In ESPN The Magazine’s “NFL Draft Issue,” currently on newsstands, senior writer David Fleming profiles Paul DePodesta – a former Major League Baseball executive transitioning to pro football – in a unique fashion.
The article entitled, “I thought he was a genius until he agreed to work for the Browns,” adopts the tone of an NFL scouting report. DePodesta rose to prominence as the baseball scout who used analytics to help build the Oakland Athletics – as detailed in the book and film “Moneyball” – and New York Mets into championship contenders.
He recently joined the Cleveland Browns as Chief Strategy Officer. Can his analytics mastery turn the franchise into a winner? Fleming examines that prospect and more in his profile of DePodesta, written in scouts’ lingo. Fleming explains the approach to Front Row.
How did the concept for this story come about?
Over cold pancakes. In March, we had an NFL Writers Summit in Bristol and at breakfast I mentioned to my editor Cristina Daglas [senior editor] that I was thinking of writing the story in “scout-speak.” Without hesitation, she told me to give it a try. I’ve pitched some bizarre stories and used some unique storytelling methods over the years — my favorite is a 2003 profile of Dewayne White told in the voice of his dead father — and what makes The Mag great is that willingness to try new things and take risks.
How familiar were you with DePodesta before working on this piece?
I had read and seen “Moneyball” but that was it. A few years ago, I spent a week with the analytics department of the [NFL’s Jacksonville] Jaguars and ever since then I’ve been intrigued by advanced data in football. Not just as a different way to interpret and cover the game but all that it says about football culture that the NFL is so reluctant to embrace it.
How does this story differ from other NFL-related features you’ve worked on over the years?
Well, this was the first story I’ve ever worked on where the editor, Paul Kix [senior editor], asked me to try and make the writing more rigid. What really stands out with this story is the company it keeps. Cristina and Neely Lohmann [senior deputy editor] produced one of the best NFL Draft Issues we’ve ever done. In scout-speak, the work by [writers] Kevin Van Valkenburg, Tim Keown, Seth Wickersham and so many others is “truly beyond elite.”
For more on The Mag’s NFL Draft issue, visit ESPN MediaZone.
In this video, ESPN NFL Draft and college football analyst Todd McShay provides a scouting report on Paul DePodesta. If the video does not play on your device, click here.