It's always an exciting time to see actual NFL players (for at least one month of their lives) in actual games (except they don't count) producing actual statistics (only they are misleading at best). As de facto evaluators of talent, what are we to bring from the preseason games? What about those highlight clips where Player X impressively winds his way through 11 defenders who will all be back to building backyard decks or selling insurance by September?
The point of the preseason is not just a way to sell more tickets (not entirely anyway). It is when teams have a chance to see their own players in pads so that they can make very tough decisions about who will make the eventual 53 man roster. There's not a head coach in the league who wouldn't trade a scoreless, winless preseason in exchange for a playoff spot. Winning is nice in a very general, political way. But it is not the point of the preseason. Nor are stats.
But - there are always some stats that matter. There are always stats that we as fantasy football fans can, should and must take notice because they do have an impact on player value. The dozen stats you need to know from week one:
1. Kyle Boller threw 11 of 15 for 102 yards and one interception. Joe Flacco - 0 for 3 passes. Flacco is not setting any speed records learning the new offense and Boller will start the season not as the superior quarterback so much as the "best we got" quarterback. That should spell great things for his buddy Todd Heap too. Troy Smith did complete 5 of 12 for 74 yards without any turnovers and isn't yet out of the picture. One more game like last week and he will be. Boller was the opening quarterback going against the first team.
2. Ronnie Brown rushed three times for four yards. Ricky Williams gained 31 yards on five carries. Despite the fact that Brown is being drafted as early as the third round, that doesn't change the reality that HE TORE HIS ACL LAST YEAR. Medicine does incredible things which is evident in Brown suiting up at all. But Williams has looked sharp in camp and in the preseason game. Brown is not even allowed to trot to get a better place in the lunch line because HE TORE HIS ACL LAST YEAR.
3. Matt Ryan passed for 9 of 13 for 113 yards and one touchdown for the Falcons. He does look NFL-ready and he connected with Roddy White for the score. White has been nearly flawless in camp. Ryan is looking like the week one starter and White looks like a guy you are going to draft with a delightfully cheap draft pick. (Pssst... he had no quarterback last year and did pretty well)
4. Chris Johnson only gained 11 yards on five carries, but his sixth carry went for 66 yards and a touchdown. He was right there, I blinked, and then he was way down there. He also had a catch for 13 yards. For an offense that needs a playmaker, Johnson is looking as good as could be hoped so far and he is buying himself more playing time in the regular season each time he goes from there to..... way..... down .... there. In a hurry.
5. Felix Jones went against the Chargers defense and gained 32 yards on six carries and had two catches for 29 yards. His speed and open field ability was immediately noticed by the defense. He's not going to challenge Barber for the primary role of course, but so far he appears to be a dynamic change of pace from the bruising Barber. In a points-per-reception league, Jones just may carry RB3 sort of value. And just as notable is that the better he looks, the more you can wonder "what if he eats into Barber's action?"
6. Tarvaris Jackson threw 8 of 11 for 118 yards and one touchdown against the Seahawks. Bernard Berrian caught two passes for 43 yards. Admittedly we all made fun of the Vikings lack of a passing game last year to hide our maniacal envy that they had Adrian Peterson paving the Metrodome with opposing defenders. But Jackson was improving late last year and has looked sharp. He is taking " the next step" which means Bernard Berrian could be a nice sleeper to draft. The better that Jackson plays, the scarier the Vikings will be in the NFC North.
7. Matt Leinart completed 7 of 8 for 91 yards. Kurt Warner did not play but he could have. Very notable since this stat says that Leinart may be over his horrible sophomore slump of 2007 and that would be huge for Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin owners. And it is notable that they did not allow Warner to play to prevent him from rolling up better numbers and give fodder to the anti-Leinart contingent in Arizona. Recall Leinart had promise after his rookie year but played badly the first month of 2007 while he was learning the new scheme and then was lost for the year. Leinart looking good -albeit only against the Saints - is very important to the Cardinals offense.
8. Robert Meachem turned four catches into 129 yards and one score against the Cardinals. Let's not forget that Meachem was a first rounder in 2007 that lost his season due to injury but is healthy now and has been electric in camp. His game on Sunday only underscored the progress he has been making. Adding Shockey to the roster was a media event. Having a healthy Meachem this year may be the bigger deal. Meachem already has the #3 job and is setting his sights now on David Patten's job.
9. Ahman Green had one catch for five yards and then fell down untouched with a groin injury. Oh yeah, this is shaping up really well for the Texans who had acquired Chris Brown in case Green was injured. Except he was out with a back injury. Who else we got? Okay, Chris Taylor ran ten times and only gained 19 yards. Umm... Okay. Steve Slaton had 37 yards but needed 11 carries. Okay, at this rate just load up on the Houston passing attack. And stay away from their running backs. Short of a 30 man roster in your league, you have no room for them. None of them. And there could be a lot of them too.
10. Calvin Johnson caught four passes for 78 yards and they came in the first 11 plays of the Detroit offense. The over-hyped Johnson was a disappointment to some when he failed to set all NFL receiving records last year, but he still managed a respectable first season with a bad back. Now his back no longer hurts and he is looking very much like the superstar wideout. Martz may not be there, but the desire to complete 20 yards per pass never dies. Johnson is looking like he too is ready for the next step.
11. Darren McFadden rushed 12 times for 48 yards, Justin Fargas gained 25 yards on five carries and Michael Bush had eight carries for 27 yards and a touchdown. There is a distinct possibility that these sort of stats - for all three - will happen every week of the regular season. They all looked good and none looked great. Three-headed backfields do not make for huge stats per individual. This bears more watching but McFadden needs to really shine in order to feel good that he won't just be playing three man tag team.
12. Aaron Rodgers completed 9 of 15 for 117 yards and one score against the Bengals on Monday night. It was neither great or bad. It was a solid initial showing for a player who had only thrown 57 passes in the regular season. Forget all the hoopla about Brett Favre. Rodgers is the starter and so far he appears to be average to good with a great offensive line and rushing game. He is not Brett Favre. But he is the starter of the Packers who is plenty seasoned on the bench and ready to play. It was encouraging to see him play well and should make everyone more comfortable that the Packers offense should still be very good.
Those are the dozen stats that either send encouraging signs or just confirmed fears. It is still early preseason and anything that happens has to be weighed against what it really means - if anything at all. But there are plenty of situations that must define themselves in the next three weeks before teams set final rosters at 53 men and depth charts are confirmed.