Which Skill Positions Should You Pay Attention to During the 2015 NFL Preseason?
During Week 3 of the NFL preseason last year, Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Allen Hurns notched 113 receiving yards and one touchdown on seven catches. In Week 1 of the NFL regular season, this same unknown wideout put up 110 yards and two touchdowns on four receptions against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Now, if you were crazy enough to draft this guy on your fantasy team and start him, you might have thought you were a psychic. However, if you look at his preseason average of 16.6 yards per catch, you may not have been all that surprised. Using this little nugget of preseason info, although Hurns was a Jaguar, a rookie, an unknown, unheralded, and undrafted receiver, you may have realized that, in the words of the the very eloquent Stephen A. Smith, "this kid is no scrub."
However, it's more than fair to push back a little here and question the validity of using preseason numbers to project regular season performance. I mean, there are a multitude of reasons why using preseason numbers to extrapolate regular season play should have very little efficacy.
For one, the sample size is small. The already-small sample size of a 16 game NFL season is being cut by 75%. Then, those minutes are being spread out over nearly twice the regular number of players that normally see minutes.
Additionally, the competition in preseason not at a level equal to that of the NFL regular season. For the most part, it's backups playing against backups. And while someone may perform well against backups, it may be tougher for them to contribute on the same level when facing first stringers play after play.
Finally, preseason offenses and defenses look a lot different than regular season offenses and defenses, as teams try to disguise their plans for the upcoming season. Playing with inferior talent may hinder the performances of not only inexperienced players but also veterans attempting to hone their craft. For those that are playing way over their heads, Casey Printers once said, it's tough to make chicken salad out of chicken s***.
But rather than just hypothesize, let's look at what the numbers have to say. Statistics aren't that readily available for the preseason, so I just looked at one simple statistic for the skill positions of quarterback, running back, and pass catcher.
For quarterbacks I looked at players in 2014 who played at least four regular season games, and averaged at least 10 attempts per preseason game and 15 attempts per regular season. I compared passer ratings between the preseason and regular season.
For running backs playing at minimum four games, with five carries per game in the regular and post season, I looked at yards per carry.
For receivers I looked at yards per catch for those playing at least four regular season games and one reception per preseason and regular season game.
Below are the strengths of the correlations between the regular and preseason statistics compared:
|Position||Correlation (0 to 1)|
So the grand finale is that the preseason is not very predictive, but really we already knew that. In fact, some of the correlations are higher than what I would have originally thought. For pass catchers, 17% of the difference between pass catchers in regular season yards per catch performance can be attributed to preseason performance. Obviously not a lot, but it's something.
It at least tells us that when you're watching a preseason game and you want to pay attention to one skill position, pay attention to the wideouts. Although the quarterbacks will always be the most talked about of the preseason, basically none of what they do in those 3 weeks will predict how they will perform in the next 16.
Although Allen Hurns did cool off, he still had a solid season, especially given his lowly NFL beginnings. He caught about 50 balls for nearly 700 yards and six touchdowns. Paying attention to the standout wide receivers in this years preseason could pay dividends.