.13.3Reggie Bush20131.24.5
James Allen20022.13.3Joseph Addai20061.54.8
Bernard Pierce20132.22.9Joe Mixon20181.84.9
Cedric Benson20072.33.4Jamaal Charles20131.95.0
LaDainian Tomlinson20092.33.3Chris Ivory20132.04.6

Good performance was defined as a yards per carry of at the very least 4.5 within the regular season. Bad performance was defined as a yards per carry below 3.5 within the regular season. To qualify, a running back needed at the very least 10 carries within the preseason and 150 carries within the regular season.

Source: nfl gsis

Though it’s turn into common wisdom that tailbacks are as plug-and-play as any position in football, loads of ball-carriers run wild against the scrubs before getting shut out against starters. 2010 first-round pick Jahvid Best had 129 yards on just 15 rushes in his first preseason; he gained only 426 more regular-season yards that yr despite getting 156 more carries. In contrast, Best’s eventual alternative, free-agent veteran Reggie Bush, struggled mightily in preseason before becoming the last Lion to achieve over 1,000 yards on the bottom.

But sometimes, a big-deal preseason really is a giant deal. Matt Forte was a solid back over his first two years within the league, but everyone, including the Madden video game franchise, underrated his speed. His 89-yard preseason touchdown run against the Raiders heralded a breakout third season; his yards-per-carry jumped from 3.8 over his first two years to 4.5.

How some wide receivers followed up their preseasons

Highest or lowest preseason yards per game for qualified wide receivers since 2000, grouped by the standard of performance within the regular season

Player12 monthsPre. YPGRS YPGPlayer12 monthsPre. YPGRS YPG
Greg Jennings200682.039.5Randy Moss2000102.389.8
Ted Ginn201353.534.8Randy Moss200174.077.1
Deon Butler201047.824.1Randy Moss200262.384.2
Shaun McDonald200446.330.9Julio Jones201260.074.9
Ike Hilliard200346.338.0Antonio Brown201157.569.3
Player12 monthsPre. YPGRS YPGPlayer12 monthsPre. YPGRS YPG
Marvin Harrison20087.639.8Antonio Brown20156.0114.6
Ike Hilliard20088.326.5Michael Crabtree20127.069.1
Jason Avant20108.835.8Odell Beckham20157.890.6
Kellen Winslow20089.026.8Doug Baldwin20159.066.8
Donnie Avery20129.548.8Donald Driver20049.875.5

Good performance was defined as at the very least 65 yards per game within the regular season. Bad performance was defined as fewer than 40 yards per game within the regular season. To qualify, a receiver needed at the very least five catches within the preseason and 35 catches within the regular season.

Source: nfl gsis

In relation to wide receivers, the talent jumps off the page. Randy Moss put up three of the five best preseasons in our sample, and the opposite two belonged to Julio Jones and Antonio Brown. That trio combined for 20 Pro Bowl appearances and 10 All-Pro selections. However it’s possible for a wideout to point out out in preseason and flame out within the regular season; Greg Jennings flashed in his rookie exhibitions, but a 43.3 percent catch rate severely limited his production that yr. And even essentially the most physically talented receivers can go missing in preseason: Brown gained just 30 yards over five preseason games in 2015 before racking up career-high 1,834 yards that regular season.

What does all of it mean? Well, we will’t say way more than preseason performance doesn’t mean anything — except when it does. In order this NFL preseason involves a detailed, don’t dismiss storylines like rookie Kenny Pickett impressing for the Pittsburgh Steelers as much as he did on the University of Pittsburgh, or undrafted Rams rookie Lance McCutcheon leading the league in preseason receiving. But don’t trade the moon and the celebrities to get leading preseason rusher Brittain Brown of the Las Vegas Raiders in your fantasy team, either, and don’t worry an excessive amount of if Tom Brady looks a bit rusty when he finally rejoins the Bucs. There surely are clues in regards to the regular season hiding within the preseason, but they’ll be surrounded by red herrings — and we won’t give you the chance to inform which from which until we have now real games to investigate.

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