I love to read. This will be the third year in a row I have read (or listened to on Audible for you actual book reading purists) over 50 books in a calendar year. I especially like to dive into books on football and coaching. When I first got into coaching, one book in particular kept coming to my attention, Bill Walsh’s Finding the Winning Edge. It is currently out of print, but luckily I was able to grab one before it went to over $500 on Amazon (I somehow got a signed copy too). This is the Bible of coaching fundamentals, and I was excited to dive in as a young coach.
Walsh goes in depth into so many different categories: constructing a staff, preparing a winning game plan, schematics of plays, and much more. But one thing that stuck out to me then, and has always been in the back of my mind since I read it, is how he talked about roster construction:
“Without question, one of the primary factors affecting success in the National Football League is having talented players. While acquiring those players is a multifaceted issue that every team addresses in its own way…the most important step in securing the players a team needs is evaluating the available talent pool.
Several factors have resulted in even higher value being placed on the ability to evaluate and assimilate talent into the organization, including the advent of the salary cap and free agency…In addition, free agency has also affected the need for a team to have a systematic process for evaluating the players who are already on its roster.
Each team has its own criteria and procedures for evaluating players…In the final analysis, one critical question must be answered: “Can this individual make a meaningful contribution to the team?”
There are so many nuggets in this chapter, and even more that I wasn’t able to include (if you’ve got an extra $500, or can hopefully find a much cheaper version of the book, grab it. Seriously, so good!!). We just released two new tools at StatsBomb that directly help teams and recruiting departments at all levels accomplish Walsh’s primary goals and directives here: player scout and player comparison.
In Finding the Winning Edge (FtWE from here on out), Walsh creates size archetypes for each position. A Wide Receiver's ideal size is 6’3”, 210 pounds (It’s nice to know that I am somebody's ideal size!). Offensive Tackle: 6’4, 310 pounds. MLB: 6’2.5”, 250 pounds. And my personal favorite, halfback: Large enough to take punishment and retain stamina. Seriously. These sizes are almost 30 years old now, but the idea of size archetypes has continued to today. Every recruiting department in the country has “ideal measurements'' for each position on the team. Player Scout takes this idea of archetypes and takes it to the next level.
Player Scout allows a user to set any number of filters and returns a list of players that meet that criteria. This includes player bio information such as height and weight, hometown/state/high school, and recruiting information like recruiting rankings, schools offering, and colleges attended. But there’s more!
As is the case with our dual radars, there are traits about how a player plays a position, and then the production of what actually happens on the field. With Player Scout, you can add any of our extensive list of player metrics: EPA/play, Completion Percentage Over Expected (CPOE), Average Length of Engagement (ALOE), and much more.
Let’s use Player Scout to look for a QB from the 2023 season that would make Bill Walsh proud. First, the measurables: 6’3”, 210 pounds. This gives us a list of 151 players that played in FBS.
Next, the performance on the field. Again from FtWE “Good passing involves accuracy, timing, and throwing a ball with enough touch so that it is catchable.” These all go into our CPOE metric, so we can add that as a criteria to further cut down our list. Using a 75th percentile or higher cutoff, our list was significantly cut down. We are now only at 36 players.
The next thing from FtWE is the ability to throw the “complete inventory” of passes. Let’s add short, medium, and deep target %, and set a threshold for each to make sure our list of Quarterbacks hits targets at multiple depths on the field. And now we’re down to 6!
Finishing up with one of the last things Walsh talked about: the ability to avoid a pass rush. For this, we can use sack percentage. Adding this to our list of metrics brings us down to two quarterbacks: Michael Penix Jr. and Tyler Van Dyke. Michael Penix Jr won the Maxwell award last week, but he can now add the potentially more prestigious title of 2024 NFL Draft Prototypical Bill Walsh QB to his list of awards.
It’s as easy as that! Within minutes we are able to set up an archetype, find a list of potential players that fit that archetype, and save the criteria so we can have this populate live as the season progresses. The data is also live with transfer portal updates, so teams can use this to cut down the list of hundreds of potential players to target only the players that fit what they are looking for. I repeat, transfer portal information is built into the tool. The future of college football recruiting is clearer when teams use Player Scout.
Player Scout almost deserves an entire article by itself, but we were able to put out another tool that is just as awesome! Player comparison is here, and it is potentially even cooler than Player Scout!! The player comparison tool does exactly what it sounds like it does, it helps users compare players and find players that are similar. Let’s dive into how that works!
Looking back into FtWE, Coach Walsh had the size archetype for each position that we discussed above. He also listed the Pro Bowl players for that position as a standard to shoot for. Most personnel departments have something similar. This could be an alumni who played in the NFL or was an All American player. It could be a good player that played for the coach at a previous school. However it is chosen, there are examples of a player that these departments are comparing future recruits to.
There are two other examples that are easy use cases for the player comparison tool. First, replacing a key player that is moving on from your team either through the transfer portal, or to the NFL. Second, there is a key missing player on your team that will help get you to the next level. Let’s start with the first example.
For the first example, let’s take a look at the Washington Huskies. The Huskies have had a great season. Michael Penix Jr was the Maxwell award winner and Heisman runner up. Rome Odunze was a Biletnikoff finalist. And Washington finished with the top passing offense in the country. Next step, replacing departing NFL talent. As mentioned earlier, Rome Odunze was a Biletnikoff finalist, and one of the top WR in the country. Let’s see how this tool would help Washington find a replacement in the transfer portal.
One of the first things I do when I see someone has entered the transfer portal is check out their player comparison page. I’m always interested to see what players they are similar to. One player that was in the transfer portal this year was Notre Dame WR Tobias Merriweather. Looking at his similar players page, using 75%/25% performance/traits split, Merriweather’s #2 and #3 most similar players are Ja’Lynn Polk and Rome Odunze. 247 has Merriweather crystal balled to Washington (as of Tuesday morning), as Washington is looking for a quick reload at the WR position.
The other use case is a team that is looking for a missing player, maybe they are set at every position, but missing that QB to take them to the next level. Or, they are a dominant pass rusher away from a great defense. Texas took major strides forward this year on defense. They were especially great against the run (3rd in EPA / rush against). They struggled getting pressure on the QB, especially from the Edge. UCLA’s Laiatu Latu was 1st team All American at Edge, and one of the best pass rushers in the country. Using him as a model, and utilizing the transfer portal tool, Texas would be able to look at the top potential targets that were similar to Latu. Florida’s Princely Umanmielen is the most similar with a few smaller school targets as well. Currently 247 has UTSA Edge Trey Moore crystal balled to Texas, but the Longhorns are sure to have a few other targets on their board as well.
Recruiting is the life blood of a college football team. It is quite literally a multi million dollar business. NIL deals, official visits, coaches visiting, recruiting staffs, and the list goes on and on. The amount spent on trying to put together the best team on the field is staggering. StatsBomb tools can help get helpful information in front of decision makers faster, and more efficiently. I love these tools so much, and so have the teams that are using them!