Vikings increase analytics in scouting

The Vikings are employing more analytics with their predraft evaluations in several areas.

The Minnesota Vikings “took the next step” with incorporating the complex marriage of analytics and old-fashioned scouting with their predraft process.

Analytics have been a growing piece of the NFL in the last several years, but this year the Vikings hired an outside consultant to help with honing evaluations, rankings and determining value on their draft board.

General manager Rick Spielman said he didn’t want to get into specifics because of his belief that the organization is doing “unique” work in that area, but he also stressed that scouting and a player’s tape take precedence over the numbers-crunching.

“It’s something that we just finished up. They’ve done a great job,” Spielman said of the staffers and consultants working on the analytical part of scouting. “We’ve looked at the drafts over the last five or six years. It entailed all the players that are currently in the NFL and it entailed a lot of the data that we have collected in numerous areas and kind of came up with just different things … it’s more used for breaking ties.”

The way Spielman organizes his draft board is to assign grades to players based on what he and his scouting staff believe the player will be after a few years in the NFL. They don’t necessarily assign specific rounds in which they value players, but no two players at the same position are supposed to have the same grade after all factors are taken into consideration – talent, character, scheme fits and numerous other areas considered in assembling grades.

Even so, players from different positions can have the same grade, creating intense discussions among those involved on who would be the better pick if multiple players with the same grade are available when the Vikings’ turn to draft arrives.

“We’ve had multiple discussions on three or four guys at a position that are clunked in. I’ve got eight different opinions on those guys, the analytics will kind of tie in and help break those ties a little bit potentially,” Spielman said. “You’re always going to go back and go what you know on the tape, and you’re always going to make the decisions based on your experience and your gut.”

Last year, however, Spielman said the analytics helped lead the Vikings to draft running back Jerick McKinnon in the third round. While he wasn’t expected to be an every-down back with Adrian Peterson on the roster when the Vikings drafted McKinnon, after Peterson’s legal troubles and Matt Asiata’s attempts to replace Peterson, the Vikings turned to McKinnon.

Although he was only used regularly for eight games, McKinnon finished the season with 538 yards rushing on 113 carries (an 4.8-yard average).

“That’s a whole different set of analytics. We’ve got analytics on how far you trade back and forth on the board,” Spielman said. “We’ve got analytics on the players and all the different things we’ve collected there. We’ve got analytics on the successes of positions and where you have to take those. That’s all part of it. Analytics has become a lot more significant part of this than it has been in the past.”

In a high-stakes game where the teams that draft best are usually the ones with the sustainable success, general managers are looking for every edge they can get. Spielman, who has been one of the driving forces on information overload on players, called the increased use of analytics “another tool” yet far from the only tool, but it’s clear it’s becoming a bigger player in the evaluation of players.

“I think it does have some value. It’s not the be-all, end-all,” Spielman said, “but it’s another tool that the more and more that we use it, and the more it evolves each year, it’s becoming a pretty good tool for us.”

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