Aric DiLalla: What sparked your interest in using, and ultimately becoming an owner of, Pro Football Focus?
Cris Collinsworth: I really just started using it as a tool, and the more that I used it I started making contact with those guys, saying, 'Who are you and what are you?' [I] started learning that a lot of the teams were using it. I think that we're now up to 24 teams that are doing it. I thought that we could broaden it. So we went from just doing the NFL to doing all the NCAA teams. So 250 people now work at PFF.
I wanted to enhance and improve it, so we hired the Pro Coaches Network, which was about 40 or 50 former coordinators and head coaches that have been in the league that have the final say. So we have four different people look at every single play that takes place, and the former coaches have all the veto power. Whatever they say at the end of it, they break all the ties.
We feel like we've got a pretty good system. [We're] always looking to improve it more, but we're pretty proud of it. We're part of a lot of different network television shows. Some you see, like Sunday Night Football, and there's a few that you don't know that are getting Pro Football Focus help that won't give any credit for that, either. And our online site now is starting to become quite the consumer site, because people are now starting to go there because you can get — we have live grading going on in some games now.
We want to be soup to nuts for as many people as possible. I know, for me, doing two games a week now for two months, I couldn't do my job if I didn't have that as sort of the backstop.
AD: How has PFF changed how you're able to evaluate players before a broadcast?
CC: I think it's the same way that the coaches use it. [For] the coaches, it's square one. So it will give all the breakdowns, all the different personnel groupings, all the grades, obviously. But what's the essence of that team? Who the good players are. Who some of the struggling players are. But I'm never going to go into a game — and a coach would never go into a game or draft — and say, 'Oh, PFF said this.' It's a starting place. You begin here, and then you do your own film study and you do your own homework and talk to these coaches and players, and by the end of it, you have a pretty good sense of it.
I've got Neil Hornsby, who's the founder of the whole thing, [who] prepares about a 20-page document on every game that we do, and it's a tremendous asset. ... We use it for the Notre Dame games now, so it's a tremendous asset for all of us.
AD: How does PFF highlight a guy like Chris Harris Jr., who may not be as well-known nationally but is graded by PFF as the third-ranked corner in the league?
CC:** I think of that $50 million contract, Chris only owes me about $30 million of it. I'm not sure anybody knew who Chris Harris was until Pro Football Focus said he was the top cornerback and the top slot cornerback in football. But he proves it every week with his play. It's funny that so many times we get used to whoever was drafted in the first or second round being the stars. And as you well know, that's just not the case. There's a lot of guys that, when given the opportunity, that have the tenacious attitude of a Chris Harris, become stars in this league. It's probably my favorite part.
The worst part is, if you're going to say this guy's the best, somebody has to be the worst. So the guys on the bottom completely hate us and the guys that are on the top completely love us. You'd be amazed that Pro Football Focus is used in almost every contract negotiation known to man. Because either the team likes our grade because it helps them negotiate, or the player likes the grade because it helps them negotiate. A lot of times, we get asked by agents and by teams, 'All right, give us the strength of this guy' or 'Give us the weakness of this guy to help us negotiate.' But really, I think we're the only ones that do this on a broad basis that has that sort of former coaches backing of the whole thing.
It's a tricky business. When you become someone who's grading the film, you can't always know everything about what's going on. I can't always know what the assignments are. We work hard on telling our guys, if it's tough to understand what his assignment was, leave it alone. Don't give it a grade. But there are so many times my mother could tell me, did that guy block that guy. It's not that hard when you break it down to one-on-one matchups.
It just takes lunatics like the people we have working at Pro Football Focus, who love to not sleep and watch football 24 hours a day, to do it play after play. One-hundred-and-forty points of data they extract from every single play from every single game — special teams, kickoff teams, the gunners. They have evaluations on everything, so it's a pretty amazing group