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Bills ease their way into incorporating analytics into football operation

For the time being, the Buffalo Bills appear to be taking a methodical approach to the use of analytics in their football operation.

General Manager Brandon Beane said the team's coaching and player-personnel staffs are steadily enhancing their day-to-day work interaction with Luis Güílamo, whom the Bills hired in January as their director of analytics and application development.

As Beane pointed out in a recent conversation with The Buffalo News, there's a growth period continuing as Güílamo gains greater familiarity with the coaches.

"He assists with game-plan stuff, so he's learning, 'This coach likes these stats and likes them organized like this ... This coordinator likes it like this,' " Beane said. "He's currently building his template for those guys from a game-plan standpoint so that he can deliver them a product on Mondays, and then off he goes."

For instance, Beane pointed to an example of how the analytics can provide coach Sean McDermott a historical breakdown of the results of playing rookies with zero career starts (such as quarterback Josh Allen), those that have played a full 16-game schedule, and everything in between.

Güílamo could also be assigned projects such as measuring a wide range of categories that pertain to officiating.

"(You might say), 'Hey, go break down all the quarterback's throws,' or, 'Break down all of this receiver's routes. What route has he been open the most? Been thrown to the most?' " Beane said. "You're trying to see what does this player do well and what do we have to work on to make him better? Those are all areas that people don't even think about with analytics."

Soon after Güílamo was hired, McDermott told reporters at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, “It’s about us growing, us evolving and becoming better. It’s part of what we’ll do. It’ll be involved, whether it's personnel, game management. It's just about information-gathering and building overall awareness on whatever it might be.

"I'm confident it'll help us get to the next level in some areas.”

While McDermott called analytics “a component or variable in the equation,” he did point out that it “doesn’t make the decision for me.”

In explaining Güílamo's role, McDermott noted that the position involved "football-based analytics" rather than contributing to the business side as Güílamo's predecessor did.

Beane said the Bills' scouting staff has worked with Güílamo to expand the data base of physical prototypes for each position. That's being put to use as Bills scouts scatter throughout the country to watch college games in preparation for the 2019 draft.

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Beane explained that a typical question that analytics can help scouts answer is: What has proved to be the minimum height for an NFL offensive tackle in the past decade?

"I'm at X school and I see a tackle who is 6-2 1/2," Beane said. "I can plug in right now how many tackles have started in the last 10 years that are 6-2 1/2 with a 32-inch wingspan."

If Beane sees there has only been one, he arrives at the obvious conclusion the player has less of a chance to receive a first-round grade than a taller prospect.

"It's just little guideline," the GM said. "It doesn't mean that scout can't give the guy a first-round grade, but he's going to know I'm going to ask him, 'How's he going to overcome this? One guy in the last 12 years has done it and had any length of a career as a starter.' Those are just the small, quick things that pop out, but we're constantly using (Güílamo) and we're building (his) staff."

However, the Bills are doing so with a certain level of caution.

The league has been collecting its Next Gen Stats, such as the speed of every player, through tracking devices in players' shoulder pads since 2014 and began distributing information to each team on its own players in 2016. The competition committee voted in April to give teams data on all players in the league. In May, the league provided data for the last three years and now gives out the game-day data each week.

At least one club, the Denver Broncos, has hired additional analysts people to work with the information. At the moment, the Bills are choosing not to follow the Broncos' lead.

"We're still working through what all the data is, what it means, what we need, and we'll continue to as we see it," Beane said. "Before you had your own team's data, but you didn't have the other team's data from game day. Now I can see that a player ran a route 22 mph. That's still a new thing that I think a lot of people are trying to get their arms around.

"I'm not going to just hire a bunch of people until we figure out what we need, but we're building that. And the great thing is Terry and Kim (Pegula), whatever we need and we show them (it's necessary), they will let us do it. They see that we have a plan. We're not going to start just throwing things out there without a plan and just hire people without knowing this is what we need to do."

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