How technology enhanced NFL teams' player scouting at 2019 Senior Bowl


MOBILE, Ala. — Zebra Technologies, the people behind NFL Next Gen stats, collected data at the Senior Bowl practices for the second year in a row, and came up with some interesting information. 

You’ve seen the yellow halo around players in replays during NFL broadcasts. You’ve seen the skill-position player list above the ticker during games. That same technology revealed some standout performances at the Senior Bowl throughout the week.

For example, Mississippi State defensive end Montez Sweat made more waves than just beating his guy in one-on-ones. He was the fastest-recorded lineman on the first day of Senior Bowl practice, according to Zebra stats. His 19.3 mph topped the linemen and all linebackers, and would have ranked him ninth among the 17 defensive backs on Day 1.

Sweat’s performance is even more impressive when you take into account that he reached that speed in a 10- to 15-yard window, as opposed to the open field that a defensive back has to accelerate.

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Unfortunately, when practice was moved inside Wednesday because of inclement weather, Zebra couldn’t collect stats, as the facility has to be pre-fitted to track players even though their pads have the tracking devices already embedded in the shoulder area.

On Day 3, the fastest player on the North team was North Carolina State linebacker Germaine Pratt, who recorded a speed of 20.4 mph. Memphis running back Tony Pollard came in second at 20.1 mph, and Ohio State wide receiver Terry McLaurin was clocked at 19.6 mph.

The South team had South Carolina standout wide receiver Deebo Samuel with the top speed of 20.8 mph. Miami defensive back Jaquan Johnson ranked second with 20.0 mph, and Temple defensive back Rock Ya-Sin rounded out the group at 19.9.

Every ball used at the Senior Bowl, as in the NFL, is embedded with a tracking device that records its velocity and rotation. West Virginia quarterback Will Grier recorded the fastest pass at 66 mph. Buffalo quarterback Tyree Jackson threw the ball with the most spin, at 852 rotations per minute.

To put those numbers in perspective, Baker Mayfield’s top rotation at last year’s Senior Bowl was 674 rpm and 65.7 mph, and Josh Allen’s was 710 rpm and 66.1 mph.

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While those might not be the best conditions for a receiver to make a catch, it does show the quarterbackarm stre's ngth. They obviously also need to have touch and placement on a ball to be successful.

Scouts also can evaluate kickers with the help of Zebra Technologies, which can accurately measure the hang time, distance and height of each kick and punt. 

Not only does this data give scouts an idea of the players' peak performances, it can give them insights to their conditioning level. Because a player’s speed is recorded on every route throughout a practice and game, personnel evaluators can see at what rate their speed decreases over that time period.

While this information cannot take the place of scouts' eyeball tests, it already has proven to be very useful and valuable in evaluating current and future players.

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