How Ryan Poles used new tech to build draft board


New Bears GM Ryan Poles has a background in scouting, so he’s learned to trust his eyes. He watches lots of tape, evaluates the tape, then asks a simple question: If we draft this guy, are we taking a good football player?

“Sometimes it’s just that basic,” Poles said.

It’s an old-school approach that eschews using analytics as a springboard. Instead, Poles prefers to use the data as a support system.

“If you get kind of funky with, all of the sudden the proof is on the paper, you’re kind of playing with fire a little bit,” Poles said. “So that’s kind of the old-school part. But I do like to use the numbers and the numbers on paper to confirm what I see and what we see.”

Poles sees another use for new technology in scouting, as well, but it has nothing to do with analytics. Instead, he used tech in a new way to inspire debates and conversations with his team of scouts.

“We took polls,” Poles said. “We would watch players stacked up in their position and we’d poll everybody off their cellphone. And that information would come down to a database and we’d display it on the screen, so we’d see how everyone had it ranked. Sometimes it was a runaway for the top guy, sometimes it was a really tight race that just led to more conversation and for us to watch more tape. So really good discussion to go deeper than just watching tape.

“Then we also did that going horizontal, so not only in positional stacks, but you did that across the board as well. That’s where it gets tricky. Do you take this position and this position if all things are even.”

The idea was that by polling the scouts, and delving deeper into why everyone was, or wasn’t, on the same page, the whole team could be sure they had their draft board constructed properly. It also helped the scouts avoid the pitfalls of groupthink, by having everyone respond concurrently, without knowing how their peers were responding.

“If I polled everyone and you had to raise your hand, sometimes you look around (to see how others are voting,)” Poles said. “It just removes that, and everyone puts their thoughts and ideas down, and it takes that out of it. You see it. I put it on the screen and you could hear the oohs and ahhs. It was a really cool exercise.”

It will be interesting to see how the exercise ultimately affected the Bears’ big board. Will they have reached a consensus on a player that’s contrary to the larger national consensus? Will it help them hit on more picks?

Only time will tell.

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