It sounds like the Pittsburgh Steelers are taking a short break from the NFL draft to visit their city brethren down in Florida. According to the Trib’s Rob Biertempfel, General Manager Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin are stopping by to meet with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Not just to eat Cracker Jacks either. Biertempfel reports the Steelers are learning about how the Pirates use their analytics and player tracking.
One of the biggest innovations in the NFL is player tracking. If you’ve watched the Combine over past years, you’ve probably heard it referenced. Players will wear devices that track their speed, their steps, and a whole host of other data. Teams will also use it in-season during practices to see which guys are getting the most reps and which the least in order to help manage players more effectively.
In February, the NFL competition committee, which Tomlin is part of, verbally agreed to a rule that will send out player tracking data from games to every team. From the NFL.com article which reported the news.
“While some NFL coaches and scouts remain skeptical of the value, access to league-wide data has “massive scouting potential,” said an analyst for one NFL team that has been using the data. ‘More new metrics. Understanding if certain fields are slower or faster. Fatigue and injury prevention. Seeing which players are really explosive but maybe don’t make plays because the scheme is bad.'”
Last summer, ESPN wrote an article on how new Rams head coach Sean McVay and the organization was using that information to improve their practices. Here’s a snippet describing what they look for.
“Each player has a running tally for the amount of yards he has covered and the various speeds he has traveled. Pre-established speed zones — 15 to 20 mph, for example — provide a gauge for how much time they are operating at higher intensity levels. And each player — 63 of them, if you include the practice squad — has his own baseline for what constitutes an optimum amount of work, based on age, position, personal history and overall preference.”
As far as we know, the Steelers still lag behind in terms of analytics. They don’t have a sports science coordinator or anyone with a similar title, as the Rams did in that article. They did hire Karim Kassam in 2015, who holds the title of “Analytics and Football Research Coordinator,” but it’s difficult to say how much influence and input he has on the team, especially to the notoriously go-with-your-gut Tomlin.
Still, it’s interesting to see the team branch out the way the Steelers seem to be doing. Let’s just hope the Pirates don’t convince the Steelers to trade Ben Roethlisberger for a player to be named later.