How to navigate a fantasy year without NFL preseason

NFL preseason games are, as a general rule, full of lies.

That's not to say they can't be fun, but they are also full of misdirection and outright lies. When the actual outcome of a game is meaningless, the teams involved can't be expected to reveal anything of consequence.

For fantasy purposes, the preseason is a minefield. Every exhibition game is just another opportunity for draftable stars to suffer season-altering injuries, or for undraftable non-stars to appear superhuman.

Sure, you may have discovered some previously un-hyped hidden gem at some point while taking in preseason action. It definitely happens. But for every August success story, there's inevitably a Zach Zenner or Chaz Schilens or Zach Sudfeld or Christine Michael.

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Again: Preseason games are a smorgasbord of lies.

So let's hope you weren't too crestfallen over the cancellation of the 2020 NFL preseason. That decision is going to spare us dozens of injuries in a year in which missed games might very well get out of control. It's a sensible move at an extraordinary time. Preseason DFS sharks probably aren't too pleased, but they'll soon have plenty of alternatives, what with every sport returning at once.

But what are we gonna overreact to, if not preseason highlights?

Yeah, that's the essential question confronting the fantasy community. It's certainly no small issue for analysts. We need to tie our breathless player hype to something, and it's tough to beat a 30-yard preseason touchdown against a fourth-string defense.

This year, we have to focus on parsing the post-practice comments of mistrustful and misleading coaches. So that's kind of a nightmare. Serious fantasy players will be sure to find a well-curated list of NFL beat writers. It shouldn't need to be said, but just in case: Coaches rarely share the important stuff, at least not intentionally. And we won't have exhibition game usage to help us guess at depth chart positioning. We're basically just gonna have "Hard Knocks," camp clips, beat reporters and news aggregators. Strange days.

This is lousy news for undrafted players

Rosters are expected to be tighter when training camps open, which will clearly squeeze out a fair number of UDFAs. The lack of preseason opportunities will further limit the exposure of a whole bunch of talented on-the-bubble players. A tough business gets much tougher this season.

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The list of fantasy legends who went undrafted is, of course, ridiculously long. The league could very likely whiff on the next Wes Welker, Phillip Lindsay, Victor Cruz, Pierre Thomas, or Tony Romo this year, which is terrible. Preseason football perhaps should not be missed by fantasy managers, but it's a huge loss for real-life players trying to launch careers. Brutal.

It's a particularly rough year to be a team installing new schemes

Consider a team like the Carolina Panthers, under new head coach Matt Rhule, attempting to install a new system with a new staff and new terminology and a new quarterback. That's just really a lot of newness in a year without the usual offseason programs.

Rhule recently had this to say about his new offensive coordinator Joe Brady, who spent last season as an assistant at LSU:

"The reality is — and I say this because Joe's become very close with me — I'll have no idea, really, about Joe Brady until we get to the season," Rhule said with a laugh after the Panthers wrapped up their virtual offseason program.

Continuity is a huge deal in any normal year — one without travel restrictions and virtual programs — so it's sure to be a massive factor in 2020. Obviously that's no reason to shy away from a foundational player like Christian McCaffrey, but we should treat every reshuffled team with a certain degree of skepticism. This is not the year to load up on players from teams that overhauled everything. You can bet that nearly every new coach and coordinator would prefer to have a preseason dress rehearsal (or two) before the real games begin.

In any case, even if we won't have the distraction of exhibition football in the weeks ahead, it seems increasingly clear that the regular season will reach the starting line. We've had movement on the most important fronts on Friday. Camps are set to open on Tuesday.

Get yourself signed up for a fake team, because actual football, it appears, is happening.

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