We look under the hood of the analytics departments going head-to-head this Sunday for North America's biggest final
North America’s largest sporting event takes place this weekend for its 57th iteration and pits the two top-seeded teams in their respective conferences, the Kansas City Chiefs (AFC Champion) and the Philadelphia Eagles (NFC Champion). With an estimated 100 million viewers in the USA fixed on Pheonix, Arizona this Sunday and an abundance of previews across our timelines, Skylab look under the hood of each franchise's analytical departments and how they shape up.
Those with limited staff in this area are also perceived by their league peers as being the least analytically advanced within the league in a recent annual ESPN reportSource: EPSN
Teams on average have a minimum of three full-time staff in some capacity, some teams have as many as seven full-time staff working in analytics (New York Giants, Jacksonville Jaguars, Cleveland Browns), and as little as one listed as full-time at the other end of the spectrum (Atlanta Falcons, New Orleans Saints, Washington Commanders, Tennessee Titans).
Analytical roles and responsibilities range from research analysts to directors and even General Manager positions such as Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, Minnesota Vikings. They assist the coaching staff by providing player statistics and league-wide analysis trends. Analysis coordinators will have a role on gameday in providing the head coach with analytical trends that informs in-game decision-making, the different perspective is especially helpful as coaching staff on the sideline are restricted from watching video playback.
Alex Halaby, Assistant GM
Halaby was promoted to assistant GM this year after a six-year tenure as VP of Football Operations and Strategy. He has emphasised integrating analytics with traditional methods to further support decision-making. Responsibilities include player evaluation, draft process, roster management and week-to-week opponent preparation.
James Gilman, Director of Football Analytics
Gilman focuses on quantitative research and providing statistical insight.
Halaby and Gilman are supported by Jon Liu (Assistant Director of Football Analytics), Zachary Steever (Quantitative Analyst) and Zach Drapkin (Quantitative Analyst).
Kansas City Chiefs
Brandt Tilis, VP of Football Operations
Tilis was heavily involved in Patrick Mahomes' record-breaking contract in 2020 (10 years, $450 million). Tilis oversees data analytics for the player personnel department and football operations including salary cap management and the lead player contract negotiator.
Mike Frazier, Statistical Analysis Co-ordinator
Frazier is a mainstay in the NFL analytics departments. He enters his 10th season as a statistical analysis co-ordinator after spending the previous decade at Super Bowl opponents Philadelphia Eagles. He will assist coaches and players with analytics, post-game reviews in both situations and team/league-wide trends, and as well as communicating to Head Coach, Andy Reid, in-game.
Marc Richards, Football Research Analyst
Richards assists with player statistics and situational analysis, as well as team and league-wide trends.
Analytics is becoming more prevalent in American Football, both internally within teams and in the wider community. Teams and broadcasters will integrate statistics within their processes, notably Pro Football Focus’s (PFF) player grading system and Football Outsiders' DVOA ranking (Defence-adjusted Value Over Average) for team performance.
More teams are playing the analytics game when making decisions in games, 4th down attempts and conversions are trending upwards each year (small decline in 2022) and the probability of success through analytics are a driving force of this. Examples from this season include:
- Chiefs and Eagles both have some of the highest 4th down conversion rates in the league.
- Chiefs 9-12 (75%)
- Eagles 22-32 (68.8%) – excel in very short yardage where they run a multitude of QB sneak formations to gain 1 yard (90.6% conversion rate on QB sneaks).
- Number 1 ranked offensive line for the Eagles plays into their aggressiveness in short-yardage situations. Source: nfl.com
- Eagles sneak percentage source: The Athletic
Many in the industry will have also noticed in 2022 that StatsBomb expanded into American Football. Results from their fresh approach will excite many as they take their impressive soccer disruption and growth in data analytics in to American Football – link.
This is one of the factors for the rapid growth of analytics in American Football and is likely to increase in the future given its later start in this field compared to the much-discussed rise of analytics in Baseball in the 2000s. College football seemingly has a lot more catch-up to do but initiatives like the NFL’s yearly Big Data Bowl invite outside inspiration and interpretation of the game through research and visualisation of data. Next Gen Stats which track player and ball movements in real time are already evolving the statistics we are exposed to in the broadcast of games. Add this to the wave of a new breed of coaches getting hired around the league who are revolutionising the offensive game, we can expect to see the trend of analytically based decisions continue as the game develops.