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What Does PFF Mean in American Football?

PFF stands for, “Pro Football Focus,” an independent company that specializes in football analytics, strategy, and player evaluation. PFF was founded in 2007 by Neil Hornsby and is best known for its player grading system where each player is given an individual grade for every play, allowing analysts, teams, and fans to evaluate players in a way besides traditional stats like receptions or tackles.

I’m David, and while my playing career petered out in high school, I’ve remained a passionate football fan. What interests me most is player evaluation and team building, so the resources at Pro Football Focus have been invaluable tools for analyzing professional football while enhancing my understanding and love for the game. 

In this article, I’ll explain how PFF conducts its revolutionary “player grade” system and how this has helped rework how fans, coaches, and organizations view and analyze the game we love so much.

Key Takeaways

  • PFF is the acronym for “Pro Football Focus.”
  • Pro Football Focus tools are used by all 32 NFL teams and provide an independent and unique way to analyze a player’s value along with optimal team building and in-game strategy.
  • The company was founded in 2004 by Neil Hornsby and now employs more than 600 analysts in either part-time or full-time roles.

What Does PFF Do?

Traditional statistics such as receptions and receiving yards are not always accurate indicators of a player’s performance. A receiver may rack up 60 yards in the fourth quarter with his team down three touchdowns. But they look just as impressive as 60 yards on the game-winning drive of a close game. PFF’s goal is to sift through circumstances like this and give proper credit (or blame) based on something more than the simple outcome of the play or game.

To accomplish this, PFF’s primary industry is its player grading program. This involves giving every player a “grade” for every play. Grading is done on a scale between -2 and +2 with a positive grade indicating good performance. These play grades are then compiled into overall game grades which are then converted into season and career grades.

The PFF Grading Scale

PFF employs more than 600 analysts in either full-time or part-time roles. But only 10% of them are considered “senior analysts,” who are permitted to finalize a player’s grades. This check and balance system provides a consistent process that prevents an individual’s arbitrary opinion and bias from getting in the way. [1]

PFF reviews each grade at least once and usually more. For consistency, they utilize multiple camera angles (including the all-22 tape) to provide the most accurate assessment possible.

Along with player grades, PFF offers a wide range of analytics that caters to a wide range of fans. With fantasy football a huge part of the NFL’s popularity, PFF offers several tools to help players dominate either in daily fantasy or their season-long leagues. 

The rapid spread of legalized gambling in the U.S. has also led to an explosion in tools and analysis to help bettors make +EV wagers. PFF now has the “Greenline” tool that looks for undervalued betting opportunities in an easy-to-use format. [2]

Draft and free agent analysis, along with statistical breakdowns of optimal play strategies such as when to go for it on fourth down have also been made available through PFF in recent years. [3]

Today PFF provides statistical analysis to all 32 NFL franchises, 102 college football teams, and 7 Canadian football league organizations. 

When and Where Was PFF Founded?

The PFF website was launched in 2007 but officially began a few years earlier. Football fan Neil Hornsby was unhappy with the limitations of traditional statistics to analyze football. Hornsby started grading individual players on his own in 2004 in hopes of gaining a better quantitative understanding of how much each player impacted winning.

By 2006, Hornsby had built PFF into a small company and was able to put together a complete dataset of every player for the entire season, cementing PFF’s ethos to provide a grade for, “every player on every play.”

In 2011, Hornsby and his team made inroads with professional teams, offering their grades and analysis to three NFL teams along with many players and agents.  [4]

The company’s big break came in 2014 when it caught the eye of former NFL wide receiver and analyst Cris Collingsworth. Collingsworth purchased a large stake in the company, moving the headquarters to Cincinnati. [5]

Shortly thereafter, PFF grades and statistics began to work their way into NBC’s Sunday Night Football telecasts where Collingsworth worked as a color commentator. 

PFF’s popularity has continued to grow and is now one of the go-to resources for football statistics and analysis.

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I love how much in-depth information PFF can supply. Our eyes and biases can so easily deceive how we evaluate and value individual players or overall team performance, and PFF’s tools help me cut through these shortcomings and better understand the game I love. 

Like any new way of looking at the sport, there’s constant pushback when people don’t agree with a player’s grades or a coaching decision. But for me, this makes the whole process all the more interesting.

What do you think of PFF’s work? Do you enjoy this new age of analytics, or do you prefer a more old-school “eye test” approach? Let us know in the comments below.


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