The preseason has only marginal relation to what will happen in the regular season. The biggest reason for games is to measure players in live situations to determine if they are worth keeping on the roster. They also allow players new to the team a chance to shine within their new offense whether they are a rookie or an aging veteran playing out a career.
For 2015, there are many players that we never saw. No preseason games. Scant training camp reports. And yet they offer the potential of significant value at a low cost in a fantasy draft or auction. At the least, these are the players to consider as free agent pick-ups as early as week one.
Chris Johnson (Cardinals) – He finally found a home in Arizona and was told that he could compete for the starting job. But the 29-year-old one-time star strained his hamstring and has done little but read the playbook. He broke 1000 rushing yards for six straight seasons before flopping in 2014 with the Jets. He’ll get his first chance when the season starts.
Tevin Coleman (Falcons) – A hamstring strain kept him out for the first two weeks and then he was limited to only four carries last week. And yet only Devonta Freeman stands in the way of a starting gig. The 3.09 selection this year was drafted higher than Freeman (4.03) who could only muster a 3.8 yard rushing average on 65 carries as a rookie. Freeman has also been out with an even worse hamstring injury. Coleman carries a lot of upside in an offense seeking an answer at running back.
Breshad Perriman (Ravens) – The first-round pick by the Ravens immediately generated fantasy interest since Marc Trestman was chosen as the new offensive coordinator. That ensures plenty of passing and aside from the aging Steve Smith, there are no obvious contenders for starting wideout. But Perriman suffered a sprained PCL and will miss the entire preseason – perhaps the start of the season as well. But his talent is proven and his opportunity is great once he can play.
Kevin White (Bears) – The West Virginia stud went with the seventh overall pick in the draft thanks to his freakish size (6-3) and speed (4.35/40). He was the star at rookie camp but then suffered a stress fracture to his shin. He’s missed the preseason and will open the year on the reserve/PUP list that means he cannot play until Week Seven at the earliest. Whether it is later this year or even 2016, White has the tools to make a difference when healthy. Sadly his rookie season already looks like a lost cause.
Duke Johnson (Browns) – The backfield in Cleveland is already crowded but Johnson was taken with the 3.13 pick to offer at least a third down role if not compete for the primary job. He came off an impressive season for the Hurricanes but then injured his hamstring and missed the first two games of the preseason. Finally showing up for last week’s game, Johnson had just one run and one catch before suffering a concussion. He could be ready for the season opener but he needs to stay healthy for more than two touches.
Joique Bell (Lions) – The leading rusher in Detroit last year racked up nearly 1200 total yards and eight scores over each of the last two seasons. But he required offseason knee and Achilles surgeries that robbed him of all practice time and preseason games. He’s allowed the rookie Ameer Abdullah to grab the spotlight so far. But he is still expected to return for the regular season. And even when Reggie Bush was a top 10 back in 2013, Bell was ranked 14th best. By now he is used to being under-drafted and then over-performing.
DeVante Parker (Dolphins) – The third wideout taken in the 2015 NFL draft is expected to replace Mike Wallace who scored ten times in Miami last year. The 6-3 Louisville star with fly paper hands joins up with the Ryan Tannehill in what should be a formidable offense this year. But Parker needed to have a screw inserted in his foot at the start of June and hasn’t been able to participate. He may still be ready for the start of the season but he’ll do that with almost no practice time. Parker could add a lot to the passing game but it will require faith and likely patience to put him on your roster.
C. J. Spiller (Saints) – What is not to like about the former first-round pick heading to New Orleans where they have thrown the most passes to running backs for the last two seasons? Pierre Thomas is gone and Spiller can fit right into an offense that is seeking to run more and cobble together enough receivers to cover for the loss of Jimmy Graham. Spiller’s best year was 2012 when he had 1703 total yards and eight scores that included 43 catches. The opportunity is there for the 28-year-old but he’s missed all of camp with a knee issue that needed arthroscopic surgery a few weeks ago. He’s still touted as being ready for week one but on a new team coming off a few down seasons makes him a big risk and yet he still carries tremendous upside whenever he does play.
Todd Gurley (Rams) – The Georgia back became the first rusher to be drafted at 10th overall despite coming off an ACL injury only six months prior. He never averaged less than 6.0 yards per carry in the SEC and is an accomplished receiver. At 6-1 and 222 lbs. he’s the prototypical power back. But he still has not fully practiced let alone played in any preseason game. He may miss the first of the season and regardless will be eased into the starting job whenever he does play. When he does get up to speed, there is every reason to expect him to be a beast. But by the time that happens, his fantasy owners may already be well out of contention.
It is easy to forget the players that you never see. And it is also easy to over-value any preseason game performance like the Lion’s running back Zach Zenner who tore up the Jaguars last week. But that showing by the undrafted rookie did little more than help him make the final roster. The players you do not see can be the ones that help you the most. Just ask the former rookie who never played a down in the 2014 preseason because a hamstring strain and even missed the first four games of the season – Odell Beckham Jr.