The Cleveland Browns announced a reorganization of their front office on Monday, and three of the major hires for player personnel are or have been heavily involved in analytics -- including a vice president of player personnel who has worked only in analytics.
There are some traditional football hires -- longtime scout Chisom Opara becomes director of player personnel -- but the Browns continue to push the envelope to find new ways to form a front office that can build a winning team.
The team's release even indicates that Opara, a scout hired by former general manager Phil Savage, will "work closely with" Paul DePodesta. DePodesta is the team's director of strategy and is known for his heavy reliance on analytics in a lengthy baseball career.
Vice president of football operations Sashi Brown has insisted the team will mainly follow traditional scouting methods in acquiring players, but the restructuring makes it clear that the Browns are not afraid to take chances.
Ken Kovash, who has a pure analytics background, becomes vice president of player personnel. Kovash came to the Browns in 2013 from Dallas, where he was the Cowboys' senior analytics manager in his first three seasons in the NFL.
Kovash has been the Browns' director of football research. He now moves into a spot that is vital in determining on-field personnel.
Director of scouting Mike Cetta has been a scouting assistant for two years. The team describes his new role as one that will "help direct systems and processes that support the Browns' scouting department." That doesn't exactly sound like he'll be poring over reports on a player's skill at inside coverage technique.
Kevin Meers becomes director of research and strategy. Meers was a research analyst over the past two seasons. Like Opara, Meers will work with DePodesta.
In explaining the moves, the Browns relied on a lot of the jargon that the team has been using since the front-office overhaul following the 2015 season.
"We feel really good about our department as a whole and the extensive collaboration we have established in our everyday work,” Brown said. “Our intent has been to assemble a group committed to creating strategic and comprehensive processes that help us make the best decisions possible for building our football team."
In addition to Opara's move, the team moved Dan Saganey and Bobby Vega to director of scouting. Saganey was most recently a manager in the player personnel department whose duties included advance scouting of opponents. Vega grew up with the Browns as a scout.
The team also hired Glenn Cook from the Green Bay Packers as assistant director of scouting.
Those four are the traditional football hires.
But when a team makes an analytics person the vice president of player personnel, it is taking a new step. Add on the hires of DePodesta and Brown -- a former salary-cap guy who has final say in personnel -- and the Browns have broken the mold.
Other NFL teams are wading into the analytics front in varying ways. The Broncos hired Mitch Tanney as director of analytics before last season, and coach Gary Kubiak communicated with Tanney during games.
In the AFC North, the Bengals have traditional football people in leadership roles. Steelers GM Kevin Colbert has been the Steelers' director of football operations or GM since 2000. Ozzie Newsome has been running the Ravens since their birth in 1996, and assistant GM Eric DeCosta also has been with the team from the beginning, working his way through the scouting ranks.
However, the Ravens have six people in the front office and coaching staff with an analytics background -- including Eugene Shen, the director of coaching analytics. In 2012, Newsome hired Sandy Weil to run the analytics department. Weil's LinkedIn account indicates that he left the team in July 2015 and he is now director of analytics at Kroenke Sports & Entertainment in Denver.
The Steelers also have an analytics and football research coordinator: Karim Kassam. Kassam was hired while he was a professor at Carnegie Mellon. He studied computer and electrical engineering as an undergraduate, and he earned a master's degree in advanced computing and a doctorate in social psychology.
When hired, Kassam said he thought half the league had an analytics department.