How a Tech Company Can Influence the NFL Draft
Courtesy of FanGraphs
When the 2015 NFL Draft kicks off tonight in Chicago, Michael Weinstein’s technology and analysis will serve as one of many measurements, scores and notes front offices will consider when selecting the future of their franchise.
Weinstein founded and owns Colorado-based Zybek Sports and five years ago began working as a backup timer in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. For the first time this year, the NFL Network utilized Zybek’s laser sensors and computer set up in its broadcast and displayed the automatic time of the 40-yard dash, along with 10-yard split times, on screen during the race to produce instant results for viewers. Weinstein’s the man in the red jacket at the first table in every YouTube clip of the 40-yard dash from this year’s combine. His times are unofficial, however, as the NFL continues to use a hand start electronic-finish method for official scores.
He also developed what he calls a Power Index, an evaluation metric used to allow cross-position and cross-sport comparisons based on athlete power output. It measures his 40-yard dash times and the official results of the the vertical jump, shuttle, three-cone drill and the broad jump. Weinstein said coaches always talk about explosive power. But there isn’t a good definition or measurement of it. So he took the same methodology as the power-to-weight ratio used to calculate sports cars and applied it to all the tests. The athlete’s weight and combine scores are calculated to determine the final score, with a max possible score on each drill of 100. So if a running back that weighs 215 pounds makes the same time on the three-cone drill as a 315-pound lineman, because of the lineman’s additional weight and ability to run the same time, he earns the higher score on the Power Index.
“This is better to look at in terms of power,” Weinstein said. “You can compare different styles and body shapes. It’s the basis for science behind performance.”
The 40-yard dash has been a staple measurement for years that can shoot or drop a draft prospect following the combine. Accurate times are essential. Meanwhile, the ability to quantify raw atheltic ability in the form of the Power Index helps paint a picture for scouts and coaches that they can use differentiate the talent under review.
Last year, the first overall pick Jadeveon Clowney scored the highest on Weinstein’s Power Index with a score of 444. From February’s combine, defensive end Frank Clark out of Michigan led all athletes with a 452 score. Tied for second with 447 were three more defensive players: Vic Beasley (Clemson), Owamagbe Odighizuwa (UCLA) and Preston Smith (Mississippi State).
For those wondering, Brett Hundley (UCLA) edged Marcus Mariota (Oregon) amongst quarterbacks, 410 to 408. Jameis Winston, the projected number one pick out of Florida State, finished ninth in the quarterback group.
It’s worth noting that Weinstein, who has a mechanical engineering degree from Colorado State, does not include the bench press in his results.
“The test isn’t applicable,” Weinstein said. “But what do I know. I didn’t even know who John Fox was.”
And he didn’t. Three years ago, stuck in the middle seat after missing his original flight heading home, he chatted with Fox. Fox, now the head coach of the Chicago Bears, and at the time, the Denver Broncos – the beloved team in Weinstein’s home state – had to introduce himself.
“He’s the nicest guy ever,” Weinstein said.
Rather than the bench press, Weinstein prefers one push up as hard and as fast as an athlete can muster. A pad measures the force put in to the earth, the rate of force development and the rate of change of acceleration. It determines how you can accelerate your acceleration.
Zybek Sports began as an off shoot from Zybek Advanced Products four years ago when Weinstein decided to push forward in a market place he saw as wide open. There was a need for accurate but affordable equipment used to measure athletic performance. Eight years ago the Olympic Training Center approached Weinstein at his Zybek Advanced Products site to develop a better way to measure the vertical jump and 40-yard dash. NASA picked Weinstein about six years ago to make a lunar stimulant so it could test anything it might send to the moon.
Today, other than working for the NFL, Weinstein takes his equipment to college pro days, high school and youth football camps and he’s copied his model to other sports, including basketball, lacrosse, soccer and softball. In the last 35 days, while working with rivals.com, he’s ran 6,700 tests on high school football players. His goal is to standardize athletic tests, which don’t have any procedures, guidelines or protocols and often include hand-timed scores, which deceive kids with unrealistic, biased numbers. In his research, timing can vary up to .205 seconds on a 40-yard dash. A five-second 40 could mean a lot to a high school athlete telling college coaches he ran a 4.8.
Will Weinstein watch the draft?
“Probably not,” he said. “I didn’t even watch the Super Bowl.”