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Lack of preseason, information makes it harder for teams to evaluate players on waivers

The Rams might be able to sneak more good players onto the practice squad, but so will everybody else

NFL: Los Angeles Rams-Training Camp Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

A consistent fallout from training camp and preseason every year is arguments that arise between the merits of keeping a player who is performing well in the exhibition games over another who for whatever reason is seen as expendable. Without preseason games and with extremely limited access to knowledge as to how players are performing in mostly closed practices is undoubtedly having an impact on those arguments.

And it leaves us with so much less to go off of when it comes to the 27+ players per team who will be waived on Sept. 5.

What those debaters rarely want to admit is that the players they’re arguing about don’t often come to be regular contributors in the NFL, whether they were kept on the roster or not. Examples can be found but we also remember the sample size: before 2020, over 1,000 players were released by final cuts each year. That number will be reduced by about 320 this time because of teams carrying 80 players instead of 90, but that only further demonstrates the amount of extra homework teams must do this year.

There are roughly 300 players who didn’t even get a chance to practice these last three weeks, what in many cases seems to be that person’s last opportunity to prove to coaches that they belong on an NFL roster. For most of them that was only a pipe dream anyway, but much like finding a few good players in a sample of 1,000+, surely there’s more than zero names who got released in the cutdown from 90 to 80 who could be future professional football players.

In a couple of weeks those players will be further buried on the free agent market when teams get down to 53-man rosters. But what will teams even know about the 864 (or so) players who get released from their 2020 contracts at that point? Excusing veterans who can reasonably be considered “past their prime” — a group I’d assume is in the minority of cuts — teams will instead have to rely on their draft evaluations or previous camp and/or preseason experiences for those who are not rookies.

They’ll also be going off of reports out of 2020 training camps, but this goes to another point: How are teams currently trying to take advantage of the fact that there’s so little information being released right now?

And how much of that information is actually intentional misinformation?

Every year teams have to weigh their options in terms of talking up or talking down certain players who they know are on the roster bubble. If they talk them up too much or play them too often in a preseason game, then perhaps it makes it less likely that they’ll be able to stash that player on the practice squad. If they don’t play that player enough or sit him in with the starters or second string, then are they getting a thorough evaluation of a player who might be released?

I repeat: most players who get claimed on waivers are not that notable. Last season, the Denver Broncos added quarterback Brandon Allen after he was waived by the Rams and then he ended up starting three games for them, including a win in which he had two touchdowns. That example further sends home the message that these aren’t often “wow” players but Rams fans know as well as anybody that a “nobody” can become the MVP.

The advantages to LA and other teams may be in regards to how many of their own they get to keep once final cuts are made.

What if seventh round guard Tremayne Anchrum is actually playing like someone who they could envision starting in 2022 but they know he can’t help them this season like David Edwards or Bobby Evans or name-someone so they want him on the practice squad? Perhaps under normal circumstances the whole league would have gotten a look at Anchrum in the preseason but now we get practically nothing.

Will a team that’s not the Rams be willing to cut one of their own for a guard in Los Angeles who they haven’t even thought about since March?

Conversely, will the Rams be willing to take a roster spot away from one of their own to add a rookie they’ve never worked with before?

On the sneakier side of things, what sort of misinformation is it that teams are attempting to spread about their own players? More often than not, I would assume this falls under the category of reports that claim the player is “underwhelming” or “slow to develop” or in most cases, there simply aren’t any reports at all. Probably the most negative reports on any player in Rams camp that has been released are that of seventh round linebacker Clay Johnston and that is primarily based on what has been shown on Hard Knocks.

An NFL-produced television program designed for the purposes of entertainment and advertisement and in terms of what information they want to release in regards to the quality of their players — is primarily controlled by the desires of the LA Rams and LA Chargers.

I am guessing that for most players, and especially most rookies, you could find four or five clips of them not knowing what the hell is going on. It doesn’t mean that the Rams would be expected to release a linebacker who they think can help them this year but does it make Johnston any less desirable to coaches on other teams who need players that can help them right now?

During all this time, I’ll be keeping an even closer eye on what the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks do with their transactions as Bill Belichick and Pete Carroll and first and foremost among the coaches who will take any advantage they can get; and are often looking for those before any of the advantages or rules that everyone already knows about.

Sean McVay is only entering his fourth season as Rams head coach (I say “only” but the last coach to make it to the end of his fifth season with the Rams was Mike Martz and the last to make it to the end of his sixth was John Robinson) but he’s made savvy roster moves already. Last year he managed to hang onto players like Troy Hill, Travin Howard, Nsimba Webster, Darious Williams and John Wolford, all of whom appear to have upgraded roles on the team in 2020.

Who he keeps this season, how much they help and whether or not they bring in other players to compete — remains a mystery.