Athlete Intelligence Blog

How the NFL Uses Data Analytics in the Draft

4/27/17 9:25 AM / by Lidia Harding

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As the 2017 NFL draft kicks off this week, many teams are pouring over data as well as traditional scouting methods, to evaluate and choose their next big stars.

Scouting is a combination of what the coaches and scouts, see, hear and believe and these days it’s also supplemented with data and facts to help give coaches a clear picture of what a player has to offer.

Where it all started

The concept of using data analytics started decades ago when Dallas Cowboys hired A. Salam Qureishi in the early 1960s. The computer programmer and statistician from India, who knew nothing about football, overhauled the Cowboys’ scouting system, replacing hunches with hard numbers. He ranked five essential variables; character, quickness-and-body-control, competitiveness, mental alertness and strength-and-explosiveness, and he quantified them for draft analysis.

The test run of the system picked college players Joe Namath, Dick Butkus, Gale Sayers and Fred Biletnikoff and all four went on to have stellar NFL careers. The system was made famous a few years later with the highly unusual pick of wide receiver Bobby Hayes, who was a high-profile, track-and-field Olympic athlete. He went on to have a spectacular football career that eventually landed him in the Hall of Fame.

Data Analytic Companies Enter The Game

Pro Football Focus (PFF) is a company that has focused on providing information to coaches, fans and athletes of the “world’s most valuable football insights.” NFL teams take advantage of their data, insights and analysis for everything from opponent scouting and game-planning, to free-agency evaluation and draft preparation.

The PFF analysis team began analyzing college football in 2014, breaking down every FBS game at the same level of detail we do for each NFL game. They grade every player on every play of every game involving a NCAA Division 1 team and combine the data produce the PFF Draft Pass before each year’s draft. The PFF Draft Pass, all 300 + pages, is available online for anyone to use and give information on all the NFL draft prospects.

Data and Privacy

With all this data creating a quantifiable athlete, there are concerns over privacy and data ownership. Recently the NFL players associate reached an exclusive agreement with WHOOP, a company that provides performance metrics measured by wearable technology, to deliver biometric data to players.

The agreement with WHOOP gives players the right to their data, allowing them to monitor their health in privacy or sell the data to interested parties. The association said that multiple layers of privacy have been put in place to ensure security.

Will Ahmed, founder and CEO at Whoop, said in a statement. “This partnership with the NFLPA is truly the first of its kind in that athletes will finally become both healthier and wealthier by collecting, controlling, and ultimately having the ability to sell their own health and performance data.”

Data Technology Used for College Recruitment

Analytical data technology isn’t just a craze in pro sports. College teams are also using wearable technology and data analytics in recruitment, to represent an environment of safety.

In a recent article by Jerry Del Priore, Athlete Intelligence CEO Jesse Harper says, “You look at some conferences that have taken a leadership role in concussion-detection technology, such as the SEC and Big 12,” he said, “and there will be some student-athletes that find those schools appealing because of the technology being used.”

But in the end data isn’t everything. There is a lot of heart, soul and intuition that goes into football. Traditional approaches and the technological approaches must be combined. The data and the scout should work together to make the perfect pick.

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Topics: Data Analytics, NFL