The Free Press, Mankato, MN

August 17, 2009

Fantasy Forum: Preseason can matter

On Saturday I identified some of the key preseason battles that will have significant fantasy implications. Today I’ll talk about a few more but first, it’s time to discuss the importance of the preseason itself when determining the draft value of individual players.

Does the preseason really matter? The answer is mostly yes.

As a tool for trying to directly project the statistics of an individual player, the preseason doesn’t have much value because, more times than not, starting players aren’t getting much playing time. Lets face it, if you had judged LaDainian Tomlinson the last five years by how he did in each of those preseasons, he would have been going in the last round of drafts instead of the first round.

The best way to look at the four (or five games) leading up to the regular season are to try to identify team tendencies — particularly those with new head coaches or new coordinators.

The Kansas City Chiefs, for example, have a new head coach in Todd Haley and a new starting quarterback in Matt Cassell. Will Cassell do for the Chiefs what he did for New England last year? Will Haley allow Cassel to replicate his 2008 season, in which he completed 327 of 516 passes for 3,693 yards and 21 touchdowns?

If he does, does it mean Larry Johnson’s days as solid No. 1 fantasy running back are officially over? Does it mean wide receiver Dwayne Bowe now joins the elite pass catchers in fantasy football (assuming he can move beyond third string on his own team’s depth chart)?

The same holds true for the situations in cities such as Denver and Detroit. The best way to determine the value of the skill players on those teams is watch what kind of offenses the coaches are running in the preseason. That should go a long way in projecting the individual value of players on those squads.

Now, here are a couple of more running back situations that may be in flux until the start of the regular season:

Darren McFadden vs. Michael Bush vs. Justin Fargas at Oakland: If it’s close, McFadden will get the nod simply because he’s making the most money. But Bush had a solid year last season when McFadden was out and Fargas has also run well when asked to play.

Julius Jones vs. T.J. Duckett vs. Justin Forsett at Seattle: Duckett may end up having the most value of the three because he’s likely to be the goal-line back. Jones and Forsett will probably battle it out for the rest of the carries.

Jamal Lewis vs. Jerome Harrison vs. James Davis at Cleveland: Lewis is the likely starter in Week 1 but he’s near the end of his career. It would not be shocking if Harrison or Davis is carrying the load by midseason.

Willie Parker vs. Rashard Mendenhall at Pittsburgh: If healthy, Parker is the starter, but that’s been an issue for him in the past. Don’t be surprised if the Steelers go to the dreaded running back by committee approach to keep both backs fresh.

Thomas Jones vs. Leon Washington vs. Shonn Green at New York Jets: With the offense trying to protect a new quarterback this year, all three of these runners may get their share of carries. That doesn’t help fantasy owners much. If one moves ahead of the others by the end of the preseason, he should have decent value.

Jim Rueda is the Free Press sports editor. To contact him, call 344-6381 or e-mail him at