We missed an interesting article last week: The MMQB’s Albert Breer summarized every NFL team’s view of what is now called analytics (AKA data-driven decision-making), and his bit on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is particularly interesting, painting a picture of a personnel department that’s incorporating a lot of data-driven analysis in their decision-making.
GM Jason Licht has come to see great value in analytics, and a few years back plucked Tyler Oberly from the Sloan Analytics Conference—where Oberly was up for an Evolution of Sport award. Since, the Bucs have given Oberly staff to work with. And while the Bucs remain primarily reliant on traditional scouting, the environment Licht and Co. have fostered in Tampa has led to interplay between the sides that benefits everyone. One example? The “Ghost List” that Oberly’s staff comes up with each spring that’s comprised of under-the-radar draft prospects. On the coaching side, Dirk Koetter is still a traditionalist but has been open to the change.
Tyler Oberly’s been on staff for years now, and we’ve written about his work before, but what’s new here is the supporting staff and the “ghost list”. More money and people on analytics is probably a good thing, though the fact that it’s separate
That said, Oberly’s work never struck me as being particularly innovative. He developed a statistic to model players’ performance, but it’s a fairly basic model that just stuffs together a bunch of traditional stats and distills one number from them. His work on combine numbers was a little more interesting, but that didn’t go much deeper than “Pro Bowl players at this position have arms of this length”.
If you’re going to look for distinctive statistical aspects of any group of players you’ll find them, but that doesn’t necessarily make them meaningful: splits happen. Nothing I’ve seen of Oberly’s work makes me think he’s done much to combat that problem—but then, there’s much of Oberly’s work I haven’t seen. I don’t want to disparage it too much, because there’s a lot we’re not privy too, honestly.
All of that is a little beside the point, because there’s not that much evidence that the Bucs let analytics guide much of anything they do. Dirk Koetter has made some vague noises about maybe looking at the numbers sometimes, but his in-game coaching doesn’t show it. Jason Licht likes athletic players, but that could be driven by analytics or just old-school sensibilities.
In the end it’s impossible to say to what extent analytics actually drive the Bucs’ decision-making process. And there’s one big reason to think they don’t: Licht’s continued and repeated insistence that players don’t bust because of talent, but because of character—and if there’s one thing that analytics still can’t get a hold of, it’s how a player works, mentally.