The concept of analytics has taken root in baseball in the last decade and gained acceptance in basketball in the past few years as well. Now, Buffalo Bills president Russ Brandon is bringing analytics to the NFL.
"We are going to create and establish a very robust football analytics operation that we layer into our entire operation moving forward," Brandon told the Buffalo News. "That's something that's very important to me and the future of the franchise."
When you are running a franchise that hasn't had a winning season since 2004, is based in one of the NFL's smallest markets and plays in the same division as the New England Patriots, you need to take any advantage within the rules you can get.
Brandon will task general manager Buddy Nix, assistant general manager Doug Whaley and football administration senior vice president Jim Overdorf with installing and applying the team's new analytics division.
"You know, obviously, I'm old-school in more ways than one," Nix also told the Buffalo News. "It'll be something I'll have to get used to because I go a lot on feel and what I see."
This is where the Bills can tear a page from the NBA's analytics manual. The Memphis Grizzlies recently hired longtime ESPN.com writer John Hollinger as its vice president of basketball operations and the Oklahoma City Thunder have tabbed former Grantland.com NBA blogger Sebastian Pruiti as a video analyst.
The NFL is an ego-driven league, but reaching out to the right people, wherever they may be, can help ensure the Bills' step into this brave new world isn't a failure.
The Bills, and football as a whole, gained some advantages by trailing baseball and basketball to the study of analytics. This new line of thinking created a civil war of sorts within the baseball community in particular, but all three sports have learned that analytics is not a be-all-end-all, but is most successfully implemented when paired with solid scouting.
Analytics were long overdue for gaining an official foothold in NFL team offices and, for the Bills' sake, here's hoping this first step is a forward one.
Update from Scott> Last Spring I participated in a meeting with Chip Kelly and Mike Thrower of Overtime Software in Chip's office. As you might expect, Chip already had the vision to build out a software application to analyze data from their current roster, historical players (and decisions) and prospects. The meeting was fascinating....think Good Will Hunting. Overtime software left that meeting and customized their software to Chip's specs (with plenty of input from the Ducks' staff along the way). This stuff exists and it's pretty impressive. OT has written customized applications for Oregon, LSU, Georgia, Arizona State, etc... If this is something your program is considering implementing, they would be a good first call.