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Analytics influencing NFL, but old-school scouting still reins

The SportsXchange

INDIANAPOLIS -- In Major League Baseball, it has been coined "Moneyball," where sabermetrics and numerous numbers are used to make decisions on players.

Now, it is becoming a bigger tool in the NFL, at least for those that embrace it. Several teams are ramping up their efforts in what NFL teams are referring to as analytics.

Buffalo Bills president Russ Brandon said earlier this offseason the team would be forming an analytics department to supplement the normal scouting operations. New Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid hired Mike Frazier as the team's statistical analysis coordinator after Frazier had worked nine years for the Eagles.

Frazier's background? He was hired by the Eagles after doing internships with Smith Barney and Wachovia Securities following his graduation from college in 2003.

Said Brandon, "We've seen it in the NBA. We've seen it more in baseball. It's starting to spruce its head a little bit in football, and I feel we're missing the target if we don't invest in that area of our operation, and we will."

Of course, NFL traditionalists will have a hard time accepting the trend. Even Bills general manager Buddy Nix wondered, saying after Brandon's announcement, "You know, obviously, I'm old-school in more ways than one. It'll be something I'll have to get used to because I go a lot on feel and what I see."

Former NFL general manager Bill Polian, now an analyst for SiriusXM NFL Radio, said, "As a practical tool, Moneyball does not work in the NFL because there are very few undervalued players and no middle class because of our salary cap.

"There is no middle class in football because the minimum salaries are so high and because of the salary cap, a player will reach a point where you can't keep him. They go. They're going to get big money elsewhere."

Giants general manager Jerry Reese, who learned at the side of George Young, said numbers can't be discarded, but that pure scouting will always be most important.

"Old-fashioned scouting is what we hang our hat on," Reese said at the Scouting Combine on Saturday. "You have to go by what the eyes see. We don't ignore analytics, but the scouts are the unsung heroes of what we do in the National Football League.

"We will always count on our scouts who go to the games, see players in practice, and talk to coaches."

--Reese also talked about the decreased production the team has seen from defensive end Justin Tuck, who had just four sacks in 2012.

Noting that he had talked with Tuck recently, Reese said, "Justin hasn't played as well as we think he can play. But he really wants to get back to the old Justin Tuck."
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