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


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.

49ers arrive in Miami ahead of Super Bowl 54 matchup against Chiefs

49ers arrive in Miami ahead of Super Bowl 54 matchup against Chiefs

The party is just getting started.

After a week of practice and preparation, the 49ers departed the Bay Area for Miami on Sunday.

The NFC champions touched down in Florida around 7 p.m. ET to a hero's welcome.

As you can imagine, the players were pretty hyped about their arrival in Miami.

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The 49ers have eight players with prior Super Bowl experience, so this is a new feeling for most of the team.

Both the 49ers and Chiefs will spend the upcoming week putting the final touches on their game plans, and then they will meet on the field Sunday, Feb. 2 at Hard Rock Stadium.

For now, though, the players can enjoy the achievement of reaching the pinnacle of their sport.

Jed York reflects on 49ers' Jimmy Garoppolo trade before Super Bowl 54

Jed York reflects on 49ers' Jimmy Garoppolo trade before Super Bowl 54

SANTA CLARA -- 49ers CEO Jed York in 2017 was looking for an offensive-minded head coach who could get the most out of his quarterback.

But when the 49ers hired coach Kyle Shanahan, the organization did not have any quarterbacks under contract at the time free agency began.

General manager John Lynch and Shanahan informed Colin Kaepernick he did not fit the team’s offensive plan and would be released, so Kaepernick opted out of his contract. The 49ers had no interest in re-signing Blaine Gabbert, either.

Instead, the 49ers signed Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley at the start of free agency. C.J. Beathard was drafted, and Nick Mullens signed as an undrafted rookie.

But the 49ers did not add the quarterback they knew would be their answer until the middle of the 2017 season when New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick offered QB Jimmy Garoppolo to the 49ers for just a second-round draft pick.

“When we made the trade in the middle of the season, Kyle was probably the most conservative with it,” York said. “Everybody from Mandy Shanahan (Kyle’s wife) to all our fans were ready for him to start Day 1.

“But we had to make sure that we did it the right way. And we didn’t do something just because it was going to get the fans fired up. We wanted to put Jimmy in the right situation to be successful.”

York said Shanahan told Garoppolo he might not take a snap in a game for the rest of the season, as Garoppolo had to learn at least the basics of the offense. Shanahan told Garoppolo that he was not on an audition.

Garoppolo was scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, and the club was going to, at least, put the franchise tag on him for more than $23 million to keep him around for the 2018 season.

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Garoppolo got his first chance to start in Week 13, and it began a remarkable stretch of success for the 49ers. The club began the season 0-9, and after five consecutive victories with Garoppolo as the starter to finish the season, the 49ers finished at 6-10.

Five weeks later, York signed off on a five-year, $137.5 million contract for Garoppolo. The 49ers got little return on that investment in 2018 when Garoppolo sustained a torn ACL in Week 3.

This season, Garoppolo flourished as a starter in all 18 games en route to Super Bowl LIV against the Kansas City Chiefs next Sunday in Miami.

Garoppolo earned immediate trust and confidence from his teammates and the entire organization since his arrival in Santa Clara, and he has done nothing to give anyone in the organization reasons to doubt him ever since.

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“If you don’t have a quarterback who can win in big games and big moments, it’s really, really hard to get to this point,” York said. “And Jimmy, obviously, exceeded any expectations in those games that you could ever ask for a player coming into an organization.

“And he’s continued to improve, he’s continued to work, he’s continued to get better. If you don’t have a quarterback, to me, you just don’t have a chance. It was a must.”