We’re midway through August and NFL preseason action is in full swing. We’ve seen performances from rookies like Baker Mayfield and Saquon Barkley that have football fans excited for their eventual regular season debuts. The hype train has already gone out of control. Football fans, it’s time to pump the breaks.
The NFL preseason offers some spectacular plays, but don’t put too much stock in them. Preseason games aren’t accurate measures of a player’s regular season readiness for a few reasons. These include limited playing time for veterans and starters and a slower pace of play. The only area the preseason shines in is giving confidence to their younger players. Let’s first discuss the problems with the preseason.
In general, seasoned veterans and bona fide starters don’t play a lot in the preseason. Players like Tom Brady, Larry Fitzgerald, and Antonio Brown rarely suit up for the first game. When the big names don’t play, the high-profile rookies and young players don’t have many opportunities to go head to head against other first-team units. This translates to a lot of preseason feats being made against players with uncertain futures in the NFL. Always make sure to take the context of any big preseason play into account when giving accolades to young stars. That is of course if the pace of play allows for it.
The preseason is a great time for coaches and referees to figure out new rules and get back into playing football. The contentious and confusing new helmet rule has been called multiple times throughout the preseason. Denver Broncos safety Shamarko Thomas was the first player to be ejected for violating the new rule. As new policies are being figured out in real time, the pace of play slows down. This also in an effort to keep players safe. According to NFL.com, diagnosed concussions rose from 243 in 2016 to 281 in 2017 with 45 concussions coming from preseason practices. As of January 2018, the NFL is still looking into data on other injuries.
The NFL season is long and brutal on the body so using the preseason to gradually increase the pace of play makes sense. The last thing coaches want is to lose promising talent in the preseason. The Washington Redskins have already lost RB Derrius Guise for the entire season to a torn ACL in the first quarter of his first preseason game. If a slower game means fewer devastating injuries in the preseason, everyone should be in favor of it. The slower pace works for the coaches and players but isn’t great for providing young players with meaningful feats.
The one area the preseason shines in is giving confidence to younger players. The preseason gives teams the chance to ease players into the NFL. These four games are like televised practices and provide information to coaches about the best team to field. It’s hard to gauge how well a player does when they scrimmage against the same unit over and over again in practice. The preseason simulates a real game and breaks the monotony of training camp. Players that are comfortable here have a good chance of making a 53-man roster. Preseason games are interesting because they matter and don’t matter at the same time. They matter to coaches because they find the best players for the team and it gives their young stars some confidence. They also don’t matter because winning or losing is irrelevant and big plays are coming against second and third string players.
For some fans, the preseason can be very exciting. They see the future of their franchises take the field for the first time as pros. Just remember that preseason games aren’t real games. Enjoy the spectacle, take pride in seeing the future of the league for the first time, but don’t look too deep into these games. Take the stellar performances with a grain of salt and wait for the regular season to makes sense of how good your team really is.
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