The problem with the preseason

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It’s so good to have you back, football. I mean, you may not be real yet or meaningful, but you’re here, and dammit, I was really excited last night to watch Charlie Whitehurst run the two-minute offense. Really excited.

Something happens to our minds during this wonderful time of the year. Everything is equal, so anything is possible. This applies to both our thinking regarding reality and fantasy football. In reality, there are people in offices this morning and around the Internet who are jacked because their team of choice won a preseason game last night, as though that means anything at all. They are few in number, but they exist, and they’re hilarious.

In fantasy, the preseason is a dangerous time. Values are drastically inflated after we’ve observed the smallest of sample sizes, and a few explosive plays in an isolated atmosphere. Example: yes, last night it was great seeing Chris Johnson do a Chris Johnson thing when he ran for a 58-yard touchdown. But look who he burned and turned around once he reached the second level. It was Bacarri Rambo (or Goo Fudge, if you prefer), one of three rookies starting in the Redskins’ secondary. He assumed he had Johnson lined up for his first snot rocker and touchdown-saving tackle. Alas, a rook playing in his first NFL snaps was made a fool.

Yet it filled us with great fantasy joy, and so be it. Johnson still showcased his patented quick burst through the hole and his acceleration in the open field, and he still did that in a competitive environment. In this case, though, the competition was of a lower, second-tier quality.

But there’s a better example of an inflated fantasy rise on the true first night of preseason play. Johnson is already typically a top-20 pick, and universally a second rounder. Chris Givens, meanwhile, has potential and hype, yet mostly because of uncertainty surrounding how targets will be distributed by Sam Bradford in St. Louis, right now you’re able to get great value on him with an ADP hovering around 140th overall. Right now.

We play a reactive game, and after Givens hauled in a 59-yard pass early in the second quarter last night against the Browns, we were quickly reminded of his secondary-busting speed. We probably didn’t need that reminder after he put together a string of games last fall in which he had a catch of 50 yards or more in five straight weeks (a rookie record). But there it was anyway.

Like Johnson, Givens showcased what he does best: blow by a defender, and then make the necessary adjustments deep downfield to secure a reception with steady hands. But like Johnson, he did it against a lower standard of competition. The second quarter of the first preseason game gradually becomes a wasteland, and look who was assigned to Givens on that play for the Browns. That’s Trevin Wade, a second-year cornerback and a seventh-round pick in 2012 who hasn’t started a meaningful game yet.

We’ll continue to see similar examples throughout the next few days and weeks. Starters on both sides of the ball will remain in games longer in weeks two and three of the preseason, but generally, the field is still saturated with competition levels which skew results.

That doesn’t mean said results should be entirely ignored. Far from it, but before we go spiking ADPs in abrupt upwards directions, chill a little, and remember that it’s August.

We could get another skewing tonight, just in a different manner. With Pierre Thomas sitting out, Mark Ingram will be the exclusive featured back for the Saints (or at least as “exclusive” as it gets with Darren Sproles hanging around too), getting all the carries for whatever time the first-team offense stays on the field. No matter how much Ingram impresses, that’s not reality, as even if he’s on the high end of a time share and thus he’ll still have value as an RB3, a share will still exist.

Yet if he busts a few runs up the middle tonight, there will be shouts of glee and overreaction from some. Don’t be that guy.

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