Future of NFL Statistics is Now

By Charlie Karlen

The NFL strives to be the best in everything they do. The NFL is without a doubt the most popular sports league in the world and that will likely never change. Whether it is in total revenue, popularity, or statistical analysis, the NFL dominates in every category. This has been the story for many years now, however something that’s new is a futuristic way of capturing statistics.

The NFL integrated a new technology this season called Next Gen Stats. The concept is gaining popularity every week and has the feel of something you would see in a video game. You may have seen it being used on Monday Night Football or talked about during pregame and postgame shows. According to the Next Gen Stats webpage on NFL.com, “Next Gen Stats captures real time location data, speed and acceleration for every player, every play on every inch of the field.” They have special computer chips called RFID chips that they put on players’ shoulder pads. Those computer chips communicate with other RFID chips that are placed throughout the stadium. These sensors track and chart individual movements of NFL players within inches. If someone was curious about the speed a certain player reached on a punt return or a long touchdown run, they could use this app to determine that. Not only does it record the speed of a player but also the distance and direction that a player moves down the field on their way to the end zone – and much more. 

The categories on the offensive side of the football that this new-age statistical model captures are Average Time to Throw for a quarterback, Average Air Distance for a quarterback’s throw, Fastest Ball Carriers, and Longest Plays. The categories on defense captured by the app are Time to Sack, or the measuring of time it takes a player to make a sack, and Longest Tackle or distance traveled (in yards) to make a tackle.

You might be asking how this applies to Chiefs fans who are reading this, or which players are at the top of each of these statistical categories. You would be surprised how many Chiefs are on these lists. The top two quarterbacks in Average Time to Throw are Nick Foles and Alex Smith, obviously both Kansas City quarterbacks. Nick Foles leads this category at 2.36 seconds to get the ball out of his hands. Alex Smith is right behind him at 2.37 seconds. This category measures the time from the moment the ball is snapped to the moment the ball leaves the passer’s hands. So, quarterbacks who stay in the pocket and get rid of it quickly by throwing shorts passes, like Alex Smith, are favored in this category. Quarterbacks like Russell Wilson, Cam Newton or Aaron Rodgers who tend to leave the pocket to find receivers downfield are lower on the list.

The other statistic for quarterbacks is Air Distance which measures the distance the ball travels from the point of release to the point of reception. With this statistic, quarterbacks with strong arms and trustworthy wide receivers are higher on the list. Cam Newton leads the list, with Kirk Cousins, Marcus Mariota, and Aaron Rodgers also showing up in the top 10.

The Next Gen Statistics that apply to the Chiefs the most and that are arguably the most exciting, are Fastest Ball Carriers and Longest Plays. The Fastest Ball Carriers stat is pretty self-explanatory and features the same player in the top two ranks: Tyreek Hill. Unfortunately, the top play in this statistic is Tyreek Hill’s kickoff return for a touchdown that was called back due to a holding penalty against the Houston Texans. He reached a top speed on that play of 23.24 mph and covered 139.37 yards on the play. We all remember how excited we were when we saw that happen and realized the potential possessed by this rookie back in week two. Number 2 on the list though was Tyreek Hill’s safety punt return that he took 86 yards for a touchdown, with no flags on the play, against the Broncos in week 12. Yes, this was the play that Tyreek Hill burned every Bronco player and high fived teammate De’Anthony Thomas before running it into the end zone. Hill reached a top speed of 22.77 mph and traveled a total of 122.24 yards on one of the most exciting plays of the season.

The other exciting Next Gen Stat that also applies to the Chiefs the most is Longest Plays. Three Chiefs plays round out the top 5, and you can probably guess who has at least one of them. Odell Beckham Jr. owns the top spot on this list, but like the Fastest Ball Carriers stat, it was a play that did not stand due to a penalty. Beckham Jr. returned a punt for a touchdown in week 15 and covered a total distance of 141.43 yards against the Lions. Tyreek Hill owns the 2nd spot on this list, again with his kickoff return that was called back against the Texans in week 2, covering 139.37 yards on the play. The number 3 spot on the list is owned by Daniel Sorensen when he recovered a fumble in the end zone against the Titans in week 15 and returned it the KC 47-yard line, covering a distance of 136.28 yards on the play. Since this play was not called back by a penalty, it is deserving of the top spot on the list.

The last two categories on the Next Gen Statistics database are Fastest Sack and Longest Tackle. You would expect Justin Houston or Von Miller to be at the top of Fastest Sack, but neither even make the list. Cam Johnson for the Browns has the top spot when he sacked Kirk Cousins in week 4, making the sack in 1.8 seconds. Desmond Trufant earned the number 2 spot on the list when he sacked Russell Wilson in week 6, tackling him in the backfield in 2 seconds. Seahawks defensive end Cliff Avril is number 3 after sacking Ryan Fitzpatrick in week 4 in 2.1 seconds. Obviously this depends on the speed and skill of the pass rusher against the offensive lineman and highlights defenders with some of the best instincts in the NFL.

The final Next Gen Statistical category is Longest Tackle, or the distance covered by a player to make the tackle. Andrew Sendejo with the Vikings is number 1 on the list when he covered 102.3 yards to make the tackle on a 67-yard pass play from Eli Manning and the Giants. Travis Benjamin owns the number 2 spot when he covered 86.02 yards to make the tackle on Sean Smith after a Phillip Rivers interception. Chris Conley for the Chiefs has the number 4 spot when he covered 84.41 yards in week 2 against the Texans on a Spencer Ware fumble that would have likely lead to a touchdown if Conley did not hustle downfield to make the play.

This new technology and statistical model and will only improve from here. Many Chiefs made the list so it is quite relevant to the playoff-bound team wrapping up the regular season in San Diego on Sunday.