John Urschel

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John Urschel
refer to caption
Urschel in 2015
No. 64
Position:Guard, center
Personal information
Born: (1991-06-24) June 24, 1991 (age 31)
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
Height:6 ft 3 in (1.91 m)
Weight:300 lb (136 kg)
Career information
High school:Canisius (Buffalo, New York)
College:Penn State
NFL Draft:2014 / Round: 5 / Pick: 175
Career history
Career highlights and awards
Career NFL statistics
Games played:40
Games started:13
Player stats at · PFR

John Cameron Urschel (born June 24, 1991) is a Canadian-American mathematician, former professional American football guard and center and chess player.[1][2] He played college football at Penn State and was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in the fifth round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Urschel played his entire NFL career with Baltimore before announcing his retirement on July 27, 2017, at 26 years old.

Urschel has bachelor's and master's degrees (both from Penn State) and a doctorate (from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology), all in mathematics.[3][4] He has published peer-reviewed articles in mathematics.[5][6][7] Urschel is also an advanced stats columnist for The Players' Tribune. He is currently serving a three-year term on the College Football Playoff selection committee which began in the spring of 2020.[8]

Early life and education[edit]

Urschel was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. His parents, John Urschel and Venita Parker, were a surgeon and attorney, respectively.[9] He grew up in Buffalo, New York where he graduated from Canisius High School in 2009.[8]

He earned bachelor's (2012) and master's (2013) degrees in mathematics at Pennsylvania State University. While at Penn State, he was awarded the William V. Campbell Trophy, known as the "academic Heisman".

Professional football career[edit]

John Urschel was a player for the Baltimore Ravens. His career lasted from 2014 to 2017.

2014 NFL Draft[edit]

Pre-draft measurables
Height Weight Arm length Hand span 40-yard dash 10-yard split 20-yard split 20-yard shuttle Three-cone drill Vertical jump Broad jump Bench press Wonderlic
6 ft 3 in
(1.91 m)
313 lb
(142 kg)
33 in
(0.84 m)
10+38 in
(0.26 m)
5.31 s 1.84 s 3.08 s 4.47 s 7.55 s 29.0 in
(0.74 m)
8 ft 6 in
(2.59 m)
30 reps 43[10]
All values from NFL Combine[11][12]

Urschel was selected by the Baltimore Ravens in the fifth round of the 2014 NFL draft with the 175th overall pick. He played in 11 games, starting three, for the Ravens in 2014. He appeared in 16 games, starting seven, for the team in 2015.[13]


On July 27, 2017, Urschel announced his retirement from the NFL after three seasons.[14][15] The Baltimore Sun reported that the JAMA study on the prevalence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy in deceased players was a factor in Urschel's decision.[16]

His retirement as an active player was not the end of his participation in the sport. He was appointed to the College Football Playoff selection committee on January 22, 2020, serving a three-year term which began in the spring of that year.[8]

Mathematics career[edit]

While doing his master's at Penn State, Urschel was involved in teaching vector calculus, trigonometry and analytic geometry, and introduction to econometrics.[17] In 2014, Urschel was named Arthur Ashe, Jr. Sports Scholar by Diverse: Issues In Higher Education.[18] In 2015, Urschel co-authored a paper in the Journal of Computational Mathematics[19] titled "A Cascadic Multigrid Algorithm for Computing the Fiedler Vector of Graph Laplacians". It includes "a cascadic multigrid algorithm for fast computation of the Fiedler vector of a graph Laplacian, namely, the eigenvector corresponding to the second smallest eigenvalue."[20]

Urschel began a Ph.D. in mathematics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 2016,[21] focusing on spectral graph theory, numerical linear algebra, and machine learning.[22] MIT does not allow Ph.D. students to study part-time; while the Ravens knew that he was taking classes, Urschel admitted after retiring from the team that he did not disclose that he was a full-time graduate student, having taken correspondence classes in between games and practices.[23] On January 4, 2017, Urschel was named to Forbes' "30 Under 30" list of outstanding young scientists and owns the following blurb: "Urschel has published six peer-reviewed mathematics papers to date and has three more ready for review. He's won academic awards for his math prowess. All this while playing guard for the Baltimore Ravens."[24][25][26]

Since 2017, Urschel has had an Erdős number of 4. His PhD thesis on Graphs, Principal Minors, and Eigenvalue Problems was completed in 2021 under Michel Goemans at MIT. He is a member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey.[27]

Awards and honors[edit]

  • 2013: Senior CLASS Award[28]
  • 2016–2018: Dean of Science Fellowship[28]
  • 2017: Forbes’s "30 Under 30" list in science[29]


  • Dhruv Rohatgi, John C. Urschel, Jake Wellens. Regarding Two Conjectures on Clique and Biclique Partitions, Preprint, arXiv:2005.02529.
  • John C. Urschel, Uniform Error Estimates for the Lanczos Method, Preprint, arXiv:2003.09362.
  • John C. Urschel, Jake Wellens. Testing k-Planarity is NP-Complete, Information Processing Letters, to appear.
  • Victor-Emmanuel Brunel, Ankur Moitra, Philippe Rigollet, John C. Urschel. Maximum Likelihood Estimation of Determinantal Point Processes, Preprint, arXiv:1701.06501.
  • John C. Urschel, Ludmil T. Zikatanov. Discrete Trace Theorems and Energy Minimizing Spring Embeddings of Planar Graphs, Linear Algebra and its Applications, 2021.
  • John C. Urschel. Nodal Decompositions of Graphs, Linear Algebra and its Applications, Volume 539, 60-71, 2018.
  • John C. Urschel. On the Characterization and Uniqueness of Centroidal Voronoi Tessellations, SIAM Journal on Numerical Analysis, 55(3), 1525-1547, 2017.
  • John C. Urschel, Victor-Emmanuel Brunel, Ankur Moitra, Phillipe Rigollet. Learning Determinantal Point Processes with Moments and Cycles, International Conference on Machine Learning (ICML), 2017.
  • Victor-Emmanuel Brunel, Ankur Moitra, Philippe Rigollet, John Urschel. Rates of Estimation for Determinantal Point Processes, Conference on Learning Theory (COLT), 2017.
  • Xiaozhe Hu, John C. Urschel, Ludmil T. Zikatanov. On the Approximation of Laplacian Eigenvalues in Graph Disaggregation, Linear and Multilinear Algebra, 65(9): 1805-1822, 2017.
  • John C. Urschel, Ludmil T. Zikatanov. On the Maximal Error of Spectral Approximation of Graph Bisection, Linear and Multilinear Algebra, 64(10): 1972-1979, 2016.
  • John C. Urschel, Xiaozhe Hu, Jinchao Xu, Ludmil Zikatanov. A Cascadic Multigrid Algorithm for Computing the Fiedler Vector of Graph Laplacians, Journal of Computational Mathematics, Volume 33 No. 2, 2015, 209-226.
  • John C. Urschel, Ludmil T. Zikatanov. Spectral Bisection of Graphs and Connectedness, Linear Algebra and its Applications, Volume 449, 1-16, 2014.
  • John C. Urschel. A Space-Time Multigrid Method for the Numerical Valuation of Barrier Options, Communications in Mathematical Finance, Volume 2, no. 3, 1-20, 2013.
  • John C. Urschel, Joseph R. Galante. Instabilities in the Sun-Jupiter-Asteroid Three Body Problem, Celestial Mechanics and Dynamical Astronomy, Volume 115, Issue 3, 233–259, 2013


Urschel competed in the 2015 Pittsburgh Open, finishing in 12th place (tied for 9th) with 3.0 points (+2-1=2) in the Under 1700 rating section.[30][31] Urschel competes in competitive online chess on, and he has commentated for's BlitzChamps event, a rapid tournament for NFL players.

Personal life[edit]

Urschel is married to writer Louisa Thomas, whom he met when she was profiling him for Grantland. In 2017, their daughter, Joanna, was born.[32] Urschel's autobiography, Mind and Matter: A Life in Math and Football, was co-written by Thomas and published in 2019.[33][34]

See also[edit]

  • Frank Ryan – former NFL player and mathematician, who maintained an academic career while playing in the league


  1. ^ "Baltimore Ravens: John Urschel". Archived from the original on September 3, 2017. Retrieved September 14, 2017.
  2. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on July 16, 2016. Retrieved December 13, 2016.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  3. ^ "Ravens Lineman John Urschel Loves Math More Than You Love Anything". Deadspin. March 20, 2015. Retrieved March 23, 2015.
  4. ^ "John Urschel". Twitter. May 23, 2013. Retrieved March 23, 2015.
  5. ^ Alexandra Wolfe. "John Urschel: From the NFL to MIT". The Wall Street Journal, March 3, 2016. Accessed October 30, 2016.
  6. ^ Michael S. Rosenwald. "NFL's John Urschel has a brain made for math. And he's willing to risk it on the field.". The Washington Post, October 9, 2016. Accessed October 30, 2016.
  7. ^ "Ravens guard John Urschel to take on U.S. champion in chess - FOX Sports". May 18, 2016. Retrieved September 14, 2017.
  8. ^ a b c Lenzi, Rachel. "Canisius High graduate John Urschel joins College Football Playoff selection committee," The Buffalo (NY) News, Wednesday, January 22, 2020. Retrieved December 19, 2022.
  9. ^ Ellenberg, Jordan (September 28, 2018). "John Urschel Goes Pro". Hmm Daily. Retrieved September 29, 2018.
  10. ^ "Wonderlic test at combine wasn't scary for John Urschel". Retrieved February 28, 2022.
  11. ^ "John Urschel Draft and Combine Prospect Profile". Retrieved May 10, 2014.
  12. ^ "John Urschel, Penn State, OG, 2014 NFL Draft Scout, NCAA College Football". Retrieved February 28, 2022.
  13. ^ "John Urschel". Sports Reference LLC. Retrieved April 22, 2016.
  14. ^ Mink, Ryan (July 27, 2017). "Genius Mathematician John Urschel Is Retiring From the NFL". Archived from the original on July 28, 2017.
  15. ^ Orr, Conor (July 27, 2017). "John Urschel tells Ravens he's retiring from NFL". Archived from the original on July 28, 2017. Retrieved December 16, 2020.
  16. ^ Walker, Childs; Dance, Scott; Zrebiec, Jeff (July 27, 2017). "Concerned with long-term damage from head injuries, Ravens offensive lineman John Urschel retires". The Baltimore Sun. Archived from the original on December 1, 2017. Retrieved December 16, 2020.
  17. ^ "John Urschel's Homepage". Retrieved November 9, 2018.
  18. ^ "John Urschel". Diverse: Issues In Higher Education. Cox, Matthews, and Associates. March 31, 2014. Retrieved September 8, 2021.
  19. ^ Mullen, Jethro (March 22, 2015). "Unusual equation: Baltimore Ravens' guard John Urschel is a math whiz". Retrieved March 22, 2015.
  20. ^ Urschel, John C.; Hu, Xiaozhe; Xu, Jinchao; Zikatanov, Ludmil T. (2015). "A Cascadic Multigrid Algorithm for Computing the Fiedler Vector of Graph Laplacians" (PDF). Journal of Computational Mathematics. 33 (2): 209–226. arXiv:1412.0565. doi:10.4208/jcm.1412-m2014-0041. S2CID 7241927. Archived from the original (PDF) on April 27, 2015. Retrieved April 20, 2015.
  21. ^ Miller, Stephen D. (2016). "'I plan to be a great mathematician': An NFL Offensive Lineman Shows He's One of Us" (PDF). Notices of the American Mathematical Society. 63 (2): 148–151. doi:10.1090/noti1331.
  22. ^ Clements, Ron (May 25, 2016). "Ravens guard John Urschel's straight-A streak continues at MIT". Sporting News. Retrieved June 9, 2016.
  23. ^ Heck, Jordan (September 7, 2017). "John Urschel didn't tell Ravens he was a full-time Ph.D. student at MIT while in the NFL". Sporting News. Retrieved October 8, 2019.
  24. ^ "Ravens' John Urschel makes prestigious Forbes '30 Under 30' list". January 4, 2017. Retrieved September 14, 2017.
  25. ^ "John Urschel". Forbes. Retrieved September 14, 2017.
  26. ^ "Michel Goemans People". Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Retrieved November 1, 2020.
  27. ^ "MR:Search MSC database". Retrieved November 9, 2018.
  28. ^ a b "Heard on Campus: John Urschel at the Penn State Forum | Penn State University". Retrieved November 9, 2018.
  29. ^ "John Urschel". Forbes. Retrieved November 9, 2018.
  30. ^ "2015 Pittsburgh Open". United States Chess Federation. November 2, 2016. Retrieved November 2, 2016.
  31. ^ "Mathlete in the House: NFLer-cum-mathematician John Urschel to deliver public lecture at U of M". Retrieved November 9, 2018.
  32. ^ "It all adds up: Lineman John Urschel loves his post-NFL life". Associated Press. May 30, 2019. Retrieved July 12, 2022.
  33. ^ Urschel, John; Thomas, Louisa (2019). Mind and Matter: A Life in Math and Football. ISBN 978-0735224865.
  34. ^ Santa Maria, Cara (August 19, 2019). Talk Nerdy Episode 271 - John Urschel (Podcast).

External links[edit]