When it comes to drafting players, NFL teams not only are trusting their scouts for the “eye test” to evaluate talent, but they’re using analytics, too.
The Jets have employed an analytics department for several years, and general manager Mike Maccagnan said he would like it to expand. “It’s something every team has used, we’re no different,” he said. “We’ve done quite a bit. We’ve done it on the pro and the college side.”
Maccagnan won’t say how much analytics will influence his decision in drafting a quarterback with the No. 3 overall pick Thursday. But if you’re looking for the best fit for any team that uses the metrics, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield is at the top of the list.
According to Sports Info Solutions, Mayfield led the FBS in Independent Quarterback Rating, which accounts for dropped passes, throwaways, spikes, throws inside and outside the numbers and performance under pressure.
Mayfield led the FBS in passes outside the numbers and was sixth in scoring a touchdown on 42 percent of his red-zone trips. He was third in the nation in IQR under pressure and seventh in passes outside the pocket. Mayfield also was second in air yards with 2,301. (Air yards are calculated by subtracting yards after catch from yards gained.) Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph led with 2,917.
“You [see] the tea leaves and they’re leaning toward Baker Mayfield at No. 3, and you look at his career, he’s the analytics prospect,” said Charles McDonald, a staff writer for Football Outsiders, which uses analytics to grade pro and college players.
“When you look at all the efficiency passing numbers, his completion percentage, yards per completion, yards per attempt, scoring passing metrics, he’s through the roof. If the Jets are going to make a move to give up three second-round picks, three significant assets, to move from six to three and they’re thinking about Baker Mayfield, analytics would play a pretty big role.”
It doesn’t mean the Jets will draft Mayfield, or even if he’ll be available at No. 3. The Browns, at No. 1, need a franchise quarterback, and an ESPN report had them smitten with Mayfield. The Giants, with the No. 2 pick, also could snag a quarterback.
Maccagnan can make an educated guess on whom the Browns and Giants will take and go from there. But even he’s not sure what will happen Thursday night.
“As you go through this, you never probably truly know,” Maccagnan said. “But you always hear a lot of stuff and you follow that and you can only focus on what you can control. I’m sure there will be lots of conversations among many teams as we get closer to the draft, and we’ll see what happens.”
The pro days, private workouts, game and practice tape are part of the process of evaluating talent from a physical standpoint. When it comes to evaluating a player on paper, there’s no disputing the numbers, and most NFL teams use analytics as a guide for projections.
You just need all the help you can get.
“This whole the Next Gen Stats, we’ve gotten some access to, but not as much as other teams,” Maccagnan said. “That’s another aspect as this expands a little bit. There may be other ways you look to, whether it’s coaching or scouting, to make ourselves more efficient or more effective in what we do.”