“There is no going back now. Data has changed the game.” – PFF Majority Owner Cris Collinsworth
“The lack of data in football was one of the main reasons PFF came into existence…Football isn’t as advanced as baseball in analytics because it’s at a different point in its evolution, but it’s gaining traction.” – PFF Founder Neil Hornsby
FMIA Also Features Breakout Star Predications and How Data is Being Used in the NFL
STAMFORD, Conn. – June 17, 2019 – In the latest edition of Peter King’s Football Morning in America, available now exclusively on NBCSports.com, multiple members of the popular football analytics company Pro Football Focus, including majority owner and Sunday Night Football analyst Cris Collinsworth, discuss how data is impacting the game of football.
Pro Football Focus analyzes every player and every play of all National Football League games to deliver player grades, statistics and rankings. Various voices within PFF predict future stars, discuss how NFL teams should use data in the future and why Major League Baseball is ahead of the analytics game.
The following are highlights from this week’s edition of Football Morning in America:
THE IMPACT OF DATA
Cris Collinsworth, PFF Majority Owner: “PFF has already changed the way I think about building a team and play-calling…I think it is fair to say that now very few NFL contracts are negotiated without PFF data being at the heart of the debate. The agent pitches all the positive data about the player, and the team is loaded with all the not so positive data.”
Collinsworth: “As much as the data has changed broadcasting, it has changed the game of football even more. ‘Gut instincts’ are no longer good enough. Decisions must be made based on the data.”
Collinsworth: “The fans are now engaged in the data arms race, as well…Some fans just want to know more about their team, others want to be the smartest person at the water cooler, some want to dominate their fantasy league, and others still are writing their own gambling algorithms. Regardless, there is no going back now. Data has changed the game.”
ANALYTICS IN THE NFL
Neil Hornsby, PFF Founder: “Until very recently, you simply didn’t have a lot of data about the incredibly complex set of interactions that constitute a typical play. Baseball has always had a lot of data about its relatively simple, one-on-one encounters.”
Hornsby: “The lack of data in football was one of the main reasons PFF came into existence…PFF was initially just a hobby based on collecting something that didn’t exist. The fact we now have all 32 NFL teams as customers, and by the time the 2019 season begins, over 60 NCAA clients, is still a matter of amazement to me.”
Hornsby: “So now we have the data, so just throw a ton of data scientists at it and all the NFL’s analytical problems are immediately over, right? Not so fast. There are at least a couple of problems with that thinking.”
Hornsby: “From what I have observed, most clubs’ response to analytics has been sensibly proportional to date and I’m sure they will add to that as the need arises. Sure, there are a few clubs off the pace and it will take a few years (and unfortunately maybe a change of general manager) before they catch up. However, this does at least account for some of the discrepancies between how baseball and football have embraced analytics.”
Hornsby: “Football isn’t as advanced as baseball in analytics because it’s at a different point in its evolution, but it’s gaining traction. Let’s check back in five years and see where things are. I suspect we’ll not see anywhere near the disparity we do now.”
Eric Eager, PFF Data Scientist: “Here are some of our findings that are the most surprising and useful to football fans and teams alike:
– To predict quarterback play, look at how he performs when he’s in a clean pocket, not when he’s under pressure.
– Coverage is more important than pass rush, all else being equal.
– If you’re going to invest in a pass rusher, prioritize his pressure rate, not his sack rate.”
PREDICTING FUTURE STARS
Sam Monson, PFF Senior Analyst: “Levi Wallace, CB, Buffalo Bills…As a rookie in 2018, he earned the highest PFF grade of any first-year cornerback, along with the highest coverage grade, and wasn’t beaten for a catch longer than 29 yards all season. Though he played far fewer snaps than first-round selection Denzel Ward of Cleveland, Wallace looks like a potential star in the making if he’s given greater opportunity in year two.”
Mike Renner, PFF Lea Draft Analyst: “Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama…Tagovailoa pairs exceptional athleticism and pocket presence with one of the most accurate arms in the country. He had the highest percentage of passes charted with perfect ball placement of any Power 5 quarterback last season and had the seventh-lowest percentage of passes deemed uncatchable.”
Renner: “Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama… The Alabama offense is utterly stacked once again with Jeudy being the next big thing in the lineage of ‘Bama wide receivers, and he has a good chance to go higher than either Julio Jones (No. 6 overall in 2011) or Amari Cooper (No. 4 in 2015). That’s because there isn’t much the Biletnikoff award winner can’t do.”
“We think Jameis Winston will challenge for the passing yardage title in 2019. Last year he trailed only Josh Allen in average depth of target…New Bucs head coach Bruce Arians has a track record of succeeding with high-variance quarterbacks like Winston.”
Read the rest of the column here.
A new “Football Morning in America” posts every Monday morning exclusively on NBCSports.com through the NFL season. It was announced in May that King signed an exclusive agreement with NBC Sports Group that included writing a weekly Monday morning NFL column for NBCSports.com; making regular appearances on NBCSN’s and NBC Sports Radio’s PFT Live with Mike Florio; and continuing to contribute to Football Night in America, the most-watched studio show in sports.
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