When many hear the terms ‘analytics’ and ‘NFL’ in the same breath, their first instinct is to point to the movie ‘Moneyball’ that highlighted the MLB’s Oakland Athletics and their GM Billy Beane’s approach to constructing championship-contending rosters by exploiting market inefficiencies when he accepted the fact that his team simply didn’t have the funds to acquire high-profile players like his division rivals.
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He resorted to acquiring players that could be had at a low cost, but had a high On-Base Percentage. Beane believed that On-Base Percentage was one of the most important and underrated statistics in baseball, given the fact that players score by getting on base, and subsequently going around them.
The term analytics has taken on a whole new meaning and obsession among the NFL community as teams always look for ways to gain a competitive advantage, but football is drastically different from baseball, a game where each play and player is isolated and accounted for. Furthermore, the NFL has a more level financial playing field as the league has a salary cap, while the MLB doesn’t.
The Cleveland Browns became the first NFL team to publicly support the analytics wave, hiring Sashi Brown as their GM and John Depodesta – a former MLB scout, assistant GM and numbers cruncher – to be the lone Chief Strategies Officer in the NFL.
However, the Browns weren’t the first or only NFL team to embrace the value of analytics and Buffalo’s new general manager Brandon Beane’s first handful of transactions since being hired signal that the Bills will be incorporating analytics into their team-building efforts.
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But what are these analytics that all of the best teams are seemingly using as a tool for additional information and where will we see it utilized most?
Analytics is a word that’s thrown around liberally but many believe that using analytics means that teams are simply using advanced metrics/statistics to find outliers and under-the-radar players. However, analytics can really refer to any bit of information the team acquires and uses to improve their product on the field.
From team-building in the NFL draft to navigating free agency, the waiver wire and maneuvering around the salary cap from a personnel standpoint, to fourth-down decisions on the field, every data point is a piece of information that can be used to benefit the team.
Here is how Brandon Beane and Sean McDermott are incorporating analytics just months into the duo’s hiring.