VR evolution in the NFL

The NFL leads the way as being an early adopter of technology. Putting cameras that run the length of the field, which you can follow the kick return from one end zone to the other end zone.  The NFL dumped 300 page playbooks and sideline print out of defensive formation, in effort to turn to the Microsoft Tablet (Bill Belichick doesn’t necessarily agree with technology updates). The list of advancement continue including the NFL’s

Image result for bill belichick throwing table jump into Virtual Reality.

In 2015 six NFL teams made decided to add a VR center into there practice facilities. These teams includes the Arizona Cardinal, Dallas Cowboys, Minnesota Vikings, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, San Fransico 49ers and none other than your Super Bowl Champions, the New England Patriots. So now instead of watching game film from an elevated position of where the camera is, you now watch game film from the position you play. QBs can start the play in the huddle and once it is the huddle is broken, they watch their teammates move into position. With the VR equipment on, you can hear the sounds from the line of scrimmage and look out to the receivers on your flanks. In the moments leading up to the snap, you can look out to the other side of the line of scrimmage and breakdown the defense so you can determine the type of coverage they are running and where the soft spot in the coverage will be.

Image result for NFL VR

Technology like this will go a long way to helping improve how quickly a player can correctly diagnose a play. No you may ask how does this make a huge impact on the game. Just imagine watching film from cameras placed up above, as the quarter back, and you can tell by the first step or two that the safety will be dropping back into help over the top. Now using VR, you do not get the same cues as to where the safety will be going in the first few steps. Instead you have to look past the D-line, linebackers and then look at the safety. The cues you get from players when looking from the sky are not the same cues that you will need to determine what a player will do when you are at the same ground level as him.

Malcom Gladwell stated that to become “world-class” in a certain field, you needed 10,000 hours of “deliberate practice”.  This technology allows individuals to get those 10,000 hours faster and make it closer to what is actually going on. I assume an hour using this VR equipment is much more realistic then an hour of watching film from a camera in the sky. My theory would be that this allows the individual to identify trends faster, and not require 21 other players from to be with you to get repetitions in.  Becoming that word-class athlete can me made simpler by allowing me to go through mental reps on my own, and making my mind sharper than those who choose not to use the technology.

Another advancement for NFL teams came out of Dartmouth College, where they created the MVP Mobile Virtual Player. As many of you have probably already seen the MVP takes place of players that would be tackled, to help limit injuries, most notably CTE which is currently highlighted as a significant issue in football. The MVP costs a base price of $825 and can cost and additional $380 with the add-on’s. Many teams probably see this as a worthwhile investment to limit the bad publicity they would otherwise receive from players being injured.

Image result for mvp tackling dummy price

MVP is currently remote controlled by a coach and can reach speeds up to 20mph. The coach can run routes with the MVP and make the secondary track and tackle the dummy. Additional arms can be attached to MVP and forced Defensive lineman chase him around the pocket to simulate a quarter back moving around before throwing the ball. The designers of MVP (both a football and rugby players from Dartmouth), hope that one day a fleet of MVP’s can work along side one another to run plays together.

If you subscribe to the philosophy that your body has only so many hits that it can take in a lifetime, then these creations have helped limit the injuries athletes will take. Now instead of having a playbook that is 300 pages long, they have a single tablet. That limits each player for the possibility of getting countless paper cuts when they have to flip

Image result for paper cut

from page to page. With VR players can run through plays on there own and can limit the number of hits a player takes for each play. They can become smarter without having to actually put the pounding on their body. And now for when contact is needed, they do not needlessly put a ball carrier in front of a player to get hit. They can run a robot to limit the number of injuries athletes take.



  1. briandentonbc · ·

    Really cool article! The NFL is really smart to continue investing in this technology, especially things like the MVP that will go a long way in preventing injuries or long term damage such as CTE. I also think that the VR evolution will be a benefit for many NFL teams, but at this time I do not see it’s benefits necessarily extending beyond the quarterback. That being said, I am surprised that only six NFL teams have currently invested in the technology. It will be interesting to see if other teams and leagues begin to delve in to this technology, such as the NBA. It would be interesting to see if VR could be used to gain a competitive advantage in situations other than pre-snap reads or watching “live action” film from a set position

  2. britt_hopkins4 · ·

    Brian, I was thinking of CTE! I definitely think this is all a worthwhile investment for the NFL. I also agree with Brian that if only 6 NFL teams have invested in the VR, there has to be some sort of catch (no pun intended). It’s like when a startup is trying to raise money, no one wants to be the first because they want to see how it performs first. I think if every play was the same, then VR would be more valuable, however, different teams use drastically different plays in every single game, so someone could practice a single play with the VR for 10,000 and have it mastered, but if the team decides to switch things up a little, all of that practice seems to be for nothing. I could be totally wrong as I am not very familiar with practice routines for NFL teams, but just playing devil’s advocate. @briandentonbc what do you think?

    1. briandentonbc · ·

      Brittney, I agree with all of your points above. I think it will be very valuable for things such as looking what a defensive formation will look like before the snap, but the benefits of actually running a through a play with VR may be somewhat limited. That is why I thought of the example of the NBA, when the VR “players” are moving around, will those wearing the VR headset really move around and practice “passing the ball” to their virtual teammates? Will be interesting to see how all of this progresses.

  3. This is a huge step in the right direction! I firmly believe that the body can only take so many hits in a lifespan. There was a study conducted on the brains of 116 past NFL players and 115 of them had some form of traumatic brain injury. There has been increased PSA about how it’s not worth the athlete salary to predispose yourself to TBI so maybe this new technology can help mitigate this growing stigma.

  4. Great post. I did not know that NFL teams had implemented VR centers in their training facilities as early as 3 years ago, but it definitely looks like a great investment. I think other sports should be quick to hop on the VR train. It would be a game changer especially sports like tennis, where you can analyze and pick up on the movements and patterns of a single opponent. The ability to observe how the opponent reacts to certain shots would have a result equivalent to playing a practice match against him/her, which is the ideal way to prepare for an upcoming match. It was also interesting to read about how useful the MVPs have proved to NFL teams. In soccer, the Japanese developed a goalkeeping machine that even Messi had trouble beating. While they have not yet been used for serious training, I think it would be a good way for multiple attacking players to work on their shots simultaneously, if professional soccer teams decide to invest in them.

  5. Nice post. I can’t help but think of the marketing potential of VR football. Think how much cooler Madden would be with VR!?!?

  6. rjacques62 · ·

    Interesting post! Football practices have definitely changed a lot since the days of Lombardi and two-a-days. Anything that lowers the risk of CTE is a step in the right direction. This will change how players watch film; it is one thing to watch old games on a projector, it another to watch it unfold like it would if you were on the actual field. Should increase the quality of play eventually.

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