Analytics is an exploding field across all sports. ResearchandMarkets.com expects the industry to reach $4.5 billion in revenue by 2024. That’s a compounded annual growth rate of 43.5 percent.
Here are five ways analytics are changing pro football. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but it demonstrates the extent of big data’s impact on the game.
Informed injury prevention and treatment
Analytics is responsible for the current revolution in how football injuries are prevented and treated. There’s near-unanimous support for the cause around the league, and the NFL is only scratching the surface with data acquired from player tracking devices.
But the early results speak for themselves. According to the NFL’s Play Smart, Play Safe initiative, concussions sustained in games dropped nearly 20 percent between 2012 and 2018. ACL and MCL injuries were similarly reduced over the same period.
A Lower Value on Running Backs
Throughout the ‘90s, the likes of Emmitt Smith, Barry Sanders, and Marcus Allen rushed into the record books, leaving scorched defenses in their wake. Prior star running backs had done the same for generations.
The days when the league’s top rushers post 100-yard games each week is largely over. NFL teams now look at the quantity of running backs over quality. In the past five drafts, just over five percent of first round picks were running backs. That number was 20 percent in the first round of the 1983 Draft.
The reason? Data indicates that passing plays are more efficient than rushing plays and that “star” running backs are not significantly more effective than their average counterparts.
Transforming talking heads into gurus of the interactive
Advanced stats have broadened the role of those who talk about football for a living. Broadcast callers, sideline reporters, and in-studio analysts once fed armchair quarterbacks with what amounted to cool-but-trivial information.
Thanks to fantasy football and sports betting, football fans can now interact with the sport they love. Naturally, the analysts who study the game’s advanced stats are in a position to help.
The amount of data the talking heads have on hand is staggering, allowing for detailed analysis to be given in real time or within seconds of a play. Commentators have also become advisors to fantasy football managers and sports bettors. In fact, TV commentators provided bettors with expert analysis of NFL championship game wagers.
Trading down is up
Once upon a time, high first-round draft picks were instantly celebrated as heroes of the NFL. Unfortunately, many touted prospects failed to meet expectations once they began playing pro snaps.
A report issued in 2005 found that top picks tend to be overrated. The statistical mecca that is fivethirtyeight.com concluded the same in 2014 when they discovered that first overall picks can be overrated by 300 percent according to trade value.
Meanwhile, draftees in the middle rounds tend to be undervalued. The likelihood of a first round pick and a third round pick becoming a Pro Bowler is relatively similar.
The findings led Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots to begin ‘trading down’ in the draft. The strategy involves trading first and high second round draft spots for middle round picks. Trading down allows a team to snag potential talent at a discount.
The Tennessee Titans and Cleveland Browns have also adopted the strategy of trading down in recent years.
Sleep fends off injuries, bolsters performance
A good night’s sleep has been anecdotally connected to performance since football’s early days. Advanced statistics provide the science to back it up. Studies indicate there’s a strong correlation between sleep and increased performance, as well as injury reduction.
The fitness analytics firm Whoop discovered that athletes who slept fewer than six hours a night experienced a 30 percent reduction in time towards physical exhaustion.