Data science grad student is finalist in NFL's ‘Big Data Bowl’

Data science graduate student Sam Walczak is part of a Minnesota team that made the finals of the NFL's ‘Big Data Bowl’. The group is one of five finalists in the open division of the competition, and will now present their work to league executives on March 18.

According the ‘Big Data Bowl’ website, the annual sports contest from NFL Football Operations challenges talented members of the analytics community to contribute to the NFL’s continuing evolution in the use of advanced analytics. This year, contestants used traditional and Next Gen Stats from the 2018 season in order to develop ways to measure defensive performance.

Walczak partnered with Marc Richards and Jack Werner, whom he met during his undergraduate studies at St. Olaf College, and fellow sports analytics enthusiast Wei Peng. All four are analysts for Model 284, a website that Walczak and Richards co-founded during college that uses data science to understand how sports teams can win games.

For their ‘Big Data Bowl' research, titled A Framework for Accessing Individual Defensive Performance in Coverage, the team used the provided NFL player tracking data to develop a framework that can identify defensive coverages and evaluate player performance.

Big Data Bowl framework
Individual defensive player evaluation framework in coverage

Walczak attributed the team’s overall success to their collective problem-solving mindset and their ability to deploy a wide variety of analytical tools. He also credited his mathematical and statistical coursework in the data science M.S. program for fueling his work for the ‘Big Data Bowl’.

Sam graduated from St. Olaf College in 2014 with a degree in mathematics and statistics. He currently works as a reinsurance broker/catastrophe modeler at Holborn Corporation in Minneapolis.

Read more about Sam and his team in the Star Tribune.