Published on April 29, 2024 by Morgan Black  
Smith Commencement

At Samford University, each student has a unique story to tell about their experience, and this is certainly true for recent graduate Chandler Smith. A student-athlete and now two-time Brock School of Business graduate, Smith culminated his Samford experience with his capstone NFL data analytics project, a walk across the commencement stage, and his own run in the 2024 NFL Draft.

A native of Marietta, Georgia, Smith came to Samford as a student-athlete on the football team. During his senior year, he started in all 13 games for the ultimate Southern Conference champions and was named to the All-SoCon first team by the media and the All-SoCon second team by the conference coaches.

Samford v. VMI

As Smith’s success on the field grew over the course of five years, so did his acumen in the business analytics space. Smith, who majored in economics with concentrations in sports marketing and data analytics, ultimately received his Master of Business Administration (MBA) with a focus in sports business and data analytics.

Throughout his studies in Brock School of Business, Smith was involved in several data research projects, in partnership with Samford’s Center for Sports Analytics. One such project, for which he served as the team leader his junior year, was an analyzation of a Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation charitable marketing campaign which was completed and delivered to Dodgers executives in April 2022. During his senior year, he participated in a marketing research project for the Birmingham Squadron, Birmingham, Alabama’s NBA G-League team.

dodgers research project

Then, as he concluded the MBA in April 2024, Smith completed his solo research titled “Does Your NFL Team Draft to Win? New Research Reveals Rounds 3, 4, and 5 are the Key to Future On-Field Performance”.  In summary, his research challenges the notion that sports fans underestimate the importance of the NFL draft beyond the first and second rounds, assuming only early picks can truly impact a team's success. According to his study, the drafting performance in rounds three, four and five holds the key to future on-field success. Teams that excel in these middle rounds significantly increase their chances of winning more football games. The study further recognizes that while success in the NFL is influenced by numerous uncontrollable factors, identifying significant trends like this one is essential. By acknowledging the critical role of middle-round draft picks, teams can better position themselves for long-term success on the gridiron.

Darin White, executive director of the Center for Sports Analytics, served as Smith’s faculty adviser. He said, "Chandler's groundbreaking research sheds light on vital insights poised to revolutionize NFL draft strategies. Through an innovative 'market-based' approach, this study reveals the importance of prioritizing 'best available' talent in the middle rounds over focusing solely on specific team needs. These findings have the potential to reshape how teams approach player selection, paving the way for more informed and successful NFL draft decisions.”
In addition to all this, Smith was a member of Sigma Nu fraternity and was the founder of Samford’s chapter of the National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD). His passion for this organization stemmed from his own birth disorder called Poland Syndrome. Under his leadership, Samford’s Sigma Nu chapter partnered with NORD for its philanthropy.
Commenting on his Samford experience, Smith said, “I would have never imagined having the opportunity to be a part of so many amazing things in my time at Samford. From earning multiple degrees, to winning a Southern Conference championship, to working on several real-world sports analytics projects, to making lifelong friendships with so many incredible people, I am so thankful for everything Samford has provided me with.”
The last week of April, the Center for Sports Analytics published Smith’s research, he received his master’s degree and was a contender in the 2024 NFL Draft.  
At Samford, the Graduation Success Rate (GSR) for student-athletes is 98%, the second-highest score among all NCAA teams. Smith’s success not only reflects this statistic but is also a true testament to the whole Samford experience.
In reflection, Smith closed, “When I look back on my time at Samford, I can’t do anything but thank God. He used this place to forever change my life. Everything that I got to do in my years at Samford was all by His doing. I am blessed beyond what I could ever deserve.”

Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.