How All 32 NFL Teams Handle Analytics

7:10 | NFL
24 Hours with John Lynch
Wednesday June 28th, 2017

Yesterday’s feature focused on the role of analytics in the modern NFL (and how it has always been a part of the game). Today, a look at how each of the 32 teams approaches it…

ARIZONA CARDINALS

The Cardinals were once lagging behind in analytics, but there’s been an uptick since Steve Keim was promoted to GM in 2013. It was then that the team hired Mike Disner away from the league office to manage their cap and negotiations as director of football administration. The Williams-educated Disner (who was a college baseball player) moved naturally into a lead role in analytics. Keim and coach Bruce Arians project a very traditional football image, of course, but the organization has gained ground.

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ATLANTA FALCONS

Under GM Thomas Dimitroff’s guidance, the Falcons have been a leader in analytics. Senior director for football systems Karl Pierburg heads a three-man team, and has a liaison to the coaching staff as well. Atlanta breaks its work into four areas: Pre-acquisition, post-acquisition, opposition analysis and athletic performance. Opposition analysis is where the most innovation is happening—it’s an area that touches not just game-planning, but also assessing the Falcons’ own players and potential free-agent targets—and where most of the bridge between Dimitroff and Dan Quinn has been built.

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BALTIMORE RAVENS

The Ravens are among the league’s leading innovators in analytics, having taken the concept in-house and built their own systems. Football systems developer David McDonald ran the point on that, and Corey Krawiec is the personnel staff’s analyst. Eugene Shen and Daniel Stern head up the club’s analytics department—and the scouting side has used all the information coming to help build boundaries in player evaluation and find hidden trends. Shen and Stern also serve as liaisons to the coaching side as well, where John Harbaugh has been forward-thinking in implementing the data.

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BUFFALO BILLS

The Bills hired Xerox exec Michael Lyons to be its director of analytics four years ago, but his role has been pretty limited since his arrival. That is about to change. Lyons and analyst Peter Linton have simply provided the information up until now, but with new GM Brandon Beane and coach Sean McDermott in place, their influence is expected to grow and additional hires are planned for before the season begins.

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CAROLINA PANTHERS

Carolina is older school in their setup—director of team administration Rob Rogers, who manages the cap, oversees analytics, and the club pulls from services like PFF. But the Panthers have been forward-thinking in integrating the information with coaching and scouting, despite being an organization that has two guys with old-school résumés running the show: head coach Ron Rivera (who has bought into fourth-down theory) and GM Dave Gettleman (who dispatches two employees to the Sloan Conference every year). The team has worked to develop its own system in-house with a staff that includes two full-time analysts, three full-time developers and three others with analytics prominent among their duties.

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CHICAGO BEARS

The Bears were very much a leader in analytics under Phil Emery, but that’s been scaled back since Ryan Pace arrived as GM in 2015, largely because some decisions made based on the data (like assigning positions most likely to hit in certain draft rounds) didn’t work out. Ex-director of analytics Matt Sheldon, who’d worked for former Bears coach Marc Trestman in the CFL, recently left to take a job with the Dolphins, and the organization is working on finding his replacement. Director of football administration Joey Laine, football administration coordinator Nick Sabella and a coaching assistant are also involved, and (as it stands now) the team uses the data largely as a tool to crosscheck, and in contract negotiations.

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CINCINNATI BENGALS

The Bengals rely on two outside vendors, including the locally-based Pro Football Focus, and an outside IT professional, Jeff Smith, to help them integrate analytics data. For personnel chief Duke Tobin and coach Marvin Lewis, the advanced numbers are used to create efficiency in the time-sensitive areas of game-planning and pro scouting. On the college scouting side, Tobin’s crew creates its own analytical studies. And, globally, every coach and scout in the building is responsible for the data that lands within the construct of their job.

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CLEVELAND BROWNS

While the assumption is that the Browns let the numbers drive decisions, the message coming from the building has consistently been that the team is merely investing in analytics at a high level to try and ascertain their value. With Sashi Brown as football czar, director of player personnel Ken Kovash (an analyst poached from Dallas a few years back) carrying the same title as scouting chief Andrew Berry, and the largest analytics staff in NFL, there’s no question that a commitment has been made. Now, they’re trying to figure out where analytics lines up with scouting and coaching. There have been examples of the team deviating from the models and numbers tell them to do, as recently as in this year’s draft (the analytics side liked Mitch Trubisky over Myles Garrett).

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DALLAS COWBOYS

The Cowboys have quietly been leaders in analytics, to the point where personnel chief Will McClay—who has a traditional scouting and coaching background—served as the team’s director of football research as a precursor to his current job as senior director of college/pro scouting. COO Stephen Jones is all-in, too. Dallas was one of the first NFL teams to implement the Catapult player tracking system that Chip Kelly used at Oregon, and the team hired data scientist Tom Robinson to take McClay’s old spot with plans to add staff underneath him. Coach Jason Garrett, too, has been a driver in making Dallas one of the organizations more open to the changing landscape.

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DENVER BRONCOS

Director of football analytics Mitch Tanney was hired away from the Bears after Chicago fired GM Phil Emery in 2015, and Tanney has become a trusted voice in the building, so much so that he’s on the headset on Sundays to help the staff with game management. Denver also has Scott Flaska working with Tanney, and GM John Elway has long had an interest in analytics and how they can help the team in all facets of the operation. New head coach Vance Joseph comes over from a pretty analytics-friendly organization in Miami, though he did work for the more traditionally inclined Bengals before that.

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DETROIT LIONS

GM Bob Quinn’s setup is not unlike the one he worked under in New England for 16 years. On the personnel side, manager of football information Jon Dykema, a negotiator and cap manager for the team, takes the lead; on the coaching side, it’s offensive assistant Evan Rothstein. Globally, the team has all of its scouts and its coaches take responsibility for the data provided in their area. The belief in this way of doing it is that integration of the numbers will be done with a football lens.

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GREEN BAY PACKERS

GM Ted Thompson is decidedly old school, but the Packers most certainly aren’t. Mike Eayrs, who retired two years ago, was one of the NFL’s first and most respected analyst, despite his advancing age. Green Bay now leans on director of football technology Mike Halbach to take the lead on the data, with technology analyst Ryan Feder playing a role. Coach Mike McCarthy has long been aggressive about using analytics to get to the best answers, and Thompson’s top lieutenants—Russ Ball, Eliot Wolf and Brian Gutekunst—incorporate a newer-age philosophy into the scouting/personnel process.

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HOUSTON TEXANS

A lot of the lines between analytics and sports science are blurred, so the Texans have it set up to where analytics are considered a part of sports science. Houston hired Erik Korem away from the University of Kentucky (where he was the football program’s “high performance coach”) to lead that department. And in 2013, Houston promoted Russell Joyner to director of football administration, a position from which he helps in the scouting process. As for the coaching side, Bill O’Brien has long-time confidant Jim Bernhardt playing a research role for him that’s not dissimilar to what Ernie Adams does for Bill Belichick in New England.

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INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

The Colts needed modernizing in analytics, and the expectation is that it will happen with new GM Chris Ballard in charge. One of his VPs of player personnel (Rex Hogan) worked under Phil Emery in Chicago, and the other (Ed Dodds) came from Seattle’s innovative program. And Ballard worked under John Dorsey in Kansas City, as Dorsey and Andy Reid worked to make the Chiefs a cutting-edge operation. The team hired a director of analytics—John Park—who had a load of experience in finance last April.

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JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

Because of the presence of Tony Khan, owner Shad Khan’s son and the team’s SVP of football technology and analytics, it’s been presumed that Jacksonville is out in front on analytics. The truth is that the analytics and personnel staffs have been largely sovereign to one another. New football czar Tom Coughlin is certainly traditional in how he runs a team, but his coach, Doug Marrone, is far more into analytics in preparing to do his job that most people realize. Mike Stoeber heads up analytics staff, with analysts Zach Beistline and Kellen Blumberg reporting to him. Khan-owned TruMedia gives the team a resource on the outside.

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KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

Coach Andy Reid’s traditional background, having worked under Mike Holmgren and Ron Wolf on his way up, might fool you. He’s progressive, which is reflected in the way the franchise has grown over the last few years. Coming from Philadelphia, perhaps the league’s most analytically inclined franchise over the last two decades, Reid brought Mike Frazier, now the team’s statistical analysis coordinator, from Philly with him. With GM John Dorsey departed, the next scouting boss will inherit three analysts. As one staffer put it, “We’re still 85 percent Atlanta Braves (touch it, smell it, feel it) and 15 percent Oakland Athletics.”

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LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

Under president John Spanos and GM Tom Telesco, the Chargers have gone with the integrated approach—using third parties and having coaches and scouts responsible for data in their own areas—rather than hiring a full-blown analytics staff. As Telesco explains, both the team’s approach overall and where analytics stand within it are “always evolving.”

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LOS ANGELES RAMS

The Rams are invested in analytics big time—five analytics staffers are on board and more are likely coming—and the presence of youthful new coach Sean McVay makes it certain that more growth is on its way. GM Les Snead came up in Atlanta, so it isn’t difficult for him to buy into what young analysts like Rebecca Lally, Ryan Garlisch and Jake Temme are selling. Chiefly, Snead and his staff use the numbers to create boundaries in their evaluations, and to try to find prospects where others might not be looking. As one staffer described it, “It’s a club in the bag that you’re going to use a lot.”

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MIAMI DOLPHINS

EVP of football operations Mike Tannenbaum learned at the heel of Bill Parcells, who used to say, “If you keep making exceptions, you’ll wind up with a team full of them.” So the Dolphins use the data extensively, and largely to figure out when they’re making exceptions. The idea, as it was described to me, set forth by Tannenbaum and GM Chris Grier is to “keep the ball on the fairway.” In that effort, Miami recently poached Matt Sheldon from the Bears to lead their football research, and join a group that’s been led by Dennis Lock (who handles the traditional analytical work) and Brian Fleury (an analyst who works with the coaching staff).

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MINNESOTA VIKINGS

Ownership is said to be very into analytics, and GM Rick Spielman leans on data in making big personnel decisions. Coach Mike Zimmer, on the other hand, is known to be older school in how he approaches his job. The franchise’s analytics director, Scott Kuhn, also works as a pro scout for the team.

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NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

The Kraft family’s business-driven approach to running a franchise encompasses analytics—evident by the advent of the Jessica Gelman-led Kraft Analytics group—and the team has been analytics-heavy in cap management since they bought the team. Bill Belichick uses 64-year-old ex-Wall Street trader Ernie Adams in that area. And while the team is seen as an innovator, it’s not like there’s a large football analytics staff. Rather, the coaches and scouts are all responsible for integrating data provided for them into their work. Belichick is known for giving members of his football staff projects that would fall under the analytics heading.

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NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

GM Mickey Loomis has a cap background so he’s familiar with the analytics data, and Justin Matthews, who has cap/negotiating-related duties as well, does work in that area. And the team just hired former Dolphins cap guy Ryan Herman to be its first staffer to have analytics as the main focus of his job. But on the whole, Loomis and Sean Payton are known to run an older-school operation, with the data gathered then implemented by those in charge.

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NEW YORK GIANTS

The Giants are quiet about it, but they’ve pushed forward aggressively and, it was explained to me, are “very optimistic” with the early results they’ve gotten. Jon Berger is the team’s senior director of football information, and analyst Tyseer Siam is considered a rising star in the field. GM Jerry Reese is considered a proponent.

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NEW YORK JETS

The Jets probably fall into the “skeptic” category, with true separation of church and state. The team employs a three-man analytics staff, and it’s on GM Mike Maccagnan to blend their work into what his scouting staff comes back with. As the Jets see it, and as one staffer says, there’s “an art” to finding the right mix, and that’s where the football side of the organization is doing research on how to grow the operation.

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OAKLAND RAIDERS

As is the case with many aspects of the organization, GM Reggie McKenzie is largely responsible for modernizing the Raiders’ approach to analytics. Former NFL Network and ESPN researcher George Li has ascended within the organization to now lead a three-man team to help McKenzie backstop the decisions that his scouting staff makes.

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PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

Philly has been allocating resources to analytics going back to when Jeff Lurie bought the team and hired Joe Banner in the mid-1990s. Football chief Howie Roseman is considered a believer, and he trusts Alec Halaby in this area implicitly. Halaby oversees a staff that includes analysts Ryan Paganetti, TJ Paganetti and Taylor Rajack; And coach Doug Pederson’s background with Andy Reid underscores where he stands.

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PITTSBURGH STEELERS

The Steelers have always been seen as a franchise that trusts its tried-and-true process, and how GM Kevin Colbert’s approach with the football side is no exception. That said, the Carnegie Mellon professor they hired two years ago—Karim Kassam—is among the most respected names in the field, and had previously worked for Steelers minority owner, Thomas Tull, at Legendary Pictures.

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SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

Chief strategy officer Paraag Marathe is a pioneer in analytics, and the Niners continue to invest in it. Director of football administration Brian Hampton oversees a four-man staff headlined by football research and development analyst Kwesi Adofo-Mensah. And the team is very advanced in business analytics. Yet Marathe would tell you that, even after all these years, analytics is still largely a supplement to the football side’s traditional methods of running a team.

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SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

When Paul Allen is your boss you have to be forward-thinking, and the Seahawks always have been under the leadership of John Schneider and Pete Carroll. The team has invested in sports science, and that area allows analyst Brian Eayrs, now in his fifth season, to help Schneider on the player acquisition side. Meanwhile, Eayrs also plays a role for Carroll, as his father Mike did with the Packers coaches (Schneider and Mike Eayrs worked together in Green Bay) for many years.

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TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

GM Jason Licht has come to see great value in analytics, and a few years back plucked Tyler Oberly from the Sloan Analytics Conference—where Oberly was up for an Evolution of Sport award. Since, the Bucs have given Oberly staff to work with. And while the Bucs remain primarily reliant on traditional scouting, the environment Licht and Co. have fostered in Tampa has led to interplay between the sides that benefits everyone. One example? The “Ghost List” that Oberly’s staff comes up with each spring that’s comprised of under-the-radar draft prospects. On the coaching side, Dirk Koetter is still a traditionalist but has been open to the change.

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TENNESSEE TITANS

GM Jon Robinson has set this up very much in the image of the Patriots’ operation—scouts and coaches are responsible for integrating data into the work. And the belief in Nashville holds that the data has been effective in making the personnel staff and coaches more efficient, and creating a backstop against decisions when the scouting and analytics don’t match up. So are they believers? Enough so to the point where two scouting assistants with analytics backgrounds were recently hired.

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WASHINGTON REDSKINS

The Redskins are generally regarded as traditional in their approach to scouting and coaching, but team president Bruce Allen is interested in the trend and has provided the football side with data and resources. Under ex-GM Scot McCloughan they were a scouting-heavy club, and that hasn’t changed. Likewise, Jay Gruden and his staff coach without much reliance on data.

• Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.

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