Mike Zimmer famously said last year that Pro Football Focus, perhaps the most respected football analytics site out there, should be taken with a grain of salt. But if you believe Rick Spielman, the Vikings have taken a bigger bite into the analytics movement than ever before.
“We really took another step forward this year from the analytics,” Spielman, the general manager, said yesterday. “We really grew that department and how we’re looking at analyzing some things.”
The word of the day at Spielman’s annual pre-draft press conference was “analytics,” so much so that if it were an episode of “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse,” no one would have left Winter Park with a voice. He brought up analytics in his opening statement and was asked about them five times.
Spielman wasn’t exactly forthcoming, but here’s what we learned about the team’s use of analytics:
1. Spielman said the Vikings have hired an outside consultant to provide “unique things from an analytics standpoint.” That person — Spielman wouldn’t say if it was a man or a woman, but he did slip up and say “the analytics guy” at one point — has been working with pro scout Scott Kuhn and Mike Band, a Vikings staffer, to not only come up with usable analytics but also contextualize them for Spielman and members of the front office and coaching staff who aren’t as savvy with numbers.
2. Spielman was adamant that the media shouldn’t read too much into the analytics stuff because he said the Vikings still prioritize breaking down game tape first and foremost. “You’re always going to make decisions based on your experience your gut,” he said. But he said when it comes to individual prospects, they might use tem to break ties between similarly-graded players at a position.
3. The Vikings looked at draft prospects over “the last five or six years” in “numerous areas” from an analytic standpoint in the hopes of identifying trends about why prospects did or didn’t pan out.
4. Analytics played a big role in the selection of Jerick McKinnon last year. Spielman didn’t go into specifics, but the running back’s exceptional athleticism have been quantified by SPARQ scores.
5. The Vikings also used analytics to try to gauge the value at each draft slot to try to see how much of a difference there was between, say, the 30th and 45th players in the draft. And that’s not all they looked at, according to Spielman. “We’ve got analytics on how far you trade back and front on the board. We’ve got analytics on the players and all of the different things we collected there. We’ve got analytics on the successes of positions and where you have to take those,” he said. “That’s all part of it. Analytics has become a lot more significant part of this than it has been in the past.”