It’s draft week in the NFL, the climax of all the off-season hype on players, something the league leverages strategically to keep their fanbase on edge. This year’s been different, to say the least, but the hype remains.
The biggest difference? Pre-draft player analysis.
Social distancing has thrown a wrench into the cogs of the NFL draft machine and all the training and evaluation events surrounding it. No traditional combine. Less tape on incoming players. Reduced interaction with players.
So does this mean a bigger crapshoot for coaches and general managers? I mean, the guessing can’t get much worse than taking a Ponder at pick #12, can it?
Scouts, coaches, agents and players alike have leaned heavily on technology in this new environment. While interactions have been largely changed because of this, tech has been used for years now during player prep and analysis.
Sports science has exploded in the last decade as newer technology has allowed for the capture of more data. And with more data, you can discern more insight. This is why we see data scientists more involved in professional organizations now.
So while players isolated and trained their bodies for the next level, they focused on putting up metrics in various forms to highlight their capabilities to the bidders. Highlight tapes complement a player’s 40-time, deadlift weight, high jump and 3-cone time. But it doesn’t stop there.
Health monitoring systems are utilized to determine the overall physical well-being of a player - at least with concern to what they can achieve between the lines on turf. Trainers are tasked with clearing players as capable of enduring the gauntlet of physical battering that lies ahead of them.
But one area that often goes overlooked is the cognitive strength of a player. Coaches who prioritize this trait excel in creating a successful culture and growth environment within their locker room.
How do they think? What do they know? How do they learn? What is their personality? How can we best coach them?
Philly coach, Nick Sirianni, is a recent example of this, playing basic child-games with players to get a look into how they compete in different situations. Getting into the mind of a player can be as informative as what you can see in their highlight reels.
Most coaches tend to focus on a player’s knowledge of the football playbook. How well do they understand the fundamental concepts of the game, and more importantly can they quickly apply that knowledge on the field?
The NFL media monopolizes this concept with the QB position which requires a tremendous amount of knowledge (while often having the prettiest face!). Videos of whiteboard tests from decorated coaches with the top incoming QBs are a dime-a-dozen. But don’t forget that all 21 other players on the field are studying long and hard to get to where they are too, and use technology to do this.
Playbook study has come a long way. Long gone are the days of flipping pages of inked plays while using a pencil to ‘chalk’ them out on your own. Sports Tech players like Smash Routes have created better ways for players to learn, develop and challenge themselves in their own playbook.
When the playbook becomes a mobile ‘video’ game (a learning game designed to motivate progress), players find them