Baltimore Ravens Guard John Urschel On The NFL Draft, Being In MIT’s PhD Program, And The Biggest Bros In The NFL
Baltimore Ravens guard John Urschel is a man who needs no introduction here at BroBible. Last summer the 24-year-old NFL player/mathematician smoked me at Connect Four, then we proceeded to geek out about higher-level math concepts that I’ll never be able to wrap my Lord Byron-loving English major brain around.
Urschel is currently GE’s Calculations Correspondent for the NFL Draft, which means he’s tasked to explain some of the high-level science that goes into this weekend’s NFL Draft. Makes sense, eh? — After all, GE is one of the biggest innovation and engineering companies in the world. It’s a natural fit to pair with an NFL player who genuinely knows the ins-and-outs of how big predictive math models work.
GE’s Global Director of Innovation, Sam Olstein, explains Urschel’s unique role in a statement: “As a technology company, GE helps customers predict and optimize for better outcomes. Math, physics, and data science are crucial skills our engineers and developers use everyday out in the field. With Draft Science, John Urschel is helping us take a look at predictive analytics on a different field and convey principles like thrust, acceleration, and power for a new audience.”
I got a chance to gab with Urschel the other day about all sorts of things: The Draft, his PhD work at MIT in Boston, giving a graduation address at our beloved alma mater Penn State next week.
Here’s how the conversation played out. I’m pretty excited for the day when John and Pat McAfee meet each other over a pong game in BroBible HQ. It’s totally going to happen…
What’s the NFL Draft like for you as a football player?
I don’t even pay attention to who is who in the drafts. None of us really do. For us it’s about when the rookies show up and they’ve got to prove themselves. But we really just judge guys off of their work ethic, and what type of guys they are, what type of football players they are. That’s really how it kind of goes.
We’ll kind of get to know the guys when they get here, but there’s no point in really looking too much into them until they get here, because you never really know what you’ll get.
So what are you doing this offseason? Math at MIT right now, correct?
Yeah. So I’m doing math at MIT right now and I really like it. It’s a good place for me.
You’re in the very beginning of a PhD program. What are you working on in your day-to-day?
I’m working on classes. So just doing course work. I’m doing some research. I’m in a PhD program, so it’s a lot of work. This off-season, more than anything, I’m just doing what I always do: Math, doing some research, trying to learn. It’s really more a lot of the same.
Do you already have in your head about how you want the PhD to play out? Like, the dissertation and everything?
No. That would be a bad idea for me to try to map it out. Really it’s just more about me trying to learn all I can, trying to do some good research, and then see what happens.
If you map it out too much– sure, you could do something in pieces and then you have kind of a sure thing. But then you kind of limit yourself. I’m not a fan of that. I’m a little bit of a risk taker. So I’m just going to do what I enjoy, read what I want. I’m sure a good thesis will come out of it.
Is it weird being back in college? I mean because you did that thing with Stanford.. Has it been weird being back in that environment or very much so at home?
I feel at home, because — well — I’ve stayed mentally sharp. So I never really left that. I’ve been doing it every off-season, so I’m sharp still. I haven’t washed up.
You just got asked to come back to Penn State to give a graduation address, right?
Yeah, man. I’m the commencement speaker.
Dude, how amped are you for that?
I am so excited for that. It is unreasonable how excited I am. That’s actually the biggest honor I’ve ever been given in my entire life. I got my degree four years ago exactly. I’m 24 years old, and I’m going to be the commencement speaker. That’s just a huge honor for me. That above anything else just means the world to me, just because of like what Penn State means to me.
Do you have any idea what you’re going to say? Have you started at all, because it’s like… What, 20 days away? Have you started?
No it’s not. No, hold on. It’s not 20 days away. It’s next weekend.
It’s next weekend? Oh, my gosh.
Yeah. It’s next weekend. So I’ve been prepping. I’ve been thinking about it. I’ve really been thinking about what do I want to impart on these people as they continue their journey on. I’ve really been thinking hard about it. It’s a responsibility that I don’t take lightly.
Can you give– without giving the entire thing away– can you give a little bit of a SparkNote on the speech…?
I know. Listen, man, I love you to death. You are not getting the inside scoop of my graduation address. That is being put under wraps.
Hey, man. I just wanted to hear your–
There’s not a chance. You’d have to be straight 007 to get your hands on my notes.
Wellcome I can’t wait to hear your truth bombs. Truth bombs with John. That’s your thing.
Yeah, so if you want to know what it’s about, there will be video and you can watch it the next day. If I’m anything, I am 100% straight up, there is not a chance that anyone is knowing what I’m talking about until I say it.
Nice. Do you plan on meeting up with anyone when you’re back there? Like with Franklin or any of the new guys?
That’s a good question. All of, most of my best friends who are still there, they’re going to be drafted. So they’re going to be away. I still have a really good friend who is an athletic trainer there. So I’m probably going to spend most of my weekend spending some time with her. But also, one of my professors — a guy who’s like a mentor to me — he’s there. So I’m going to spend some time with him and do some math.
Let’s tak Draft Math. You’re a GE Calculations Correspondent for the Draft. What are NFL teams doing to apply math concepts to their drafting strategy?
Right. So they might be using some math when they’re looking at players or building models. But it’s not really what we’re doing. We’re not doing any draft prediction. We’re not doing any kind of hard-core player analysis or prediction. It’s more of just straight up fun math. It’s high school physics, maybe a little bit of the college physics and math.
We’re just looking at the players in fresh and interesting ways, and just having some fun with it. So it’s a marked difference from probably every other draft coverage thing you’ll see. Because everything is so serious. There’s so much on the line. Here it’s very relaxed. And it’s just having some fun with some basic math.
It’s too bad you weren’t around the BroBible office to try the GE hot sauce the other day.
Let me tell you, I love hot sauce. I will go ahead and say this. I enjoy math and doing physics. I love hot food. I love spicy food.
It was like three hours of pain. I received the biggest teaspoon of special GE hot sauce. Then it was a solid like three hours of pain. And I love hot sauce, too. Pain and pleasure. It was very masochistic.
I’m so envious.
Anything to make you jealous, John. One last question. Give me your current breakdown of the top five bros in the NFL.
Top five what?
Top five bros, man. Bros.
Oh, my god.
Bros. OK. All right. Here we go. Matt Schaub has to be on the list. He is a bro from way back. I’m just going to give you bros that I know personally. So I can like personally verify their brofullness.
That’s all I want.
We got Matt. Let me think. I’ll give you another quarterback. I’m thinking long and hard about this.
Hey, that’s good. It’s a tough question to answer on demand.
You know, it’s a tough question, so I want to give you a good answer. Steve Smith. You know that Steve Smith is a straight bro.
Blake Bortles. Blake Bortles is such a chill dude. He’s the most awesome dude you’ll ever meet. So down to earth. And he just loves hanging out and just chillin with the guys.
Yeah. Let’s see. Who else?
I was going to go Jared Abbrederis.
Oh, yeah. Is that five? I wasn’t even counting.
He’s one of my buddies, and he’s a good dude.
What about Pat McAfee, the Colt’s punter.
Oh, he’s the punter. Yeah. I remember I met that guy. I think I was at an event that he was at. He’s such a chill dude. He’s a dude I’d want to hang out with, though I’ve never gotten a chance to chill with him.
So you guys have got to bro-out then at some point.
Yeah, that would be pretty cool.
All right. Cool. This is great. This is solid. I don’t want to keep you, man.
It’s always a pleasure.