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.

In Jalen Ramsey trade, 49ers should be willing to do whatever it takes

In Jalen Ramsey trade, 49ers should be willing to do whatever it takes

The 49ers had an offensive breakthrough in Week 2. Now, an opportunity for a defensive one has presented itself.

While San Francisco was laying waste to the Bengals, the Jaguars were getting frustrated in a close divisional loss to the Texans. That frustration boiled over in a sideline exchange between Jacksonville head coach Doug Marrone and Pro Bowl cornerback Jalen Ramsey, in which both men had to be separated. The emotions haven't died down in the aftermath, apparently, as Ramsey reportedly requested a trade Monday.

ESPN's Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen were the first to report the trade demand, citing Ramsey's agent, David Mulugheta. According to Schefter, the Jaguars are already looking into trading their talented defensive back, and are seeking significant draft compensation in return.

Now, 49ers. Now is the time to act.

Just like Minkah Fitzpatrick, who similarly recently requested a trade from the dumpster fire that is the Miami Dolphins, San Francisco should be willing to do whatever it takes to put Ramsey in a 49ers uniform.

For starters, Ramsey is arguably the best cornerback in all of football. If he isn't the best, he's near the top of the list. In his three-plus seasons in the NFL, he's started all 50 games, made two Pro Bowls and has been named a First-Team All-Pro. He'll turn 25 years old in October, and at 6-1, 208 lbs with a 4.41 40-yard dash and 41.5-inch vertical, he's a perfect fit for San Francisco's defensive system. Pro Football Focus ranked him as the second-best cornerback in the NFL entering the current season.

A first-round pick (and additional filler) is well worth it to acquire a player of Ramsey's ilk, particularly given San Francisco's current trajectory. At 2-0 with a beat-up Steelers team coming into town, the 49ers look as if they'll be in playoff contention this season. Whether or not they end their playoff drought, you can expect their own 2020 first-round draft pick to fall in the late teens at best, if not the 20s. As such, Ramsey -- and Fitzpatrick, for that matter -- are far superior talents to whichever prospect would be available to San Francisco at that selection. Both Ramsey (24) and Fitzpatrick (22) are proven commodities, and just a couple years older -- at most -- than whoever they would pick in the first round next April.

And yes, the 49ers already are without their 2020 second-round pick, given away in the trade to acquire Dee Ford. But, again, odds are that Ramsey will have a significantly better career than anyone they'll find on the first two days of the draft. San Francisco doesn't want its draft cupboards to be bare, but there are ways to add additional picks in the later rounds. Not to mention, it's not as if the 49ers have been crushing it with their recent first-round draft selections.

Now, you may be saying that while Ramsey is worth a first-round pick, the 49ers simply don't need him, given they have Richard Sherman locking down one side, and Ahkello Witherspoon looking strong through the first two games of the season. Need I remind you, however, that Witherspoon looked extremely shaky last season, even being benched at times, and while he has looked improved, his best highlight is an interception returned for a touchdown that was thrown directly to him.

Simply put, the 49ers can't be sure that Witherspoon will come anywhere close to Ramsey's level. They brought in Jason Verrett to compete with Witherspoon in training camp, and while the third-year cornerback won that battle, Verrett was inactive against the Bengals, so maybe that competition wasn't as heated as initially expected. And, even if Witherspoon did bloom into a lockdown cornerback a la Ramsey, San Francisco would soon have to pay him a boatload once his rookie contract concludes at the end of next season. Meanwhile, Sherman will turn 32 in March, and is less than two years removed from a torn Achilles.

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Now, 49ers. Now is the time to act.

Kyle Shanahan, 49ers getting ready to face Mason Rudolph-led Steelers

Kyle Shanahan, 49ers getting ready to face Mason Rudolph-led Steelers

Ben Roethlisberger ranks in the top 10 all-time of some of the most significant NFL passing statistics.

The Steelers (0-2) will visit Levi’s Stadium with Mason Rudolph at quarterback on Sunday to face the 49ers (2-0), who will be looking to open unbeaten after three games for the first time since 1998.

Roethlisberger will not be in uniform against the 49ers on Sunday after requiring season-ending elbow surgery. Coach Kyle Shanahan said he and his coaches were in the early stages of preparing to face the Roethlisberger-less Steelers when he met with the media on Monday afternoon in Santa Clara.

“Any time they don’t have Ben, that’s a huge deal,” Shanahan said. “Ben’s one of the best quarterbacks of our generation, so I know it’s got to be huge blow for them. But I know Rudolph will be ready. He’ll step in. They’ve always had a good scheme. They know what they’re doing. They got some other players out there, too.

“It’s still the NFL. It’s going to be a very tough game, but any time you lose a guy like Ben Roethlisberger . . . everyone knows how good he is, and I still think he’s underrated, so that’s a big blow for them.”

Roethlisberger ranks sixth all-time with 56,545 passing yards; seventh in touchdowns (363) and completions (4,651); and tied for ninth in career yards per pass attempt (7.8). He has earned six trips to the Pro Bowl and is a two-time Super Bowl champion.

The Steelers led Seattle 10-7 at halftime at the point Roethlisberger left the game with the injury. Rudolph played the entire second half and completed 12 of 19 pass attempts for 112 yards with two touchdowns and one interception in his first NFL appearance.

The Steelers selected Rudolph (6-foot-5, 235 pounds) in the third round of the 2018 draft with the No. 76 overall selection. Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen  , Josh Rosen, Lamar Jackson – all chosen in the first round – were the only quarterbacks drafted ahead of Rudolph.

Rudolph was inactive for every game last season, as the Steelers went with Joshua Dobbs as the backup quarterback last season.

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Rudolph won the backup job over Dobbs to open this season, and the Steelers traded Dobbs last week to Jacksonville for a fifth-round pick in the 2020 draft.

On Monday, the Steelers placed Ben Roethlisberger on injured reserve and promoted rookie quarterback Devlin Hodges from the practice squad to serve as Rudolph’s backup. Hodges originally signed with the Steelers as an undrafted free agent from Samford.