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NFL will roll out new player-tracking system for real-time on-field stats

Simulated tracking system. (Via NFL)
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Simulated tracking system. (Via NFL)

Seattle's Richard Sherman has long maintained that he's a better cornerback than Arizona's Patrick Peterson and a more dominant player than San Francisco's Michael Crabtree. Now, at last, he may have hard numbers to back him up.

The NFL is rolling out the initial phase of a tracking system that will allow fans to view a wide range of statistics about their favorite players, including speed, routing, distance traveled, and separation. As reported by USA Today, each player will wear two small sensors under the shoulder pads, and the sensors will track the players' movements throughout the game. (And ONLY the game, which should bring a sigh of relief to quite a few players.)

Zebra Technologies, which has implemented similar technologies in other industries, will roll out the system in 17 stadiums. Those include: Atlanta, Baltimore, Carolina, Chicago, Cincinnati, Denver, Detroit, Green Bay, Houston, Jacksonville, Miami, New England, New Orleans, Oakland, San Francisco, St. Louis and Washington. (The players signed off on the use of the technology in the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement.)

The data can be enhanced and used for television presentation. Down the line, it could be used as part of an app or second-screen experience (i.e. you're gonna pay more for it).

"For those of us that are coaches from our couches, we're like, 'Oh, come on! That guy was open!' Maybe he was and maybe he wasn't," Zebra's Jill Stelfox told USA Today. "If we know closing distance of a defender and an offensive guy, you can really know whether that hit would be made or whether he really could've made that play."

It doesn't take a big leap to see how this technology could be used in-game for coaches to gain an edge. Cornerback losing a step in the fourth quarter? Flood that zone, stat! Accordingly, the NFL will not let teams use the data gathered for competitive purposes in 2014. But information wants to be free, and coaches want information, and therefore there's a 12-year-old playing Madden right now who's going to make millions as Statistics Coordinator for the Patriots. 

Down the line, tech could be used to track players' heart rate in-game, and also could be implemented in the ball to determine whether it crossed the goal line. But Sherman-style trash talking? We're still 15 years from a computer being able to replicate that.

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or find him on Facebook or on Twitter.

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