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Are Football Analytics Truly Applicable?

Analytics Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

For the past few years, websites such as Pro Football Focus have found their way into the fan consciousness in regard to determining the value of a player. NBC has even gone to show a players’ ranking on Pro Football Focus during pregame introductions. Outlets such as Sports Illustrated and Bleacher Report constantly cite analytics when discussing how well a player is performing.

However, there are questions that need to be asked in regards to football analytics:

  1. How legitimate are their calculations?
  2. Are we, the media, using their calculations as a shortcut from actually observing them?

Addressing the first question, Pro Football Focus’ calculations ought to come under scrutiny because they have not published how they calculate their player grades. Unlike Bill James’ calculations in baseball (which has become entrenched in analytics), they do not indicate what mathematical permutations they utilize to grade a player. It begs the question: is this sh*t completely made up?

Recently, Von Miller received a grade over 90 for his performance against the Eagles when his team, was demolished. The Broncos allowed over 50 points in the loss. Miller was a non-factor for the game, until late in the 4th quarter when he forced a sack-fumble for a touchdown. At this point, the Eagles put their second-stringers into the game while Denver kept their first-team defense in.

Does Pro Football Focus account for this situation? Is it worthy of celebration? After Pro Football Focus tweeted this gem, the answers are apparently “No” and “Yes”:

Also, it was announced that the Bills will be benching quarterback Tyrod Taylor in favor of Nathan Peterman. Taylor currently is ranked as the 9th best quarterback on Pro Football Focus, ahead of MVP candidate Jared Goff and Dak Prescott. Unlike Goff and Prescott, Taylor is a game manager who does not light up the stat sheet, as evidenced by his ten passing scores. However, it can be inferred that his constant checkdowns and safe play have a great impact on his PFF score, while his inability (or unwillingness) to throw downfield hurts the Bills offense.

Which leads into the second question: is football analytics a cop-out from watching the actual games? Casual fans may look at Taylor’s benching as a foolish error by a franchise that has yet to appear in a postseason game since 2000 and cite his PFF grade as a reason that the Bills are inept. However, Bills coaches, who watch and meticulously scrutinize every snap, have determined that Taylor’s conservative approach to the quarterback position does not fill what they want to do as an offense.

So the big question is whether analytics belong in the NFL? It’s difficult to answer, because football is a pure team sport and a player’s success is dependent on other players, unlike baseball being focused on the individual. However, analytics can possibly give greater insight to how well a player is and if they are legitimately good or reap the benefits of having great teammates.

One Comment

  1. LiteralLombardi

    November 16, 2017 at 4:53 pm

    The funny of this would be like the Bills trying out young quarterbacks with the success of all the first and second year starters over the last couple years. Similiarly to the way Michigan tried out their towel boy after seeing Bobby Boucher’s success. The reality of it is. The Bills doesn’t want to spend $12M on Tyrod Taylor. Good for Tyrod if you ask me. There’s plenty of teams in the NFL that would give him that money tomorrow.

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