Trey Flowers leads the Patriots in sacks, quarterback hits and tackles this preseason. (Jim Dedmon/USA Today Sports)
For a sport that places so much emphasis on statistical analysis, precious little attention is paid to the NFL’s preseason numbers. Who remembers the best rusher, passer or receiver (Zach Zenner, Brett Hundley and Rashad Ross) from last year’s preseason?
But summer game stats are about more than just winning the offseason. They might not receive the same sort of emphasis that the regular season totals deserve, and like all numbers, they need to be placed in proper context. But they play an important role in the evaluation process, especially for younger players or those on the bubble when it comes to roster cuts.
When it comes to the Patriots, this year’s preseason totals aren’t all that surprising, but will play a part in determining who will make it through the series of cuts that are set to come down over the next week: On offense, Tyler Gaffney (29 carries, 130 yards, one touchdown) holds the team lead in rushing yards, with LeGarrette Blount (25 carries, 115 yards, two touchdowns) a close second and Brandon Bolden (six carries, 40 yards) third overall.
Meanwhile, tight end AJ Derby (10 catches, 138 yards and one touchdown) and wide receiver Chris Hogan (nine catches, 115 yards, one touchdown) are the top receivers, with Aaron Dobson (six catches, 86 yards) and James White (four catches, 73 yards) close behind.
And Jimmy Garoppolo is the leading passer (36-for-54, 406 yards and one touchdown), followed by Jacoby Brissett (25-for-35, 235 yards, one touchdown).
(While we’re having a statistical conversation, it’s also important to note that Garoppolo has been one of the best quarterbacks in the league this summer. Through three preseason games, the Patriots’ signal-caller is in the top five of most major passing categories, including completed passes, yards and fewest interceptions. To add to that, he’s sixth in passer rating. If it wasn’t for the otherworldly stretch from Dallas’ Dak Prescott, he might be at or near the top of just about everything, even after his sluggish performance on Friday against the Panthers.)
On the other side of the ball, defensive end Trey Flowers leads the Patriots in sacks (2.5), quarterback hits (four) and tackles (13), while cornerback Cre’von LeBlanc (12 tackles, one interception and a team-high three passes defensed) has also posted some good totals.
On offense, the numbers from Gaffney and Derby have undoubtedly bolstered their case to make it through to the final 53 with strong statistical showings. (If they make it, it won’t be the only reason, but it’ll play a role.) Gaffney was on the fringes of the running back position at the start of the summer, but his steady rise — combined with the release of Donald Brown and continued uncertainty regarding Dion Lewis — have almost assured him of a roster spot two weeks before the start of the regular season. (For what it’s worth, through three preseason games, Gaffney is fifth in the league in rushing yards.)
“He’s there early, he stays late, never complains, always does extra, and so it’s great to see him have an opportunity this year,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said of Gaffney, who has been sidelined the last two years with a knee issue. “He has had a good year all spring and in training camp, and has done a good job for us.”
On defense, Flowers and did the same, virtually assuring himself of a spot on the final 53 with a strong summer. The Arkansas product, who is competing against a handful of other candidates to become the backup defensive end, is among the league leaders in sacks, and with Jabaal Sheard and Rob Ninkovich on the shelf for an extended stretch — and displaying the ability to hold up against the run — the numbers bear out the fact that he’s done well when it’s come to taking advantage of his opportunities.
“It’s good to have him out there,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said of Flowers earlier this month. “He’s done a good job for us when he’s had an opportunity to play. He played some in the kicking game. He’s got obviously a lot of things he has to work on, too, but he’s shown up pretty much daily in one way or another with some positive plays. He’s a hard working kid so hopefully it will continue to get better.”
As for LeBlanc, he’s locked in a battle with the likes of Jonathan Jones and Darryl Roberts for the last cornerback spot. If he doesn’t make it, his strong preseason stats might be enough to squeeze him through to the practice squad.
Of course, good preseason stats aren’t always a harbinger of regular-season success; summer numbers compiled against a vanilla defense of third- and fourth-stringers over the last few minutes of a fourth preseason game don’t have the same value as first-half stats against starters. But when it comes to evaluating a prospect, good preseason totals can help provide a better idea in determining whether or not they’re ready for life in the league or need a little more time to develop.