Analytics at Wharton
Soaring with the Eagles: Wharton Student Lands Data Job with NFL
Where most sports fans see raw talent, Zach Drapkin sees raw data – the kind of data he likes to sift through to help athletes and teams optimize their approach to games.
It’s this particular skill that has earned the Wharton graduate a job as a quantitative analyst with the Philadelphia Eagles, a position that will change from intern to full-time status this summer. Not a bad way to cap off a college career for a young man from the Main Line who has emerged as one of the top students in the Wharton Sports Analytics and Business Initiative (WSABI).
“Once I had the offer from the Eagles, it was a slam-dunk decision for me because it’s a great place to do analytics,” Drapkin said. “It was a competitive offer, and I’ll be close to home. It worked out pretty well.”
At the age of 21, Drapkin’s resume reads more like that of a seasoned veteran than the new kid on the block. In addition to getting a bachelor’s degree in economics with a concentration in statistics and decision processes, he was also assistant producer on the popular Wharton Moneyball radio show, a teaching assistant for the Wharton Moneyball Academy for high school students, and former president of the Wharton Undergraduate Sports Business Club. He won the 2022 Football Analytics Blitz and competed twice in the NFL Big Data Bowl, earning a finalist spot in 2021 and honorable mention this year. Last year, he interned as a data analyst with the Baltimore Ravens and with Pro Football Focus, a sports analytics company that runs the blitz.
All his hard work helped him get noticed by the NFL and land the job with the Eagles. As a quantitative analyst, he’s crunching numbers to help the team gain an edge in every facet of the operation. For a sports fanatic who grew up memorizing box scores and player stats, it’s a dream job and the first step toward his ultimate goal of becoming the general manager of a professional sports team.
“Right now, I’m coming in as a quantitative analyst,” Drapkin said. “The eventual goal is to bridge the specific quantitative skills with the soft skills and skills about decision-making and the behavior it takes to be a good leader of a team. But that’s a long way down the line, and my focus right now is on doing whatever I can to help the team win.”
Abraham (Adi) Wyner, a statistics and data science professor who is faculty lead for WSABI, isn’t surprised to learn of Drapkin’s lofty goal. Many WSABI students are working for pro sports teams and likely heading into upper management. But he said there’s something different about Drapkin.
“The sky’s the limit for Zach,” Wyner said. “We get smart kids all the time here at Penn. What’s so great about Zach is that he just seems to keep getting better. He is one of the most accomplished students in my domain and has been instrumental in growing WSABI.”
‘Bring Something to the Table’
Drapkin’s mother, Beth Drapkin, graduated from Penn Law, and his father, Ronny Drapkin, is a leading cancer researcher at the Perelman School of Medicine. Wyner knows the family and first met Zach when he was a high school student at the Wharton Moneyball Academy.
“He’s evolved so rapidly since he was a kid. He learns the things he needs to learn, like coding, and he’s good at them,” Wyner said. “He hustled his way into his first job, which was working for us at Wharton Moneyball. But if he hadn’t been good at it, it would have been his last.”
Cade Massey, faculty co-lead of WSABI and one of the co-hosts of Wharton Moneyball along with Wyner, remembers Drapkin talking his way onto the radio show.
“We’d been in operation for four years, and we never had an intern. Within a month of his being on campus, as an 18-year-old kid, he was sitting in on shows and giving us notes. He was an intern we didn’t know we needed,” he said with a laugh.
Massey, who is also faculty co-director of Wharton People Analytics, said he’s most struck by Drapkin’s “initiative and agency.” Drapkin is definitely a hustler, but hustling doesn’t mean much without having something solid to offer in exchange.
“Hustling has to come with the ability to add value. It’s important that you bring something to the table, and he’s got that combination. He had it as a freshman, which is pretty extraordinary,” Massey said.
Drapkin considers Massey and Wyner his closest mentors along with Shane Jensen, a statistics and data science professor, and Eric Bradlow, a marketing professor and vice dean of Analytics at Wharton. He credits their support for unlocking research projects and jobs, and he credits the resources and networks at Wharton for helping students like him excel at what they want to do.
“There are so many more opportunities here to follow your passion in sports analytics. That’s been super beneficial for me and made college a lot of fun because I get to spend time working on projects and learning in contexts that are interesting and that I enjoy,” he said.
Drapkin offered two pearls of advice for upcoming freshman dreaming about a job in the NFL or other large organizations. First, show that you can do the job before you have it. Then, learn everything you need to know before you need to know it. Don’t wait until junior year to take a statistics class or learn to code. And second, forge a connection with professors, professionals, and other students who are doing the kind of work that you want to do.
“I know some people are hesitant to reach out, but what’s the worst that could happen? They’ll just say no,” he said. “I always went toward opportunities that were enjoyable, not to achieve a certain end. They were opportunities that I wanted to pursue that ended up creating a path for me.”
— Angie Basiouny