Grant & Danny: Skins need to embrace analytics

Ben Krimmel
June 16, 2019 - 11:03 pm
Grant & Danny priase Redskins for expanding analytics department.

Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports

Did the Washington Redskins just turn the corner and begin walking toward the future?

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This week, the Redskins announced a number of new hires and changes at several positions in their personnel department. One such hiring was Pro Football Focus' Connor Barringer to be their football strategy analyst. Barringer broke down game film and graded players for the football analysis site, according to the Redskins.

"They've acknowledged, 'We're not maybe far enough along in analytics. We need to bring someone in that can help us crunch some numbers and look at things differently,'" Grant Paulsen said on 106.7 The Fan Friday. "The Redskins, people, let's clap a little bit. 2019 analytics department is being assembled!" 

This hire may not represent a totally new standard operating procedure in Ashburn. But it does represent a change for the Redskins, an organization that has often shunned analytics for quite some time. Washington 120th out of 122 teams and last among NFL organizations in ESPN's 2015 "Great Analytics Rankings," which measured the use of analytics among America's four major sports leagues.

"In 2006, the Redskins infamously fired economics Ph.D. Jeff Dominitz just seven weeks after hiring him as a statistical analyst," ESPN wrote, noting then-head coach Joe Gibbs said, "We're still about people here." 

"There is no full-time employee devoted to analytics and no evidence that it is part of the team's approach. For proof, look no further than the six picks the Redskins gave up for Robert Griffin III," ESPN concluded.

Paulsen's take on the Skins' ranking: "You've lost before the season starts."

However, while they are adapting to a new approach, the Redskins still seem quite committed to doing things the old fashion way while adopting Jeff Scott, the Redskins director of football strategy who still prescribes more to the "gut factor" than statistics, said before the NFL Draft the team's scouts and coaches aren't just picking based on numbers.

“They’re not picking anything based on numbers,” Scott said. “So I would never want to make a decision based on numbers. But to have another tool in your toolbox is always beneficial, and the earlier we can get that going, the better off we are.”

In an April interview with Redskins.com, senior vice president of player personnel Doug Williams explained why he is still a believer in the "old school" way of scouting.

"The numbers matter in some way, but I think when you’re watching players, numbers can’t pick players," Williams said. "It’s the scout and what their gut feeling is and what you think about that player and what that player can do at the end of the day. We can put all the numbers in, but the numbers don’t play. Players play, and you got to pick the players that do play.”

Danny Rouhier, who acknowledges the human element in sports is inescapable, counters that it is ridiculous for the Redskins to reject information because "players play."

"The point is: nobody is saying that numbers make plays," Rouhier said. "There's a tool, there's information. The Redskins said, 'No, thank you,' to the information." 

In reality, the Redskins have a long way to go when it comes to competing in the analytics arms race. 

"Hire ten more of these guys," Paulsen said speaking of Barringer. "'Cause here is what's gonna happen. This dude is gonna get into a room and with a bunch of dinosaurs like Doug Williams and they're gonna swallow him up. You need ten of these guys and one or two of the dudes who think that numbers don't matter."

"All I've ever asked is that you consider all the information. Scouts have a place, they should have a place, by the way," Rouhier said. "There is a combination that should happen. To ignore an entire piece of the pie, to ignore an entire dataset, that can tell you, 'Hey, when you run 1st-and-10 it sets up bad drives every single time.'"

"Why are we having all of these injuries? Data, data, data. Bring me data. What you do with it is up to you, if the guy doesn't do the right thing with the data, you get the next guy. These tools have been available to teams that have been kicking your ass, frankly for a couple of decades. You think it's an accident Philadelphia's really good all the time? Just a weird coincidence? 'Oh, they just pick better players than we do. Or it's the draft or they re-sign certain guys.' Listen to Howie Roseman speak at the Sloan (Sports) Analytics conference for 30 minutes and tell me that Doug and/or Bruce (Allen), if put in the same situation, would have a fraction of a milli-fraction of anything that he was talking about, of ability, of acumen," Rouhier said. 

(The full conversation between Grant & Danny about the Redskins begins at 3:00)

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