I don’t know that it will change anything. I don’t know that there will be any difference in the end results. Perhaps there won’t be anything different in that regard—and even if there were, we would probably not be able to tell. But there will be at least one thing different this year as the Pittsburgh Steelers prepare to the 2016 NFL Draft.
That is because it will be the first draft in team history during which they will have on the payroll staff a full-time analytics expert on hand. That man would be Karim Kassam, who was originally hired to the full-time position in August after moonlighting with the organization on a sort of trial basis.
If the connection between the Steelers and cold, hard analytics seems a bit out of place, perhaps it is. Which is why it should be no surprise that the connection between the team and Kassam happens to be Thomas Tull, a part owner of the team, for whose company, Legendary Pictures, the team’s new Analytics & Football Research Coordinator worked.
When the hiring was first made official, Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert tried to paint the picture of advanced analytics as simply an extension and a new application of the statistical analysis of the game that we are all already familiar with, suggesting that the ‘jump’, as it were, to at least taking this model into consideration is not much of a leap at all.
He echoed similar sentiments earlier this week speaking to the media in advance of the draft season really starting to kick off. Asked if there were any changes over recent years in terms of the way that they go about evaluating players, Colbert more or less reiterated what was said above.
As provided by Will Graves of the Associated Press, Colbert did acknowledge that while “the evaluation hasn’t changed”, he said, “we will try to use analytics”. He added that analytics “are really just advanced statistics”, and that “now maybe we have the capabilities of interpreting them differently”.
He then mentioned Kassam—well, sort of, anyway—saying, “that’s why we have our analytics guy”. But the Steelers are not interested in analytics simply for the sake of using them unless they are able to provide the team with something that they feel that they don’t already have, or an interpretation that they didn’t have access to through traditional metrics.
“I want him to tell me something unique”, the general manager said of Kassam’s job. “Maybe we will try to look for statistics against the top-25 teams as opposed to his whole body of work”, Colbert cited as one possible frontier that they can explore with analytics.
Of course, the Steelers will likely always have a hint of the old school in their formula, as hinted by his closing remarks from that question, while acknowledging its value. “Those guys can take the data and interpret it in different ways than we historically have been able to do. It’s a piece of the puzzle, no more than that”.