Wednesday, September 19th, 2018 pm30 9:20pm

As NFL teams make sense of data, next wave of technological revolution awaits

CLOSE

USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis explains that the player most likely to go No. 1 in this hyped quarterback draft class isn’t a quarterback. USA TODAY Sports

CONNECTTWEETLINKEDINCOMMENTEMAILMORE

INDIANAPOLIS — Prepare for the level beyond Next Gen Stats.

The company behind the made-for-fans tracking metrics — Zebra Technologies — is packaging its data to assist teams in scouting to help evaluate incoming college prospects, appraise a team’s own players and target free agents.

Zebra, which uses two nickel-sized radio-frequency identification (RFID) sensors in players’ shoulder pads to measure and track data, is in the fourth year of a five-season deal with the NFL. The equipment is installed in all 32 stadiums. In February, the NFL’s competition committee agreed to share data on all players from every team and from every game to each of the league’s franchises.

“I think what this can do is confirm what you saw on film,” one NFC general manager told USA TODAY Sports under the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of in-house personnel evaluation. “But this technology can tell you: That guy is that fastest, or he’s the one who can create the most separation, or what have you. You can even glean data based on trends from the surfaces and conditions of each stadium.

“Sometimes I feel like we’re going to lose our jobs to artificial intelligence.”

Each play is tracked, so if a team queues up the film with the corresponding metrics from the play, it can see the data work in real time.

It’s information that — if used effectively — could add new wrinkles to game-planning strategy as well as offseason evaluation. As one NFC offensive assistant who uses the tracking data told USA TODAY Sports under the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment publicly on the matter, it’s an extension of the work Zebra has done with organizations who have already subscribed to the company’s services.

More: NFC free agency preview: Advice for every team on players to target

More: AFC free agency preview: Advice for every team on players to target

Zebra is trying to sell more teams on signing up for the installation of its equipment at practice facilities to measure and store data that monitors usage and performance, helps place players in injury-recovery programs and assists in self-scouting. Using the shoulder pad sensors and chips in footballs, teams can monitor players’ maximum speed and distance covered, among other information. For quarterbacks, the data includes insights on distance, flight time, rotations, velocity and height.

Signing up includes tech support staffers to help with any troubleshooting concerns and employees at Zebra’s corporate offices who organize and package the data to the team’s specifications.

“To be honest, there were so many numbers, we had no idea what to do with them,” the offensive assistant said. “We assembled a team of guys just to sift through what the hell we were looking at. But once they took certain things out — certain focal points — we could see areas that we needed to take a closer look at. It’s changed the way we go about things.”

Vice president of business development for Zebra Sports John Pollard told USA TODAY Sports that roughly one-third of NFL teams are currently signed up. After pitching to several others at the scouting combine, the company expects that number to increase.

The company also had chips inside footballs in each game this season, but the NFL didn’t release that data through Next Gen Stats because it was still evaluating how best to do so. When the league releases all in-game data to the clubs, per the competition committee, ball tracking data will be included.

USA TODAY Sports sat in on a sales meeting between the company and executives of a franchise in need of a quarterback. Present were the general manager and eight total members of the personnel staff.

Minutes into the meeting, two slides flashed on a projector, showing the statistical differences between Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield and Wyoming’s Josh Allen from practices at the Senior Bowl, which partnered with Zebra to track all players who participated. The slides listed scores of raw data neatly organized into categories.

“So the numbers on initial speed, that’s the velocity of the ball coming out of his hand?” the GM asked, mimicking a throwing motion. Told that was correct, he scribbled a few notes while nodding his head. “Interesting.”

Later in the sales pitch, Zebra showed a slide of Cardinals pass rusher Chandler Jones. It listed the total number of snaps he played for Arizona, where he lined up on the field, situational breakdowns of when his pressures and sacks occurred and more.

Then Jones’ profile was compared with defensive end Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa.

Jones led the NFL with 17 sacks, while Bosa had 12½. But according to Zebra’s tracking data, Jones collected his sacks and pressures from all over the field and in a variety of situations; Bosa picked up his almost entirely from the left side of the formation, going against right tackles.

The profile database Zebra is building also has an option to view similar players. A search function allows a team to set salary and age parameters to find similar players to Jones, but who are likely to command less salary cap space.

“Hmm,” the general manager in the meeting wondered aloud to the director of personnel seated to his right, “I bet we could use that in free agency.”

It’s a bet more and more teams seem ready to make.

***

Follow Lorenzo Reyes on Twitter @LorenzoGReyes

NFL mock draft 2018: Post-combine edition

Posted!

A link has been posted to your Facebook feed.

1. Browns — Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State

1. Browns — Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State  Rich Barnes, USA TODAY Sports
2. Giants — Sam Darnold, QB, Southern California

2. Giants — Sam Darnold, QB, Southern California  Mark J. Rebilas, USA TODAY Sports
3. Colts — Bradley Chubb, DE, North Carolina State

3. Colts — Bradley Chubb, DE, North Carolina State  Rob Kinnan, Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports
4. Browns (from Texans) — Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming

4. Browns (from Texans) — Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming  Troy Babbitt, USA TODAY Sports
5. Broncos — Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA

5. Broncos — Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA  Gary A. Vasquez, USA TODAY Sports
6. Jets — Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma

6. Jets — Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma  Kirby Lee, USA TODAY Sports
7. Buccaneers — Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama

7. Buccaneers — Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama  Brett Davis, USA TODAY Sports
8. Bears — Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame

8. Bears — Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame  Matt Cashore, USA TODAY Sports
9. 49ers — Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia

9. 49ers — Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia  Kirby Lee, USA TODAY Sports
10. Raiders — Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech

10. Raiders — Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech  James Guillory, USA TODAY Sports
11. Dolphins — Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State

11. Dolphins — Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State  Joseph Maiorana, USA TODAY Sports
12. Bengals — Connor Williams, OT, Texas

12. Bengals — Connor Williams, OT, Texas  Eric Gay, AP
13. Redskins — Vita Vea, DT, Washington

13. Redskins — Vita Vea, DT, Washington  Jennifer Buchanan, USA TODAY Sports
14. Packers — Marcus Davenport, DE, Texas-San Antonio

14. Packers — Marcus Davenport, DE, Texas-San Antonio  Soobum Im, USA TODAY Sports
15. Cardinals — Da'Ron Payne, DT, Alabama

15. Cardinals — Da’Ron Payne, DT, Alabama  John Reed, USA TODAY Sports
16. Ravens — Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama

16. Ravens — Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama  Adam Hagy, USA TODAY Sports
17. Chargers — Derwin James, S, Florida State

17. Chargers — Derwin James, S, Florida State  Melina Vastola, USA TODAY Sports
18. Seahawks — Mike Hughes, CB, Central Florida

18. Seahawks — Mike Hughes, CB, Central Florida  Reinhold Matay, Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
19. Cowboys — Arden Key, DE, LSU

19. Cowboys — Arden Key, DE, LSU  Jeff Hanisch, USA TODAY Sports
20. Lions — Derrius Guice, RB, LSU

20. Lions — Derrius Guice, RB, LSU  Reinhold Matay, USA TODAY Sports
21. Bills — Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama

21. Bills — Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama  Marvin Gentry, USA TODAY Sports
22. Bills (from Chiefs) — James Daniels, C, Iowa

22. Bills (from Chiefs) — James Daniels, C, Iowa  Jeffrey Becker, Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
23. Rams — Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville

23. Rams — Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville  Jamie Rhodes, USA TODAY Sports
24. Panthers — Harrison Phillips, DT, Stanford

24. Panthers — Harrison Phillips, DT, Stanford  Kirby Lee, Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
25. Titans — Sony Michel, RB, Georgia

25. Titans — Sony Michel, RB, Georgia  Kirby Lee, USA TODAY Sports
26. Falcons — Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M

26. Falcons — Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M  Charles Morgan Engel, USA TODAY Sports
27. Saints — Ronnie Harrison, S, Alabama

27. Saints — Ronnie Harrison, S, Alabama  Derick E. Hingle, USA TODAY Sports
28. Steelers — Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa

28. Steelers — Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa  Jeffrey Becker, USA TODAY Sports
29. Jaguars — DJ Moore, WR, Maryland

29. Jaguars — DJ Moore, WR, Maryland  Gregory Fisher, USA TODAY Sports
30. Vikings — Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame

30. Vikings — Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame  Matt Cashore, USA TODAY Sports
31. Patriots — Leighton Vander Esch, OLB, Boise State

31. Patriots — Leighton Vander Esch, OLB, Boise State  Isaiah J. Downing, USA TODAY Sports

CONNECTTWEETLINKEDINCOMMENTEMAILMORE

Related posts