Dash Board Top 10

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Posted by Dash Davidsonon October 2, 2014

Since joining the Tableau Public team three weeks ago as its first Sports Data Analyst, I have had the enviable job of coming up with interesting visualizations about football data, to herald the beginnings of the NFL and NCAAF seasons. As I am still myself a novice Tableau user, I thought that in this post I would walk through the steps I took in undertaking this project, hoping to provide some practical fodder for those of us interested in using Tableau to analyze the sports that we love. I will segment my post into ten steps, constituting the first of what I hope will become many Dash Board Top 10 blog posts.

  1. Identify area of inquiry: Every project must have some burning questions that drive its direction. As I contemplated the beginning of the college and pro football seasons and my all-important fantasy football matchups, I realized that I could explore the intersection between college football and fantasy football in the NFL - which college teams and conferences produce the best fantasy football players - a relationship about which I knew little. This explorative desire motivated me throughout the project, culminating in my finished dashboard: Best Fantasy Factories

  2. Identify what types of data you will need: Once you have figured out a broad area of focus, you need to then start thinking about the nuts and bolts of your research project – namely what types of data will you need to do your analysis. For me, this step was pretty clear: I needed NFL fantasy data and college football data that were linked together to allow cross-comparison.
  3. Find necessary data sources: This step in the exploratory process is often the most arduous and time-consuming, as rarely can you find all the data you need in one place or in the appropriate format. Often you will have to scrape data from different websites and then jigger into a suitable format in Excel or a similar data aggregation program. For my project, I needed a couple of different data streams: I needed NFL player data with yearly fantasy point production. I needed biographical data on those same NFL players, such as where they went to college, where they were born, how tall they are, etc.
  4. Download datasets and get them into a ‘Tableau-able’ form: Here is where your Excel skills come into play, as often it takes a lot of grunt work to get your data into a usable Tableau-friendly form. For me, the process was as follows:
  • To acquire the NFL data I went to pro-footballreference.com and found their yearly fantasy point leaderboards. Then all I had to do was download all the relevant years and compile them together in an excel spreadsheet.
  • Acquiring the biographical data was slightly more complicated, as I had to scrape it from the player cards on profootball-reference.com by using an external scraping application called Import.io that I found to be efficient and effective. It is highly recommended for all your scraping/extracting/crawling needs!
  • Remove all extraneous Excel columns/rows (no blank rows/columns!) and connect your dataset to Tableau.
  • Start playing around with your data in Tableau: When I first open Tableau, I like to just play around with my dataset for a bit, as I find that it helps freely and visually acquaint yourself with the data and begins the iterative process that will conclude with your polished dashboard. The first thing I did with this project was to try to answer a question that I’ve been wondering about for a while: where do the fastest players in the NFL come from? To do this I plotted the home state of every player in my dataset and colored them based on average time in the 40 yard dash at the NFL combine. Below you will see my result:
  • Create building blocks for dashboard: Having identified the area of inquiry and culled the dataset, the task now becomes how to funnel your research down into an elegant dashboard. The first step in this process is to create worksheets that will be the bricks and mortars of your dashboards. I knew that in my dashboard I wanted to link NFL fantasy data with NCAAF data, so I began with the following two worksheets:
  • Compile dashboard: Now that the heavy lifting has been done, the real fun begins, compiling the dashboard that will best highlight the analysis that you have gleaned from your data exploration. I synthesized the two sheets above into a new dashboard that showed the intersection between college and fantasy football.
  • Pimp dashboard: Creating an exemplary dashboard is more an art than a science, as considerations like color, font, layout, and sizing matter almost as much as data analysis. Make sure all your filters are working, color-code your backgrounds, set your type-face, eliminate those background grid marks, standardize your spacing. Design is a powerful element of Tableau Public. I worked very hard in my viz on creating a consistent color schema to synchronize the different worksheet components of my dashboard. Interacting with my Best Fantasy Factories dashboard, you can judge my succcess/failure at doing so.
  • Analysis: Once your visualization is complete, you can devote your time to analyzing your work. For my dashboard, I was surprised that the ACC is the dominant college football breeding ground of fantasy NFL talent. We hear so much about the SEC and how it dominates college football, but with my dashboard it is clear that whatever dominance SEC players enjoy in college does not translate into the pros. Also surprising was the total dominance of Miami as a feeder school for fantasy NFL talent. This screenshot shows every college in the dataset with height of bar indicating fantasy football points - a wider version of my college's sheet above - and Miami's lead is astonishing! What fresh insights do you gain from playing around with my visualization?
  • Publish: Now that you are done with all your hard work, it’s time to show it off to the world! Publish your dashboard to Tableau Public by clicking on Server and Saving to Web at the top of your Tableau Public menu. Then leverage your social networks to get the word out there and increase traffic to your dashboard!
  • Thanks for following along as I worked my way through my first ever Dash Board Top 10. If you are interested in NFL vizes like me, check out some of these recent Tableau Public author creations visualizing different elements of the NFL: