ESPN, NFL Network unveil NFL draft plans
NFL Draft Broadcast Preview (cont.)
Never forget that the NFL draft is a television show at its core, a non-event that has morphed into a mega-event every April. How big has the Goodellapalooza become? Last year, ESPN and the NFL Network combined for an average of 8.1 million viewers for its opening-round coverage, an increase of 16 percent from the previous year and the second-most-watched first round ever. (To wit: Those numbers would top last year's NBA Western Conference finals between the Thunder and the Spurs, which averaged 7.82 million viewers on TNT.) It is, as Joe Biden might say, a big freaking deal.
While ESPN and NFL Network will compete fiercely for audience this week, they have once again come together for a gentleman's agreement on the subject of tipping draft picks. Both networks have pledged not to show images of players on the phone in the green room at Radio City Music Hall. In addition to that, both networks tell SI.com that they will tell staffers not to report pick-by-pick selections on their Twitter feeds prior to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announcing the picks on the podium. The Twitter edict will extend into the second round of the draft. Teams have 10 minutes to pick in the first round, seven minutes in the second round and five minutes for the rest of the draft.
"Our fans have told us they would rather hear from the Commissioner and I think it is a better TV show when we speculate and let the Commissioner do it," said ESPN NFL senior coordinating producer Seth Markman, who oversees draft coverage for the network. "I have said in the past that [ESPN reporters] Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen can basically announce all the picks before they are made if they really wanted to. It goes against a lot of our instincts as journalists and it's totally different than anything I deal with, but we feel like it is a win for the fans and our viewers."
Adam Schefter added that Twitter is "such a part of the life we live now so it just figures it would extend to the NFL draft." But he still realizes the importance of the experience of watching the draft unfold on TV rather than the computer. "Some people like having that news instantaneously," he said. "Many don't like the surprise to be spoiled. I am not looking to spoil the drama or ruin the experience."
Markman and NFL Network executive producer Eric Weinberger ironed out the agreement via emails and phone calls this month, and through discussions with the NFL broadcasting department. Will ESPN and NFL Network on-air staffers still speculate on who will be drafted? Yes. But both Markman and Weinberger insist that no on-air talent is ever tipped of the pick prior to the announcement. Both executives reiterated they are given the team selections from the league 30 to 60 seconds before the pick happens so they can align graphics and be ready for the show production. "They [our on-air talent] will be speculating," Weinberger said. "They will be using their informed analysis but they will not know who the pick is until the Commissioner announces it."
Markman reiterated Weinberger's point, and insisted the talent does not know the pick ahead of time. "We get a little bit of a heads up as producers -- a very short heads up -- but we have never, ever, ever, I promise you, told the pick to any of our talent," he said.
Each network has made changes in both personnel and production for the draft, which begins Thursday (Round 1 starts at 8 p.m. ET) and extends to Friday (Rounds 2-3; 6:30 p.m.) and Saturday (Rounds 4-7; 12 p.m.)
Below, we offer extended notes on what ESPN and the NFL Network have in store for viewers:
1. ESPN Notes: The cast for the network's opening night NFL draft main set are the usual suspects: Chris Berman will host alongside analysts Jon Gruden and Mel Kiper Jr. NFL insiders Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter will report from an additional set. Reporter Suzy Kolber will be on hand to interview draft prospects. The first hour of the first round will be presented with limited commercials on ESPN.
Viewers will see a dramatically different main set for Friday (Round 2-3) and Saturday (Rounds 4-7) when Trey Wingo replaces Berman as host and analyst Trent Dilfer and draft expert Todd McShay join Kiper. Former NFL GM Bill Polian will be added beginning on the second night.
1a. ESPN reporters will appear at the following team facilities during the weekend: Josina Anderson (Rams), Colleen Dominguez (49ers), Jeannine Edwards (Eagles), Bob Holtzman (Vikings); Sal Paolantonio (Jets) and Ed Werder (Chiefs).
1b. Why did ESPN make the personnel changes for Day Two and Three from last year? "We decided as a group to really focus on Berman and Gruden on Day One," Markman said. "It's the biggest night, the most well-known players, the highest-rated, and most fans watching ... We are also giving some opportunities to other people to highlight what we believe is the depth of our talent group. Those guys that deserve opportunities. There will be a lot of Bill Polian on Day Two and Three and huge hours of pregame. I expect him to put his GM hat on and give us that unique perspective."
1c. My feelings are well known regarding ESPN's NFL draft staffing: Trey Wingo should be the host of the entire draft, a better fit for a news event than Berman. Replacing Gruden with Dilfer and McShay would also be a better first night fit, though Gruden has clearly done the prep work with the top-ranked prospects.
1d. Markman has told all ESPN NFL staffers not to tweet out selections prior to the announcement of the Commissioner for the first round. The edict is likely to extend into the second round as well. "The majority of the people we have heard from say they prefer not to be told in advance," he said. "Is this a perfect scenario on Twitter? No. But I can only go by the majority of what we heard and I think we are making the right decision. We could get beat on some stories but I'd rather get beat on a couple of draft picks on Thursday night than anger the majority of the fan base. We'll definitely do that for the first round and into the second round. After that, I don't think people tweet out picks by pick, anyway."
1e. In a rather incredible story given the egos of sports television, Polian told the production truck last year not to call on him for certain players because he didn't know much about them. "That never happens," Markman said. "Most guys try to talk their way around it because they want the air time. But that's Bill. He's not a TV guy. That was the most honest thing last year. You study a ton of players but it gets late in the draft and he just waves us off, saying, 'I have nothing to add.' It's so refreshing."
1f. ESPN has highlights for 320 players ready and credit production assistants Jeremy Drummond, Brandon Barrard, Chris Jarmon, Steven Kim, Cesar Lopez and Elliott Travis for long hours of work. "I would put those highlights up against anything I've seen," Markman said. "And Mel Kiper is involved in every single one of these highlights. He reviews them all."
1g. Markman said he thought last year's Saturday show (Rounds 4-7) swung too far into an NFL discussion show, so look for ESPN to get more into a pick-by-pick analysis during the later rounds. "You saw guys like [Redskins running back] Alfred Morris on Day Three last year," Markman said. "I think we owe it to the fans to show the highlights of these kids. The highlights are the star and then get Mel and Todd to tell us who they are."
1h. Markman reiterated again this week that his on-air talent does not know the picks prior to Goodell walking up to the podium -- only the people in production do. Some have questioned whether Markman is dealing straight, including Pro Football Talk editor Mike Florio. "I promise Mike Florio we have never done that or anyone who wants to challenge me on this," Markman said. "I know we have been criticized for making a valid prediction of what the pick will be, but that is because whether it is Chris Berman, Mort, Schefter or Gruden or anyone, they have done their homework, have made calls, have found out what teams like what players and when the scenario plays out during the draft, they have a good idea where the team will go. If they want to make a prediction, they should."
1i. ESPN would have no problem getting any college football coach to serve as a draft guest analyst. So why do they eschew the Nick Sabans for this event? "It is a fundamental difference between us and the NFL Network," Markman said. "I could do five different sets of guys of the draft with our talent -- I honestly believe that. We have guys on pregame shows that I would put up against anyone and I can't get them on the draft. College coaches call us and we politely decline because of our deep talent roster. We still believe this is an NFL event. I think college is over for these kids and I want to hear how they will be projected into the NFL."
1j. ESPN will have cameras at the home of USC quarterback Matt Barkley and will interview Barkley when he is selected.
1k. ESPN Radio's draft coverage begins Thursday at 7 p.m. ET. Mike Hill and Mark Schlereth will co-host the coverage and will be joined by ESPN.com senior NFL writer John Clayton.
1l. ESPN is using draft week to promote Elway to Marino, the latest documentary from ESPN Films' 30 for 30 series. The program will air Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN. Narrated by actor Tom Selleck and directed by NFL Films staffer Ken Rodgers, the film examines the 1983 NFL draft, when six quarterbacks were selected in the opening round.
2. NFL Network Notes: The opening night main set for the NFL Network consists of host Rich Eisen and analysts Mike Mayock, Marshall Faulk, Michael Irvin and Steve Mariucci. Deion Sanders will be on the stage interviewing athletes and self-referencing Deion Sanders. Ian Rapoport and Daniel Jeremiah will serve as the lead information providers.
Eisen and Mayock continue their roles on Friday night (Rounds 2 and 3) while Brian Billick and Charles Davis shift into analyst roles. Melissa Stark takes over for Sanders on the second night of coverage. For coverage of Rounds 4-7, the main set will consist of Eisen, Mayock, Davis, and a revolving cast of college coaches beginning with Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly (10:30 a.m.-1 p.m. ET), LSU coach Les Miles (1:00-3:15 p.m.), and Stanford coach David Shaw (3:00-5:15 p.m.). Throughout the weekend, look for the NFL Network to call on analysts who played the same position as those drafted (for instance, Kurt Warner will weigh in from the network's Los Angeles studios on quarterback selections). Former general managers Charley Casserly and Scott Pioli will also be part of the coverage.
2b. In a recurring theme for both networks, the NFL Network's second and third day talent groupings are better than its opening night. It has the advantage of having the draft's singular talent -- Mayock -- and the stronger first night host in Eisen, who is at his best providing quality control with an armada of analysts.
2c. The NFL Network will have reporters at multiple locations including Michelle Beisner (Cardinals on Thursday and Seahawks on Friday and Saturday); Albert Breer (Eagles); Stacey Dales (Bears); Jeff Darlington (Rams); Alex Flanagan (49ers); Rich Hollenberg (Giants); Kimberly Jones (Jets); Aditi Kinkhabwala (Ravens); Randy Moss (Cowboys); Solomon Wilcots (Browns on Thursday and Redskins on Friday and Saturday); Ari Wolfe (Vikings) and Steve Wyche (Chiefs).
2d. With an ode to the rapid increase in picture sharing among younger viewers, the NFL Network will add a heavy photo element to its production. "When a kid gets picked, we will show photos of that kid from childhood to this moment in time," said Weinberger. "We want to take advantage of photo-oriented culture and show them as people in addition to football. It will be a visual difference-maker."
2e. The NFL Network will have cameras in the war rooms of 16 team facilities -- the most ever in the network's history. The teams include the Chiefs (first overall pick), Jaguars (No. 2), Cardinals (No. 7), Bills (No. 8), Titans (No. 10), Chargers (No. 11), Dolphins (No. 12), Panthers (No. 14), Rams (Nos. 16 & 22), Cowboys (No. 18), Vikings (Nos. 23 & 25), Packers (No. 26), Texans (No. 27), Broncos (No. 28), Falcons (No. 30), and Seahawks (No. 56 overall). Weinberger said it is the fourth year in a row the NFL Network will be in the war room of the first overall pick in the draft.
2f. The NFL Network has highlights for 700 draftable players, an almost inconceivable number given 253 players were drafted last year. Those responsible for the long hours of procuring and cutting those tapes include producer Sean Coffey (who, specifically, tapes for Mayock), and production assistants Zach Arnstein, Josh Cohen and Michael Frierson.
2g. Weinberger said the NFL Network will feature live coverage from 19 team draft parties -- including 16 on Thursday night.
2h. Weinberger considers the red carpet element of the draft an underdeveloped asset -- perhaps the California sun is getting to him. He has assigned Kevin Frazier of The Insider and NFL staffer Melissa Stark to co-host what will likely be an episode in vapidity. Angela Simmons, the daughter of Run-DMC's Joseph (Run) Simmons, will provide fashion critiques of the draftees on-air. Red Carpet coverage starts at 4:00 p.m. ET on Thursday night.
2i. I gave the slight edge to the NFL Network last year because of Mayock. Here's my 2012 review.
3. ESPN drew 2.9 million viewers last year for its three-day draft coverage, up slightly from the previous year. The NFL Network finished with a three-day average of 757,000 viewers, up 34 percent over both 2010 and 2011.
3a. ESPN averaged 6.66 million for its first round coverage in 2012, up 11 percent from the previous year. The NFL Network drew 1.4 million viewers for the opening round, up 40 percent from the previous year.
3b. Will ratings go up this year? It's hard to predict. Last year's draft had ready-made stars at the top in Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. This year presents more drama and depth but lacks last year's star power. "Mayock and I were talking about this," Weinberger said. "He thinks there are at least 30 more draftable players going into this draft which makes for a lot of drama. There was no drama with Andrew Luck and RGIII last year. Those huge names will bring people to the TV set -- no doubt about that. But the depth of this draft looks richer so we are hoping as the day moves on and with some trades, there are really some intriguing stories."
3c. SiriusXM NFL Radio (channel 88 on Sirius and XM Premier) will offer live coverage of the NFL Draft beginning at 5:00 pm ET on Thursday, and will cover every pick live through the end of the draft. The on-site broadcast team includes Gil Brandt, the former VP of Player Personnel for the Dallas Cowboys, Pat Kirwan, Jim Miller and Tim Ryan.
4. CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason LaCanfora -- who worked on-air for the NFL Network during last year's draft -- says he can't understand why fans are bothered by picks being revealed on Twitter. "Seems to me the entire point of Twitter is real-time, in-this-second news and updates, and yet people get up in arms about seeing a pick revealed on Twitter before the Commissioner announces it on TV," LaCanfora said in an email. "I'll never figure this one out."
4a. Given that ESPN and the NFL Network are restricting talent from tweeting pick-by-pick selections ahead of time, does LaCanfora see advantages working for a non-broadcast entity such as CBS? "It's definitely cool to just report and get info out and, sure, there is a different degree of freedom in that," LaCanfora said. "But my hunch is once the draft actually gets going, there will end up being several different standards and no universal understanding of exactly what the "rules" are for those broadcasting the event."
5. Chris Mortensen's first official assignment as an ESPN employee was the 1991 NFL draft, making this his 23rd draft show for the network. How does he view the impact of Twitter on NFL Draft coverage including his own? "The fast pace of the draft since Roger Goodell implemented shorter time limits and split the draft into a three-day event generally means that I will disseminate on TV approximately five percent of the information I have gathered for the draft," said Mortensen, in an email. "I've talked to Adam (Schefter) frequently about not allowing the frustration of these nights get the better of us. That means Twitter becomes a major outlet, even with its limitations. Why not use social media to unload some real-time development, nice nuggets on players and teams selecting them? Answer some questions from fans/followers."
Mortensen continued: "Goodell's decision to squeeze time limits between picks has made for pretty terrific prime-time viewing if you're a football fan. For a reporter, it's created some frustration but it's not about us unless we have a significant development while teams are on the clock in which we will report first on TV but possibly turn to Twitter if we're in commercial break or if we have moved on to the next pick...It is my responsibility and pleasure to deliver as many notes as possible on Twitter...Seemingly every NFL and college player is on Twitter, relaying news, a nice background piece of information or even some outrageous reaction. The trap is obvious. Does it meet the journalistic standard? What is that standard? Is it a playground or workplace? Both, right? I'd add that leading up to the draft, NFL teams assign their own staffers and security people to review Twitter and Facebook postings to assist in building a profile of that particular player."
6. Schefter said he does not check his Twitter responses during the draft but he did become aware of the criticism he received for reporting picks on Twitter last year. Markman told him the one that drew the most criticism was when he reported that the Pats had traded up to draft Chandler Jones in the first round. Given the edict from his bosses about pulling back on Twitter, how much is Schefter worried about competitors from non-NFL draft broadcast entities beating him this weekend? "I really don't worry about it," Schefter said. "At the risk of sounding like an athlete, I am just going to worry about doing my job as well as I can. If someone else gets every pick, God bless them. My job is not to report every pick in advance or interfere with our production and show. I recognize that my job is to be on top of key, significant headline-making moves."
7. Jon Gruden has been vocal this week about how much he likes Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib, one of the draft prospects featured on his QB Camp program. "He managed the no‑huddle offense, he has size, athleticism, and he has an NFL pedigree of having played for Doug Marrone," Gruden said "He's functioned in a couple of different offenses. What they did this year at Syracuse, changing their offense two weeks before the regular season, says a lot about this kid's ability to adapt ... He threw some tight‑window completions, and that's hard to find sometimes in college football. You don't see a lot of really contested, tight-window throws under duress. I thought Nassib proved that he could make the difficult plays when there wasn't a clean pocket. He didn't have a great supporting cast, no disrespect to Syracuse. There were times that Nassib had to make something happen for Syracuse to win, and I thought he did that enough to prove that he can do it at the next level."
7a. Here's Gruden on Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o: "I like the fact that he's a four‑year starter, and he has tremendous production. I've seen him intercept passes. I've seen him make all kinds of different tackles, pursuit, second-effort tackles. I've seen him get out of the trash, get off blocks, stuff people in the hole. He can play in a 3‑4 scheme, he can play in a 4‑3 scheme. He never comes off the field. I really like that about him...I think he's got a real good football aptitude. He plays faster, I think, than people give him credit. I think he's a very good, instinctive, high‑effort, well‑coached, inside linebacker that's got to prove he can play on every down."
7b. West Virginia wide receiver Tavon Austin is Gruden's favorite player in the draft. "I'm sensitive to him because he's 5-foot-8 like myself," Gruden said. "When you watch the kid play, he's magnificent. He's a great return man, punts, kicks. He lines up at tailback, and he plays like a tailback. He looks like Darren Sproles at tailback and he looks like Wes Welker in the slot. I've seen quick guys, fast players, but I've never seen very many that have the combination of speed and quickness like Austin has. He's just a fun, deluxe joker to have on your football team. He's going to make an impact, I believe, big time."
7c. Florida State quarterback E.J. Manuel is also high on the Gruden-meter. "I like E.J. a lot because I think you can call just about any scheme you want to call," Gruden said. "He's a presence inside the 10‑yard line, much like Cam Newton in Carolina is. I've seen him run various option plays, and we know that's certainly a major point of emphasis in the NFL right now. I know he can bring a lot to the table from an athletic standpoint. He's a really fun kid to be around. The players like him. He helped the Seminoles win 12 games and an Orange Bowl. I think he can improve as a passer. I think he can improve his protection awareness and understanding. I don't think he's anywhere near to a finished product, but I do think he has a big upside. He has a tremendous skillset that allows him to do a lot of different things. If you're with a creative offensive coach, look out."
7d. How does Gruden view his role in ESPN's draft production? "Well, hopefully people believe that I've studied as much tape as the normal guy," Gruden said. "I take a lot of pride in having seen the players play a number of games. I try to be a good teammate, be a good listener, and take advantage of the 10, 20 seconds or whatever time you have to give your input regarding the pick or the team that's on the clock's pick. I just try to be as prepared as possible and be a team player."
8. NBC Sports broadcaster Al Michaels was arrested on Friday night in Santa Monica for having a blood alcohol level at the presumed level of intoxication in the state of California. He spent more than five hours in the Santa Monica City Jail, according to NFL.com, and was released on his own recognizance on Saturday. An NBC Sports spokesperson told SI.com on Sunday: "We are aware of the situation and we are in touch with Al. We are in the information-gathering stage." Michaels is scheduled to appear at Los Angeles Municipal Court at 8:30 a.m. on June 26.
9. NBC announced its plans last Tuesday for how it will cover the Premier League coverage. Here's my piece.
10. Among the memorable sports pieces of the week:
• Washington Post writer Kent Babb had a superbly reported piece on the descent of former NBA star Allen Iverson.
• SI.com's S.L. Price elegantly captured the feeling in the city of Boston following the bombing.
• Really liked how Joe Posnanski of NBC Sports handled his tribute to the late Pat Summerall.
• WNBA top overall pick Brittany Griner discussed her sexuality for the first time extensively in a well done interview with SI Video host Maggie Gray.
• If interested, I went on The Dan Patrick Show to talk about Griner and how the media covers a gay athlete in pro sports.
Two non-sports notes:
• Esquire's Charlie Pierce wrote brilliantly from Watertown following the manhunt for Dzhokar Tsarnaev.
•The Economist obituary of Víctor Carranza Niño, Colombia's "emerald tsar, is a must-read.