Sep 05 2013

GPS Technology Fuels NFL's Appetite for Data Analytics

Tracking devices give teams insights into player performance and health.

GPS technology has changed the way people navigate their way through America’s roads and highways and now it’s poised to help NFL teams navigate their way to gridiron glory.

The NFL sent out a memo in August announcing that the league would “require players to wear non-obtrusive tracking devices in select practices and games,” according to a report from

Catapult, an Australian-based sports analytics company, has signed deals with several of the NFL teams, including the Buffalo Bills. The Bills in particular have been highly focused on understanding players’ playing capacity and preventing injuries.

“The number one goal of this system right now is trying to help prevent injury as well as help us with the rehab process,” says strength and conditioning coordinator Eric Ciano in an article for “There are a lot of different things that goes into it, but the biggest thing is how can we monitor guys on the field to help us get the information? What do they really do at their position? How far does a receiver really run in practice? How fast does a receiver run in practice? Then create standards for each position group to be able to say, ‘Well this guy has done four days in a row in this (work rate) zone, this guy is at risk for injury.’ That’s the main reason we did it.”

The data tracked through the GPS devices, which are attached to the back of the players’ jerseys, is distributed to the coaching staff in the form of reports.

“We give daily reports on what a guy does and the coaches get weekly reports on what a guy does. If there's something that really stands out, I'll give a coach a heads up but never more than that,” Ciano says in an interview with Sports on Earth. “Our coaches understand it. They get it. They know understand if a guy is getting a lot of work between two areas that they might want to limit his reps.”

The level of insights that can be captured through player data analytics is extensive. In an interview with Sports Illustrated, Gary McCoy, an applied sports scientist for Catapult, says that the GPS devices generate about “100 data points per second.” 

While it’s exciting to think about the possibilities that detailed player analytics can bring to the NFL, the league is taking a cautious approach to the use of such technology. For now, these devices are largely limited for use in practice sessions though that could change in the near future.

“We think we’ll see in-game tracking in major sports in the United States possibly within the next year or two,” McCoy says.

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