The Cowboys are continuing to march forward in their quest to build out their analytics department. Tuesday brought news that Steelers data analyst William Britt had been added to the team, and Thursday comes with yet another announcement. This time it’s Max Lyons coming on board as the team’s Football Data Engineer.
Breaking news: The Cowboys will be working with Max Lyons as their football data engineer.— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) July 13, 2023
He will be working closely with the new strategic football operations team. He worked with multiple NFL teams a decade ago.
Lyons returns to the NFL after a decade out of the league, during which time he’s become a seasoned data guru. Lyons’ first taste of the NFL came during the 2012 offseason when he worked as an summer analytics intern for the Eagles. A year later, after he had graduated from Princeton with degrees in operations management and financial engineering, Lyons took a football analyst job with the Jaguars. Both the Eagles and Jaguars were early trailblazers in embracing football analytics.
Lyons left Jacksonville after one year to work in the finance sector, but he also founded and maintained a website called Gridiron Rank, which sourced NFL play-by-play data to create advanced statistics and rankings. Lyons shut the site down in 2016 when the NFL cracked down on play-by-play data rights.
The Cowboys hired Lyons from his current role as the Senior Data Engineer for Gearbox Entertainment, a video game development company just four miles north of The Star in Frisco, Texas. The Cowboys obviously didn’t have to go far to find Lyons, who returns to the NFL in a prominent role for a team clearly trying to build a formidable analytics department.
Lyons’ role is likely going to be charged primarily with designing and maintaining the actual infrastructure that the Cowboys’ new analytics department uses to process all of the data they’ll be working with. Odds are this is more of an IT job than a full blown analytics role like the Cowboys’ other recent additions, but it’s an important job for any analytics department that is doing more than just aggregating analytics from other sources, like Pro Football Focus or TruMedia. Lyons’ direct experience with football analytics is also a selling point, making for a more seamless transition.
It once again bears repeating that this is a turning point for this organization. The addition of Lyons brings the Cowboys analytics department up to four members. There are also three members of the coaching staff with analytics roles as well, all of whom were added in Mike McCarthy’s first year. Prior to his arrival, Dallas had just one full-time analytics staffer in Tom Robinson, who left the team this offseason prior to the draft.
The Cowboys are going through quite a few changes this offseason, and this string of analytics personnel moves is indicative of a commitment to integrating analytics into football on a level that is unprecedented in Dallas. They’re hardly the first team to do this - the Ravens and Browns have been the gold standard in this area for a while now - but it’s an encouraging sign that the team is deciding to play catch up instead of remaining behind the times.