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Predicting NFL Player Performance
The Students: Matthew Dzwil ’23, Mia Hopman ’23, and Katie Houskeeper ’23
The Advisors: Associate Professor of Data Science and Computer Science Yanhua Li and Assistant Professor Kenny Ching of The Business School
In a first-ever collaboration between WPI and the National Football League, the students recently completed a Major Qualifying Project that analyzed whether data collected during the league’s main scouting event could accurately predict how wide receivers performed during real games. The students worked with the NFL central office in New York City to determine whether player-movement metrics from the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine could accurately predict in-game performance.
The team examined positional data gathered at tenth-of-a-second intervals by a radio frequency identification tracking device located on the players’ shoulder pads. Working with NFL Data Scientist Tom Bliss and Senior Director of Football Data and Analytics Michael Lopez, the MQP team successfully developed a systematic approach to preprocessing data that uses specific thresholds to identify and segment drills.
“We manipulated data that provided valuable insights on NFL player combine movements and how those movements compared to in-game movements; plus, we provided recommendations to the NFL on how data collection could be improved in future years,” says Houskeeper.
“The students did exceptionally well presenting the project to their NFL sponsors,” says Executive Director of Corporate Partnerships Dave Ortendahl. “They expertly answered questions from the field of professionals, which included Clark Ewen ’20, who is currently a football data and innovation analyst with the New York Giants.”
The project provided the students with invaluable insight into the challenges of working with highly variable, real-world data. The knowledge and skills they acquired through this project have positively impacted their lives already: Houskeeper earned her MS in business analytics and is currently a business analyst with DraftKings; Dzwill earned his MS in data science and is currently a software engineer with Juniper Networks; and Hopman is studying for her MS in data science while working as a data scientist at Hologic.