With a new season comes a fresh batch of Next Gen Stats for us to dive into in search of football revelations. But before we fully enter Week 1, let's take a look at some metrics that might shed a little light on what we're about to see this season.
Separation yards: 3.9
Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end O.J. Howard averaged 11.1 receiving yards per target in his rookie year, the most of any tight end with 30 or more targets (he was targeted 39 times in 2017). Howard could be in line for a major jump in production as evidenced by his ability to get open. He tied for the league lead in separation yards among tight ends (with 30 or more targets) with an average of 3.9 yards. Targets will be an issue though, especially with Cameron Brate owning the main tight end role last season (77 targets), but averaging just 2.7 yards of separation.
Speaking of separation, Kansas City owned the top two receivers in that category in 2017: Albert Wilson and Demarcus Robinson. Wilson has since departed for Miami, replaced by free-agent addition Sammy Watkins, whose 2.5 yards of separation pale in comparison. Coming from an offense that had plenty of options, might the Chiefs end up missing Wilson, who caught just 9.7 percent of his passes in tight windows (as opposed to Watkins, who caught 28.6 percent of his receptions in tight windows)? Or are these numbers more a function of the Chiefs' offense? Robinson's inclusion seems to suggest the latter, meaning Watkins might explode this season -- and Bert could become an afterthought.
A faster future in Cleveland
In 2017, Cleveland debuted an offensive line into which it dumped a ton of offseason cash. The group proceeded to finish 27th in the league in sacks surrendered and was dead last in QB hits allowed with 130. But how many of those were due to former starter DeShone Kizer's tendency to hold onto the ball? Kizer's average time to throw was 2.84 seconds, nearly a fifth of a second slower than replacement Tyrod Taylor's time to throw in Buffalo. Yet Taylor's has dropped to 2.72 since he became a Brown, as well as his scramble yards per attempt (from 7.3 in Buffalo to 6.3 in Cleveland). Taylor is running less and throwing faster. Meanwhile, Kizer has steadied even with a change of scenery, taking an average of 2.86 seconds to throw in the preseason while scrambling 1.1 yards more per attempt in Green Bay. The youngster has yet to change his ways, while Taylor (and his much higher completion percentage) have become quicker in a new uniform, which makes a faster offense easy to see in Cleveland's future.
Josh Allen in bubble wrap
Quarterback pressure rate: 36.7 percent
Josh Allen isn't starting at quarterback for Buffalo in Week 1, and if one wants to look beyond the obvious for justification of Sean McDermott's decision, the numbers bear good reason for the prized rookie to sit and learn. Allen has completed 54.5 percent of his 44 attempts (and looked impressive at times in doing so), but what really stands out is the same stat that shows the bench serves him best -- for now. Of those attempts, 16 were considered under pressure (attempted with 2 yards or less separation from the nearest defender) for a QB pressure rate of 36.7. The only rookies who saw more pressure in 2018's preseason were Pittsburgh's Mason Rudolph, who won't be starting anytime soon, and Arizona's Josh Rosen. The latter was pressured so much early on that Arizona created reps for him with the starting offensive line just to get a better look at him. It's best that the Bills aren't throwing Allen to the wolves while they figure out their O-line issues.
Pressured pass attempts: 50 percent of passes
Dak Prescott has made a living letting the ball fly while under pressure, be it from throwing closer to the line of scrimmage or out on the run. It's part of what makes him a weapon at quarterback. But, with the Cowboys facing unanticipated issues at center (and to a lesser extent, guard), Prescott's time under pressure increased in limited preseason action. His percentage of pressures rose from 30.3 in 2017 to 50 on his 18 attempts in the 2018 preseason. The good news: Prescott continues to find a way to complete unlikely attempts. His 13.1 completion percentage above expectation in preseason coincides with those pressures and low percentage attempts. Dallas has the right quarterback to weather the potential pressure storm.
Ready for takeoff
Fastest speed of preseason: 20.66 miles per hour
Scanning the list of the preseason's fastest, here are three names to keep an eye out for: Green Bay's Davante Adams (21.64 mph), New York's Saquon Barkley (20.92) and Cincinnati's John Ross (20.66). The last of that trio set the 40-yard dash record at the 2017 NFL Combine with a 4.22-second sprint and hit the aforementioned speed on a 57-yard touchdown catch against Buffalo, his first in the NFL, preseason or otherwise. Ross looks ready for more, now that he's entering a regular season healthy and beyond the rookie wall.
The iron Gates
QB passer rating when targeting Antonio Gates: 78.7
Antonio Gates is back with the Chargers, but don't expect many high-flying completions to the veteran tight end. Beyond his age (38) and the miles on his body (16th NFL season), his target chart shows most of his completed targets in 2017 came within five yards of the line of scrimmage. Only three exceeded 15 yards all season, though one of those accounted for one of his three touchdowns. The best news: Gates caught most of those targets with 5-10 yards to go for a first down. Quarterbacks throwing to him also compile a decent passer rating (78.7) when throwing to him. Reliability remains valuable.