Over the past couple years, Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman has adopted the idea of using analytics to help make decisions on players the team should draft. It’s a fairly common practice throughout all sports and its practices were even made into the movie “Money Ball,” which showed how the Oakland Athletics GM used analytics to put together a playoff team.
While Spielman may not have relied that heavily on the usage of analytics in the past, it is becoming a key component of their predraft process. Spielman emphasized that analytics are not the final say in the process, but more like a tool the team can use to help separate one player from another.
“It’s just another tool you use to hopefully help you make good decisions. That took another step forward this year on the evolution of what we’re doing,” he said. “This is a part of it, but I think there are five or six other areas we add into that analytics. Guys a lot smarter than me came up with 17 different algorithms on how to spin these guys through, to punch out. Basically, we’re using it to the point now where it doesn’t determine where they land on our draft board. Where it really comes into play is if you have two guys in a specific area of your draft board, and maybe that will help break the tie.”
In the past two drafts, analytics have helped the Vikings select players that have been able to step in quickly and perform at a high level. In 2014, analytics helped the team decide to draft running back Jerick McKinnon and then a year ago it helped in selecting defensive end Danielle Hunter. Both players have been able to contribute in big ways early in their career and that is a big reason as to why the Vikings continue to use this process.
If they tried it out for a year or two and it didn’t yield any results, Spielman said he would have thrown it to the side and tried something else. But the fact that they have found success on multiple occasions using this approach indicates they must be doing something right.
At the end of the day, though, the thing that Spielman still trusts more than anything is his gut. He is the one that has the final say in the war room on draft day, so if he is not comfortable with something, even if the analytics say nothing but positive things, he likely will move in another direction.
“It’s always going to come down to your gut instinct because you can use a tool for this, you can use a tool for that,” he said. “Just like I listen to the coaches, I listen to the scouts’ opinions. I listen to myself. I listen to the doctors, to the psychologists, to the analytics guys. But in the end, ultimately, it’s my job to make that final decision and I’m always going to go based off what I feel. It’s always going to come down to that, it won’t change.”
While analytics is still just a tool the Vikings use in evaluating players, it is clear that it is making an impact. It has assisted in the selection of multiple players on the Vikings roster and it appears as though analytics will be sticking around the Vikings front office for years to come.