After some initial reluctance, the Jets are embracing the increased role of analytics in the NFL. No, they’re not becoming a “moneyball” team, but they recently expanded their analytics department.
Former West Coast scout Brian Shields, who was involved in the scouting of quarterback Sam Darnold, was hired as the senior manager of football research and analytics, a new position in the organization. He’s a Princeton graduate with a business background, but he’s not just a numbers guy, as he spent five years on the scouting trail with the Jets and Los Angeles Rams. Jason Mulholland, a graduate of The Wharton School at Penn, is the manager of football analytics.
In the winter, the NFL competition committee agreed to start sharing player-tracking data with every team as part of its Next Gen Stats package -- the start of a new frontier. Basically, a massive amount of data was unlocked, prompting the Jets to add manpower to their analytics department. If you’re not familiar with tracking data, it’s kind of like a GPS. Tracking chips are placed in shoulder pads, creating the ability to record every player’s speed and movements on the field. If the Jets want to know if the Detroit Lions’ cornerbacks will be fast enough to cover Robby Anderson in the season opener, they can check the data.
The use of analytics in sports is always a hot topic of discussion these days, and I think it is misunderstood.
There aren’t two extremes where a team must either adhere solely to old school subjective analysis or use numbers while totally disregarding traditional methods of player evaluation.
There is a lot more information out there for teams to utilize in making decisions than there used to be. There was a time in football when teams had no objective way to measure raw speed. Then the 40 yard dash was created. Nobody would totally throw out their scouting reports and base a decision on drafting a player based on a 40 yard dash time (aside from maybe Al Davis in the last decade of his life). It was just a new factor for the team to consider along with all of the other information.
No NFL team is going to discard its entire scouting department for number crunchers. Nor should they. But if numbers can provide some information on matchups, optimal strategy, training tips, or traits that are found in successful players, a team would be foolish to ignore them.
Simply taking an interest in data is not helpful on its own. The effectiveness comes down to the quality of the data the team is using and the quality of the people compiling and interpreting the data. It is still nice to see the Jets showing us that they are willing to step into the 21st century and take advantage of new information available to them.