Pro Football Focus has become an invaluable resource for football fans and talent evaluators.  The website has produced authoritative rankings and grades for players that provide fantastic insights into the game of football.  And unlike most media conglomerates that only focus on superstar players or quarterbacks and skill players, Pro Football Focus goes the extra mile in grading every player.

PFF’s success isn’t quite in line with the rise in sabermetrics in other sports, but it does represent the evolution of NFL analytics.  The site boasts its unique ability to grade every player on every play in every game.  PFF’s greatest asset is being able to tell you with some degree of certainty whether your left guard or right tackle is really the weak link on your offensive line.

In this morning’s Monday Morning Quarterback, Peter King forwards a very interesting story involving PFF and one of the NFL’s most well-known analysts.  According to King, Cris Collinsworth was so impressed by Pro Football Focus that he didn’t just become a subscriber – he became a part-owner.

So this spring, Collinsworth was looking to improve his data collection, and signed up for an annual insider’s subscription to PFF. The free part of the site looked real, but he wanted to know more, and so he filled in the email contact form asking for someone to get back to him. Hornsby, with his thick English accent, phoned up. “I thought I’d been scammed,’’ Collinsworth said. “So I figured I would ask him a bunch of questions, you know, to expose him … and after about five minutes, I could tell he was absolutely legit, so I just shut up and listened to Neil talk about football at a very high level.” 

At first, Collinsworth said he wanted to simply get to know more about all 32 teams without having to do the kind of film study and painstaking research that would take a couple of days at least—in his words, “to be in position Monday morning to know what would normally take me till Tuesday night to know.’’ Collinsworth said he was actually thinking of engaging some people to watch NFL tape and grade it for him until he realized PFF already did it, and did it accurately. So last week, he reached agreement with Horsnby to buy a significant stake in the company. Hornsby and his crew of 12 full-time graders continue, and Collinsworth will use his influence to help grow the company and seek out new business for it.

There was one final test for Collinsworth. He and Hornsby separately graded a game. When they compared notes, their grades were very close. “And when we went back over them,’’ Collinsworth said, “I’d say on 50 percent of the discrepancies, they were right and I was wrong.”

The deal came together in a couple of months this summer, culminating last week. “What really impressed me,’’ said Collinsworth, “is the fact that 13 NFL teams have contracted with Pro Football Focus for their data. I mean, I have been around the NFL for over 30 years, I know how hard it is to get behind the wall of those teams. And they’ve got 13 teams to trust their data. That’s huge.’’

Collinsworth has already referenced his new partnership with Pro Football Focus a couple of times on Twitter this offseason….

This is a fascinating example of what some might consider “old” and “new” media coming together.  Credit to Collinsworth for expanding his appetite for new statistics and continuing pursue a deeper understanding of the game.  He’s the best analyst on television already without a PFF subscription, but this shows that he’s still wanting to improve.

For Pro Football Focus, it represents an opportunity to grow their brand even more.  If a network (like NBC) was smart, a more advanced partnership would be a great idea to make PFF’s unique grades a more substantial part of their broadcasts.  These advanced stats and detailed grading can bring a much needed dimension to the tired pregame show formula.

[Monday Morning Quarterback]

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