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Statistics in football

This content is provided by the 49ers Museum Education Program.


There are various ways that math governs the game of football. You see mathematical formulas behind the physics of motion and force in the game, it is present in the geometry involved in the football’s trajectory (pathway or direction when its passed), in the biometrics (human characteristics) behind player performance, within the statistics of wins vs. losses, and even in a team's performance trends in practice. Every pass or run in the game of football involves math and creates a statistic based on averages (information that shows a regular pattern of performance). The ways that the players move and how the plays are called all rest on mathematical principles.

Defining statistics and its importance

Football is a game of numbers, and the study of statistics is essential for analyzing and understanding the game. Statistics is an area of math where numbers are collected and sorted. The way that numbers are sorted can be used to measure success or predict future results. Statistical data (information) plays an important role in our world today, and is involved with a variety of fields like sales, banking, medical research, and especially sports.
Statistics allows us to extract real meaning and results from our experiences, and the ability to understand statistics and how it works is crucial for you to become an informed member of our society. By actively designing ways to collect and understand information, statistics gives you the tools to be able make informed decisions for your future.

Statistics in the game

Statistics are used to analyze important information in the game of football, such as the number of touchdown passes a quarterback throws, a running back’s total rushing yards, or how many tackles a defensive lineman makes.
For fans, statistics can help analyze how their favorite players and teams are doing. From a player's standpoint, statistics can help them understand their individual strengths and areas where they may need improvement. The way a player conditions and trains all contribute to his overall performance; therefore statistics are collected in a player’s training regiment. The ability to measure daily performance drills -- like how fast a player runs a 40 yard dash, or how many catches versus drops a player makes in practice session -- support players and coaches in making specific measurable goals for performance based on statistics.
Also, statistics can diagnose potential performance problems in players. When analyzing player performance, coaches typically look at the change in statistics over a period of time, and if there are dramatic changes in a particular category (that show a decline in performance), then perhaps further coaching support or change in strategy is needed.
Opposing teams attempt to determine how well other teams and players are performing by doing statistical analysis. Teams try to get the advantage through study of statistical trends of other team’s offense and defense. Teams can learn so much from each other based off the measurable data they create. For example, teams can learn that another team’s rush defense may be weak based on how many yards per carry opposing teams run against them, or learn how strong on offense may be based on the average point per game they earn. There are countless ways to use statistics to understand player performance and team impact.
Fans who collect football cards, can read statistics on the back, like the percentages of how many touchdowns a player scored, or compare the percentage of a place-kicker’s made versus missed field goals. Percentages are a typical way of understanding and comparing players’ performances. Averages are used to get values like the passing completion average (the percentage of completions per pass attempt), and ratios (the relationship in quantity between two things) are used to understand football-related scenarios like turnovers (where the defense takes possession of the ball) to touchdowns ratio.
Statistics can also rank a player based on the number of touchdowns, yards run, or tackles made during a game. Statistics can influence what players may be cut from the team, help determine who plays what teams in the upcoming schedule and with which teammates, and ultimately helps drive decisions made in the National Football League (NFL) Draft.
The back of the football card includes important player statistics. It provides career stats that includes important information such as the player’s position and specific season performance results, which can be a key predictor for future success.

Statistics in the draft

Before NFL talent scouts and coaches ever look at or talk to a potential player, they view players’ statistics. If they like what they see in the numbers, then they will pursue actions to attempt to recruit the player. The NFL Draft is a huge annual event that draws a lot of attention from all over the world. It has been held for over eighty years, and the main purpose for the event is for teams to select newly eligible NFL football players, usually coming from colleges throughout the nation.
The Draft allows teams with the worst record in the NFL from the previous year to select their player(s) first, helping those teams have the best talent join their team to increase their chances for success and help their team grow in various areas. This selection process ultimately balances the talent pool throughout the league. There are seven rounds of selections which includes thirty-two selections for thirty two-teams.
Although the months leading up to the NFL draft are exciting and sparks great interest and discussion around possible predictions of what team a player may drafted (selected) to, there is no more important indicator of a player’s opportunity for success at a professional level, than what they were able to do as a collegiate player. That is where statistics becomes a powerful tool for NFL teams to use and study during the draft process. In most cases, players who do well professionally were players who showed impressive numbers during their college years.
Scouts will look at players’ 40 yard dash times, but that will only tell how fast the player runs in a straight line, other statistics can display how productive a player is on the field. Statistics measure various levels of player ability, but there are also underlying statistical factors to consider when analyzing their college numbers, including the type of teams they played, the level of talent they played with, the position they played and the type of offense or defense they played in. Statistical analysis (study) also includes all of the other factors that supported potential draft picks to produce the type of numbers they provided.
An evaluation of draft prospects comes from viewing their play, evaluating their skills and traits, not just from their statistics. Even with all these impressive statistical measurements, there are various factors that are important to success on the field that cannot be assessed through statistics. It is important to note that a player’s will to win, resilience to overcome obstacles, motivation, and how an individual player may perform in “clutch” circumstances cannot be measured in most statistical rubrics.
Statistics on player performance help NFL coaches formulate more effective training plans to support overall player improvement in all areas of their position.

How statistics are used

Statistics provides the world of football with the necessary tools to better understand the art of how the game is played and better understand the athletes who play it. Some statistics are more useful than others, but the value of such information is really up to the person following it.
Statistics can also be a lot of fun. The study of statistics doesn’t have to be just about the players and the team, but could also include fun facts about different teams and the stadiums they play in. For instance, there are quite a few fun statistical facts about the 49ers and Levi’s® Stadium. Did you know that the 49ers are 5 time Super Bowl Champions and that the organization started in 1946? Did you know that the team who wins the Super Bowl receives the Vince Lombardi Trophy and that it weighs about 6.7 pounds? At Levi’s® Stadium, fans are never more than 10 feet away from a Wi-Fi signal while in their seats, and did you know that the total square footage of the two scoreboards at the stadium is 19,200 square feet, making it the largest outdoor scoreboards in the nation?
Statistics can be applied to all areas of life beyond the game of football, and the study of statistics will be at the forefront of all development in the modern world. The world is filled with statistical data on which key decisions are made, and that is why the need for statistical analysis and interpretation of data is necessary almost everywhere and in almost everything.
This content is provided by the 49ers Museum Education Program.

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