Are Statistics Being Properly Utilized in Today's NFL?

Former Broncos GM Ted Sundquist has been a longtime fan of football analytics  and has been a friend of Advanced NFL Stats for several years.

Despite being an Air Force grad, Ted's a great guy. Ted has peppered me with questions from time to time and has always been supportive of the larger stats movement. He's getting his own site (TheFootballEducator.com) off the ground these days, so I'm pleased to host a guest-post.

“Statistics are for Losers”? Only for NFL teams that don’t use them
By Ted Sundquist – General Manager, Denver Broncos Football Club (2002-2008)

Most might assume that for a sport so valued and valuable in the world of professional athletics that each and every aspect of its decision making processes would be “cutting edge”. Game planning and personnel acquisition would be prepared, executed, and analyzed with the top technological tools of the time. With so many sources of information and data across the internet, the game of professional football is sliced, diced, examined, scrutinized, evaluated, probed and otherwise dissected by every inch of the playing field, and every down & distance measured.

Furthermore, wouldn’t you as the team’s owner, president, head coach, general manager, or scouting director want the most accurate and influential data to help you through the critical scenarios of game and front office management? You’d certainly think that’s the case. After all, game film has been replaced with digital video, paper playbooks with Ipads, and late night offensive/defensive game planning can be crunched out in seconds through computerized scouting systems. So much of today’s modern American football has been supplemented and enhanced through technological advances in personal computers. Yet so much of the game still lags behind through traditional, if not downright outdated means of analysis and problem solving.

For all the various tiers of statistical assessment and filtering, data and its inherent meaning becomes rather worthless left as just “numbers on a page”. Most followers and fans of the NFL would be surprised at how much of the information gathered or directly purchased doesn’t go into the thought process of player selection. Too often emotion becomes the focal point, front and center in building an NFL roster.

My experience over three different regimes with the Denver Broncos (1992-2008), in the capacity as both Director of College Scouting and General Manager, led me to the conclusion that “something is being missed”. That something is the proper utilization of statistical analysis as it relates directly to the identification, evaluation, and procurement of talent in the National Football League. I’ve written about this subject and related topics numerous times on TheFootballEducator.com. In a multi-billion dollar industry such as professional football, it seems rather odd that this would be the case.

A lot has to do directly with perspective and influence within a club’s decision making circle. The “spin” dynamic comes into play from various angles; ownership, coaching, and personnel. You should never eliminate the human element, but you can enhance the problem solving process by effectively using statistical analysis in an efficient and reflective manner. “Statistics are for losers”? Yes, when poorly read and improperly applied.

But taking into account tendencies, trends, and correlations from an unbiased view (such as Advanced NFL Stats, Football Outsiders, Ourlads) you can gain a greater, more accurate indication of what consistently leads to winning in professional football. You can develop a better understanding of the parameters and indicators of predictive potential and productivity in the game’s players. And thus you should have a greater degree of confidence in choosing the right players for your club, and for the right reasons.

More is being done for football through the studies of Brian Burke, Aaron Schatz, Chad Reuter and Joe Landers than any mock draft or pundit evaluation. The key is in the understanding and implementation of these studies, both independently and in combination with one another – though I’ve left that for TheFootballEducator.com.

Play close attention as those GM’s and head coaches that figure this out will put themselves well beyond the teams working with just magnetic nameplates stuck to a white board.

Get more great NFL analysis over at Advanced NFL Stats.