Talent Evaluations in the NFL – Science or not Science?
Finding talent to add to an NFL Team is actually quite a scientific process made up of finding the right mixture of “Position Specifics”, “Player Parameters”, and “Critical Factors” that meets or exceeds the unique “needs” of the organization. To learn more about that process and assessing “Team Needs” I would highly recommend your doing additional research at The Football Educator where Eye-Scout co-owner Ted Sundquist uses his 16 years of NFL Front office expertise to get you up to speed with how its really done in the Front Office. So where does the process fail? Where are there areas for improvement in the NFL Front Office? Well just like with the Army the issues fall on the process and where the money is being spent on the evaluation process. NFL Organizations spend heavily on the video analysis of players but typically spend much less on the technology used to evaluate the scouting data that is being collected.
What’s wrong with the picture you see on the left when compared to the picture you see above? The technological contrast is amazing. Why would you spend so much on video editing systems but then have a draft board with dry erase markers and magnets? Surprisingly enough this is still how some teams operate in the draft room on draft day. The problem is that they have this amazing technology for evaluating individual talent but when it comes to evaluating that talent against current team needs and what the decision maker is looking for directly at each position of need the technology falls short. Why it falls short is that most teams don’t have a technological solution to evaluate all the scouting information as a whole.
In the Army the decision maker analyzes information as a whole, remember C.O.P. (Common Operating Picture) where the commander can see what the data tells them as a whole when compared to his units capabilities. The Commander can then make educated decisions on how to react to that information whether its to attack, defend, retreat etc.
In the NFL the decision maker needs the ability to very quickly analyze all of the scouting information from all sources at a single time against the teams needs. The idea is to learn the pluses and minuses of adding a single player to your team to adding a group of players to your team. So why do draft picks fail? Why do we have NFL Draft Busts? In my professional analysis opinion the draft failure rate is due in part because of the lack of a complete analysis and the dismissing of data and information because a team doesn’t have time to review everything or they feel certain information is irrelevant. My best example is with some of the professional scouting data that teams outsource for a lack of better words.
One particular scouting organization has a scout assigned to it from each of its member teams. The job of this organization is to evaluate and determine the college player pool for the NFL Draft. Each scout’s job is to grade and evaluate a certain group of players with all scouts evaluations and grades coming together into a final grade and report 2x a year, once in the fall and once in the spring. The data contains very valuable information that organizations find critical but the skill grades provided are often not used or considered. So why would such valuable skill information be dismissed and not used? The number one reason I have been given for dismissing that scouting organization’s skill grades is “Well most of those scouts are young and inexperienced guys just starting out so we don’t fully trust their evaluations.” WOW, lets go back to an Army example. If an 18 year old PFC (Private First Class) came back from being on patrol and told his Commander that he saw enemy troops in the area and provide the details on the enemies movement, location, size etc do you think the Commander would dismiss the information and send a more experienced soldier like a Sergeant out to do the patrol all over again before acting on the information? Of course not, but this is exactly what’s happening in the NFL with talent evaluations. Teams are not using all of the data available to them.
I have learned in my years as an expert analyst that even “bad” data can tell you something and therefore I always say, “Bad data can tell much more of the story then no data at all”. Police officers when considering possible evidence in a crime consider all information, study it through their expert eyes and dismiss what they feel is not valuable to the investigation but they don’t dismiss information immediately just because it came from a non police trained citizen who is untrained in police work. The Eye-Scout product was created based on the Army’s need to be able to very quickly breakdown ALL data through the Commander’s “Eyes of Importance” which is the data and information that he or she feels is important and relevant to his or her mission but without dismissing the remaining information but rather inclusive of that information. What that means is that the Commander only sees the information that they are interested in seeing but only after the technology has weighed and analyzed all information according to what the Commander has requested. Eye-Scout provides that same ability to the Front Office Decision maker to be able to consider ALL scouting information through their “Eyes of Importance”. Remember even bad data tells you more of the story then no data at all.
So in summary I believe that until NFL Organizations start considering all the data when determining what talent fits their specific team needs and dynamics by utilizing technology designed to help them know the full and complete story when evaluating talent they will continue to have draft busts. I believe we have “NFL Draft Busts” because there was information that was missed during evaluations. Eye-Scout is that complete solution because it provides the organization with the ability to consider ALL data, know the full story, and know if a particular talent is the missing puzzle piece that satisfies the organization’s mission.
Please contact me directly if you would like to discuss this blog or if you have any more detailed questions about Eye-Scout.
Steven Burkett – firstname.lastname@example.org
Wasteful System Development Process in the Department of the Army?
Recently I have been thinking about some contradictions that seem to parallel each other in both the US Army and Professional Football that to me just doesn’t make sense. With the Army it really boils down to the Department of Defense as a whole and really not just the Army. Professional Football the issues seem to fall squarely on the Front Office and Ownership.
My expertise is on the Army Defense side of the equation having been a Defense Systems Analyst Contractor for more then a decade. I have seen the Department of Defense spend “B”illions of dollars to provide our Warfighter with the very best Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Combat Systems, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (C5ISR) systems.
The problem and where the process is flawed specifically is that the US Army / DoD doesn’t spend enough money on the process of coordinating the capability and requirements development portion of building a new system capability. The Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) is responsible for the coordination of the architectures and test scenarios that ensures that a system meets the required operational requirements for a given capability. TRADOC is doing this with paper spreadsheets and emails! One of the final stages of Army System Certification is a capability certification test where the Army runs a series of tests on multiple systems to ensure that they can all communicate with each other as required in the operational architecture. To ensure a disciplined test approach the Army develops MS Excel Test Threads that layout step by step how each system should respond to information received or how a system should forward or use the information. Test threads could have as many as 20 systems represented and its up to each system representative to review the threads for accuracy and to confirm that they are being represented correctly in each thread. Anytime a system makes or suggests a change to a thread there are possible impacts to other systems which kicks off another review process and more Excel Spreadsheets being passed around the community with little to know configuration management of the information. My research has shown that the Army spends about 4 million dollars a year just on the review and comment process of the Test Threads. So my question is why don’t we develop a computer system that can track the Test Threads, changes, comments as well as to provide a development tool where the threads can actually be built and updated as requirements change? Our government spends billions of dollars a year on system upgrades, new systems and new capabilities but we are still coordinating the development and test activities using email, spreadsheets, and sharepoint portals that are inefficient and cumbersome. My Army Defense company SL1, Inc has developed a computer system that operates in a “Cloud Server” and addresses these issues for the Army and has the ability to save the Department of Defense Army 3.5 Million Dollars a year. Our solution to the Army for these issues is called “R.A.C.E.” (Real-time Analysis Collaborative Environment). R.A.C.E. is designed to provide a collaborative platform that enables its users the ability to all work from the same set of data, track changes, and provide a set of data that can be reused with each new requirement or change without having to go back to the drawing board and reinvent the wheel so to speak. So my question is why does the Army continue to collaborate over email, spreadsheets and inefficient out dated database solutions?
Professional Football particularly in the NFL (National Football League) believe it or not has a very similar problem that really is the same issue. Professional Football teams spend millions of dollars on the latest greatest video analysis system so they can analyze film. This will be discussed in my next post.
“I don’t think it’s that simple. But historically, there have been some ‘copycat’ tendencies in the league.” – Ray Anderson
I have heard the term “Copycat” when referred to the NFL and some other sports with regard to how teams will often try to copy or implement another teams way of doing business because its been successful. The most recent example is the New England Patriots “system”. Many teams have migrated toward trying to implement a system that Bill Bellichick has had years of success with in New England.
In industry we call this Benchmarking. Benchmarking is a popular technique of strategic management that involves tracking and imitating the best practices of the leader in your field. But there is an inherent problem here: we’re benchmarking the best practices of the present. By the time we reverse-engineer it, copy it and implement it, it will be all but obsolete. Because change is moving so forward so rapidly, we’ll always be playing catch-up, and in the accelerating environment of the twenty-first century, catch-up is a fool’s game.
There is no advantage to keeping up. What we really want to do is jump ahead. How? By skipping over today’s best practices and benchmarking what the best practices will be in the visible future, based on hard trends and future certainties.
Let’s say you’re a manufacturer. You look around and see that Toyota’s “lean manufacturing” approach is the best model around right now so you say, “Let’s copy that” and you invest a lot of time, effort and dollars into it. But it may take you four or five years to successfully copy what Toyota is doing, and by the time you get there, if you get there, you’ll be four or five years behind-and these days, four or five years is a lifetime. So what do you do?
Instead of looking at what Toyota is doing today, lets ask ourselves, “Based on the hard trends, what is our best projection of what Toyota will be doing four or five years from now?”
Then we can base our entire strategy on emulating those best practices so we can become the leader of our field, instead of staying in a perpetual game of follow-the-leader.
“History is bunk” – Henry Ford
“History is bunk,” because, in fact, hindsight does not necessarily bring wisdom. If it did, everyone would have lots of wisdom. Yet we still keep making the same mistakes.
The universal lament is “I should have seen it coming”. But if we’re operating out of hindsight, we never see it coming. Well if we didn’t see it coming its because we weren’t looking.
But looking into the visible future is no longer a luxury. In an era of rapid, epic change, it has become a survival necessity. When we buy into the myth that “we live in an uncertain world,” and indeed, that in the twenty-first century, the world is becoming “more uncertain than ever,” we do so at our own peril. It simply just isn’t true.
Is the world changing faster than before? Absolutely. But within that bewildering maelstrom of change, there are always vast currents of certainty-currents that allow us not to only predict the future but to positively shape it. We just have to know where to look!
If we don’t make this shift today, it will be far more difficult tomorrow. Because as dizzying as the pace of change has been these past few years, this has been only a warm-up. Things are about to start changing a lot faster.
“True genius resides in the capacity for evaluation of uncertain, hazardous, and conflicting information” – Winston Churchill
I had the privilege this past year to attend the Under Armour Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama where I met and talked with NFL Team Owners, General Managers, Coaches and Scouts. My first introduction to the evaluation process at the Senior Bowl began with the player “Weigh Ins”. My mission while I was there was to observe and evaluate the scouting and evaluation process and not the athletes. I sat in the room with my Apple iPad on and logged in to my Eye-Scout software running, and I felt VERY awkward because it appeared that I was the only one in the room using some type of computer technology outside of some of the NFL Draft Website people in attendance. Most if not all of the scouts, coaches, and general managers, in the room had a paper spreadsheet that they hand wrote information in. I saw tons of those yellow legal pads with papers flipping over as evaluators scribbled information down about the players as they walked on to the stage. I asked one scout what kinds of information were they writing down, and his reply was mostly information about the athletes’ body size and frame as they see them with their eyes. Other evaluators were there to capture the athletes’ height and weight.
My next Senior Bowl experience was walking the sidelines and stands before, after and during the practices. I had the opportunity to observe and talk to some of the best NFL draft evaluators in the business. Again, I was there to observe the evaluators and not the athletes. I was again very surprised to see that nobody was using any technology. Certainly I would have thought that with today’s mobile devices and tablet pcs that somebody would be using some sort of computer or mobile device. I talked to one scout in the stands that indicated that they did use computers to record information but that the information was entered into the system later. He indicated that he would write notes then log the information into his team’s scouting template later. I was also very surprised to see a great number of evaluators watching the practices and not taking notes.
My question is just as stated in our Eye-Scout Video (http://youtu.be/mrfxRh8P2u4) “Has Technology Really Impacted The Game of Football?” When I asked one evaluator how accurately a team can predict the future of an athlete his response was “Well, we just don’t know…We give it our best guess, but who really knows where it’ll all go?…The truth is, it’s impossible to say-no matter how much data you gather and project, the future is flat-out unpredictable.
I don’t believe that statement is true and with the right information and use of technology the future becomes a whole lot clearer. With Eye-Scout we use a proprietary data evaluation process that was developed to assist U.S. Military Leaders with evaluations and analysis geared toward giving them an “Edge” on the battlefield.
“Football is a game of studs, and if you want to win, you better have some” – Bear Bryant
The quote above is nothing new, and Bear Bryant was just stating a fact that football scouts and general managers have known since the beginning of the game. Nothing has changed with all competitive sports from youth on up to professional sports; coaches, scouts, player personnel directors, and general managers are all looking for and trying to identify those individual players that fit their teams and can make them better. Much like the pieces of a puzzle coaches and general managers have a picture in their minds of what a Championship Team looks like – kind of like the picture on the boxtop of a 1000 piece puzzle. Interesting thing about building a Championship Team is that all teams tend to look for the same qualities in the players they evaluate – qualities such as Player Parameters, Position Specifics and Critical Factors. So why then are there so many differences in teams? Why doesn’t each team look more alike? Why isn’t there a championship model or road map that each team can follow that will lead them to a victorious hoisting of the Vince Lombardi trophy at the end of the year? The answer is simple because coaches, general managers, scouts, and player personnel directors have a different view of what the Championship Team looks like on the boxtop of their 1000 piece puzzle. I’m over simplifying things so not to have a 1000 page blog post and your key to take away from this point should be that each team studies, evaluates, and weighs the Player Parameters, Position Specifics, and Critical Factors differently in route to finding those players that will be the puzzle pieces that fit their proprietary view of how a Championship Team should look.
Eye-Scout minority partner Ted Sundquist wrote in his blog from June 20, 2011, titled Note to NFL – “Learn to deal with GEN Y’s, the talent pool is shrinking.” (http://goo.gl/BsIHb) that the NFL Player Pool is shrinking. Ted cited a reference from the National Football Scouting, Inc (one of the two major scouting services used in the NFL) that reported 150 fewer players in the spring of 2009 for clubs to focus on in preparation for the 2010 draft. Regardless of whether or not the player pool is shrinking or not and I believe it is, there is still a sense of urgency in the NFL to find talent that fits your team and can help you win NOW.