Reviewing ESPN and NFL Network's coverage of the NFL draft
When ESPN executives review their 2013 NFL draft coverage, they should immediately fast forward to the first selection of the fourth round. It's an 11-minute sequence from stem to stern and it shows ESPN at its absolute best and nimblest. It also reinforces what I believe is the majority opinion outside the network's Bristol campus: ESPN's best draft day crew comes on Day 2 and 3.
With Jacksonville holding the 98th overall pick, host Trey Wingo immediately tossed to reporter Adam Schefter, who informed viewers that the Jaguars were fielding calls about the slot. One of Wingo's strengths as a draft host is to synthesize things quickly, offer a cogent road map, and then get the hell out of the way. He summarized Jacksonville's draft up until that point and gave way to analyst Todd McShay, who began to offer some suggestions should the Jaguars keep the pick. But Wingo interrupted almost immediately with breaking news. "Sorry, Todd, there will be a trade here," Wingo said. "It is now Philadelphia."
The set perked up but Wingo steadied the crew. He turned to analyst Trent Dilfer and set him up perfectly. Said Wingo: "This is interesting, Trent, because you have one guy who you have had your eye on for the quarterback spot for the last couple of days."
Dilfer then did something people on sports television rarely do (see, Smith, Stephen A. and Bayless, Skip). He admitted he didn't have any inside information but wanted to suggest Arizona quarterback Matt Scott as a possible selection. "I could be dead wrong," Dilfer said, who would prove to be dead wrong. "I didn't talk to anyone in Philly. To me, this Matt Scott is a prospect."
Dilfer offered a scouting report of Scott and explained why he could be a good fit for a Chip Kelly offense.
Then came Mel Kiper, the veteran draft warhorse who still delivers for this production. Kiper brought up the Eagles' second-round pick, Stanford tight end Zach Ertz, who finished with 106 receiving yards and a career-high 11 catches against Kelly's then No. 1-ranked Oregon team. This was a great point: Kiper explained to the audience that Kelly had a familiarity with Pac-12 players both in game situations and recruiting.
Wingo, sensing something interesting brewing, asked Kiper for his draft grade on Scott. "Matt Scott, it's amazing, being where he is right now to be in the same discussion as Matt Barkley," Kiper responded.
The production then turned to Schefter and information partner Chris Mortensen -- and Schefter nailed it. "It turns out the quarterback the Philadelphia Eagles have been eyeing and scouting and doing a lot of work into is USC quarterback Matt Barkley," Schefter reported. Mortensen then explained that the idea that Kelly would only draft an up-tempo, run-pass quarterback was a misconception and that Barkley reminded Kelly of current Eagles quarterback Nick Foles.
When the production returned to the main set, McShay told a great anecdote about Kelly watching Drew Brees and being amazed at the quick eyes and release of the Saints quarterback. "Matt Barkley has some of those same qualities," McShay said.
Said Wingo: "Well, he had to wait two days but he didn't have to wait very long on Day 3. Matt Barkley is a Philadelphia Eagle." Then Wingo did what good draft hosts do: He stopped talking so his analysts could continue.
Dilfer immediately followed with an analysis of Barkley, and here is where ESPN was really great: The network showed nine different highlights of Barkley passing, including one in which he held the ball too long and took a sack. Dilfer and McShay spoke cogently over the highlights and Kiper jumped in to tell viewers that Barkley had nine touchdowns in the last two years against a Chip Kelly defense -- a great stat.
Wingo then tossed it over to Bill Polian, the former GM who was sensational during the draft by being the opposite of an over-packaged TV analyst. "Well, we said all along that Chip has knowledge of this college crop," Polian said. "I'm a little surprised because I thought it would be Scott as well because of the mobility factor. But here's the thing about Matt Barkley: He's drafted, the chatter is all over with, he's now a Philadelphia Eagle. The most important thing is not when you are drafted but that you were drafted ... I'm anxious to see what this means to Nick Foles, if anything."
Dilfer jumped back in to talk about Kelly being a proponent of high-performance training and skill development, and how Barkley could excel under him. Kiper pointed out that since Michael Vick had bought into Kelly's philosophy, Barkley could end up being in an ideal situation as a backup with time to develop. McShay called the Eagles "the most fascinating team" in the NFL.
Wingo piloted the coverage back to Mortensen, who reported that the Eagles started thinking about Barkley late on Friday as he slid in the draft. Said Mortensen: "Chip Kelly has been warning people: Don't try to fit me here in a certain particular box. I can go anywhere with this offense."
Schefter then referenced the financial component to Barkley's selection, given that Barkley was projected as a top 10 pick the year before. Schefter said the USC quarterback would get a four-year deal worth about $2.5 million and a roughly $500,000 signing bonus. "Not close to the money that he might have made had he come out last year, but that was a decision Matt Barkley made," Schefter said. "And in the NFL, it is always about the second contract anyway. So if Matt Barkley plays well in Philly, the money will come later but it won't be as readily available right now." Schefter then took the audience to commercial by referencing all the quarterbacks (Tyler Bray, Landry Jones and Ryan Nassib) still available in the draft.
The entire segment lasted 11 minutes, and it was as good a stretch as you will ever see on an NFL draft broadcast.
This is the ESPN crew I wish we'd get on opening night, but ESPN senior coordinating producer Seth Markman is likely to keep the same groupings together with one exception: He told SI.com Sunday night that Ray Lewis is likely to work the first round of next year's draft.
"Ray told me he wants to work hard on learning the players in the draft and getting to know them, especially the defensive players," Markman said. "If Ray Lewis tells me he is going to work hard on something, I am not one to doubt him. I think he can add something on the big night. I don't want him to have to know 300 players, but if I told him to study the top 25 defensive players, I think it could be really special."
Both ESPN and NFL Network executives said they plan to once again reinforce the Twitter pick-by-pick ban for staffers during the opening rounds of the 2014 Draft. "I haven't talked to ESPN about it, but we think this will remain as we move forward," said NFL Network executive producer Eric Weinberger. "It carried through Night Two for us and we think it really made for a better show, a better draft and a more interesting product for the viewer."
When told of Weinberger's comments, Markman said he was inclined to do the same thing again.
The NFL Draft Noise Report
(SI.com examines some of the more notable moments and news from NFL Network and ESPN's coverage of the draft.)
"Remember we talked about the footprint of general managers?" Mayock explained. "[GM] Jerry Reese has a very clear footprint: They are a value team. And I think that is why they are always in the hunt every year. When you are talking about a guy that might be on your board anywhere from 20 to 40 and he is on the board at 110, you have to make that pick and especially with a quarterback getting older and a backup quarterback that is already old ... I know as a fan you are anxious to draft another piece that might win you a Super Bowl, but what I see is a team being consistent with their overall draft philosophy."
I could provide hundreds of other moments throughout the draft where Mayock shined and all that we ask as viewers for this event is that you don't con us on preparation. Even as his television star rises, Mayock keeps doing the work. He's a self-proclaimed grinder, and it's appreciated.
He also went big on Miami drafting Oklahoma tackle Lane Johnson with the No. 3 overall pick after the Dolphins traded with the Raiders to move up. "You can't spend all the money Miami just spent to win now and not have a left tackle protect your quarterback," Mayock said. "This is an obvious move and I have been waiting for it all day. It has to be Lane Johnson." Miami then selected defensive end Dion Jordan, but this is why Mayock is great. He quickly moved on to explain Jordan's potential -- saying he could project as Jason Taylor-type of player with added weight -- and told the audience he didn't have it. "Boy, was I wrong," Mayock said.
Predictably, Berman was crushed by journalists and Twitter Nation on Thursday night. The more I deal with television people, the more I realize that relationships are often as important (if not more) than talent and performance. Berman has the backing of high executives at ESPN who believe much of the criticism toward him is the product of a snarky blogosphere and a loud minority. It has become white noise for them. In short, Berman will be back next year, ESPN PR people will tell me I am too hard on Berman, and the cycle will continue. Rinse. Spin. Repeat.
Six Things I Think I Think
In an ode to Peter King's MMQB column, I conclude with Six Things I Think I Think About the 2013 NFL draft coverage: