For football fans, every day is a good day for an overreaction. The NFL is structured in such a way that it encourages screams of either joy or agony over a small sample size. A game is played, and then there’s a full week for analysis and scrutiny.
There’s nothing wrong with that, and it’s what keeps guys like me in business. But during the month of August, often that instant, gleeful reaction to feats of strength can distort reality, especially with the talent pool saturated and rosters expanded.
So consider this a gentle reminder that while piling up juicy, delicious stats during the preseason is much better than flopping and maybe facing unemployment, preseason booming can create wildly unrealistic expectations.
Here are three August stars who may contribute, but their roles will be minimal at best.
Joe Morgan (wide receiver, Saints)
Though he’s becoming more diverse with his route running, Joe Morgan mostly does one thing, and he does it well: run really far and fast, and then put his arms out. Hopefully a football is there.
He’s the Saints’ situational, home-run swinging deep threat, which means he’ll have a handful of catches each season that make you pound your coffee table, Mike Mayock style. But despite improvement with his intermediate route running that head coach Sean Payton has gushed about, and his 181 receiving yards this preseason that ranks him eighth among his peers (at a pace of 16.5 yards per reception), Morgan will remain a pony with a single trick. If he makes the roster.
He’s currently buried behind Marques Colston, Robert Meachem, and first-round pick Brandin Cooks, putting Morgan in a fight with Kenny Stills for a job in New Orleans. He missed the entire 2013 season with a knee injury, but during his last healthy year in 2012 he was highly effective in a limited role. Of his 10 receptions, three ended in touchdowns, and six went for 30 yards or more (including an 80-yarder).
Problem is, if the Saints are keeping a pure burner on the roster — and they should — Stills offers an identical skillset, and was instantly effective last year. He averaged 20 yards per catch during his first season, turning 32 receptions into 641 yards and five touchdowns. He’s still struggling with a quad injury though, which should save Morgan’s roster spot for now.
Brice Butler (wide receiver, Raiders)
We see a similar depth chart burial here. While it was fun watching Brice Butler burn third teamers all preseason and the Raiders will welcome any offensive playmaking, the best Butler can hope for is retaining a roster spot.
He’s certainly done enough to do that, with four touchdowns and 206 receiving yards, which is third among all pass catchers this preseason. But seeing much production and involvement beyond that once games matter is difficult.
Rod Streater and newly-signed James Jones have the top two spots locked up on the Raiders’ wide receiver depth chart, and although he’s spiraled of late, Denarius Moore will likely be the No. 3 option. That leaves a decision between Butler, Greg Little, and Andre Holmes for two more slots.
Butler should get one, but he still won’t do anything of note this season, especially not with the possibility of a rookie starting quarterback in Derek Carr. Or worse, Matt Schaub.
Chris Borland (linebacker, San Francisco 49ers)
Someone has to replace NaVorro Bowman for at least six games. It just likely won’t be Chris Borland.
It’s certainly still possible, and Borland has impressed with 20 tackles, a sack, and an interception that was returned for a 34-yard touchdown last night. But while that play was indeed an indication of what’s to come from Borland sometime in the near future, he received more playing time against the Texans because almost all the 49ers’ defensive starters were benched, including fellow inside linebacker Michael Wilhoite.
Wilhoite was with the first team throughout the summer, and last year when Patrick Willis went down he filled in seamlessly, recording 20 tackles over two games. Borland will have his time, and he may still contribute in a rotational role. But this is a 49ers defense anchored on quick, sideline-to-sideline speed from its middle linebackers, something Borland doesn’t have with a 40-yard dash time of 4.78.