Behind the Scenes

Here are a couple of good stories for your post-draft pleasure.

First up is a piece on how things go when scouts differ on a prospect.

The focus here is Bears GM Ryan Pace, but there are lots of comments from Phil Savage. He now runs the Senior Bowl, but previously was a personnel executive.

Phil Savage recently shared some insight from his experience as Cleveland Browns general manager (2005-2008) and his tenure as a high-ranking personnel executive with the Baltimore Ravens (1996-2004).

“It’s a very difficult thing to do,” said Savage, now an analyst for SiriusXM. “You try to get to a consensus, but sometimes the consensus is not 100 percent right. When you have grades spread across a lot of different opinions, that’s probably the player you’re going to get. He’s going to be very up and down and all over the map, just like the scouts saw it.”

Savage said his teams always tried to have at least three scouts grade each prospect from a major school.

“Most of the time, you’ll have two out of the three leaning one way or the other,” he said. “And it’s one of the real struggles when you get into your meetings and you want to keep your scouts engaged. You want them to feel like that they have a vote in this.

“But there are cases where…you might have four or five or six grades on a player, and the wind may be blowing all in one direction with the exception of one scout. And I have absolutely seen it where four out of the five (say one thing), and the GM or myself in this situation, put the guy’s card up there in line with the four of the five grades that seem to be indicating that. And at the end of the day, the fifth scout that was blowing against the wind, he ended up being right.”

Good read. Lots of interesting comments.

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Next up is a story on the marriage of football and analytics from Mike Tanier.

So a fully analytic approach to roster construction results in an NFL team full of size-speed specimens drafted in middle rounds who replace experienced veterans but are released the moment they become too expensive, and the roster contains no well-known running backs or kickers.

That sounds like a great way to put together a bad rugby team.

The truth is much subtler than that caricature. Analytics is a series of methods, not a series of rules. That may be why both Moneyball skeptics and some of the younger analytic zealots go into Twitter apoplexy when a team signs a veteran running back or punts on 4th-and-1 (another long analytic story).

The team built on analytics only pays premiums for premium talent. It recognizes replaceability and manages risk. It develops talent instead of trying to purchase it. It’s a little more cold and calculating about how quickly a popular veteran might age into obsolescence, but it is also more optimistic about how fast it can turn a big/strong/fast/hungry no-name from the fifth round into the next popular veteran.

The team built on analytics looks a lot like the Patriots, Green Bay Packers, Pittsburgh Steelers and Ravens, even though some of these perennial contenders appear to be much more old-fashioned than Moneyball oriented.

That’s because analytics and conventional wisdom have more in common than you think, and many franchises have found ways to make them work hand in hand.

Great stuff from Mike.

Too often, we act like analytics is some far-fetched, ridiculous idea that will ruin football. It can be a valuable tool and way of looking at things, but it isn’t the be-all answer that some would love to believe.

There is no perfect formula for building a Super Bowl team. That’s what makes it so challenging.

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