NFL general managers are not the only executives seeking franchise quarterbacks. Both ESPN and NFL Network suits have been looking forward to this draft for some time given the number of boldfaced names at the quarterback position including Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, who has received the kind of media coverage usually reserved for a Kardashian.
The pre-draft storylines involving Manziel, Blake Bortles, Derek Carr and Teddy Bridgewater are expected to provide a nice viewership bump for the NFL draft-airing networks: Last year ESPN's first round coverage averaged 6.61 million viewers, down seven percent from the 2012 draft (which featured Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill and Brandon Weeden). The NFL Network's first-round coverage last year averaged 1.5 million viewers, up seven percent over 2012 though factor in that the network was in 71.2 million U.S. homes in April 2013 versus 59.1 million in April 2012.
This year's draft viewership will also be aided by the event moving back two weeks from its usual start date. That's two additional weeks of conjecture, mock drafts, and publicity for the annual Goodellapoolza.
"We thought this could be a highly-viewed draft because of the star power," said NFL Network executive producer Eric Weinberger said. "It will be interesting to see what the extra two weeks will mean. You can't go apples to apples from this year's draft to last year but there were not as many big names last year. This one is very deep, with a lot of quarterbacks, and we are expecting some big viewership."
While ESPN and NFL Network will compete fiercely for audience this week, SI.com can report that once again the networks have 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 and not to report pick-by-pick selections on the Twitter feeds of staffers prior to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announcing the picks on the podium. That Twitter agreement carries through at least the first two rounds.
Each network has made changes in personnel for live coverage, which begins Thursday (Round 1 starts at 8 p.m. ET) and extends to Friday (Rounds 2-3; 7 p.m.) and Saturday (Rounds 4-7; 12 p.m.). Below, we offer a viewers guide:
The vitals: This is the 35th year ESPN will broadcast the NFL draft.
Staffing: The main set for Round 1 consists of host Chris Berman and analysts Jon Gruden, Mel Kiper Jr. and newcomer Ray Lewis. NFL insiders Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter will report from an additional set on all three days. Suzy Kolber will interview players following their selection. Trey Wingo will replace Berman on the main set for Days 2 and 3 and be joined by analysts Trent Dilfer, Kiper and Todd McShay. Front office insider Bill Polian will split time with Dilfer on the main set on Saturday and will weigh in on Friday and Saturday at different times from an additional pit at Radio City.
What's New I: Ray Lewis. The former Ravens linebacker will be on the main set on Day One and his bosses assigned him 40 guys to focus on for the opening round.
"This guy was a film junkie as a player," said ESPN senior coordinating producer Seth Markman. "I don't care about Ray calling people around the league. I want his opinion on guys as he watches tape. He has strong opinions on players in this draft, positive and negative. This will not be Ray mailing it in. You will not watch the draft and say this guy was unprepared. His take on [defensive players] Jadeveon Clowney, Khalil Mack and C.J. Mosely will be huge. But he has strong opinions on Manziel, Bortles, Carr and Bridgewater too."
What's New II: Markman said ESPN will have subtle changes this year on Days 2 and 3. The coverage will focus less on big picture topics and more on the pick by pick selections. To wit, there will be no set (and no analysts) based in Bristol during Days 2 and 3 of the draft, though Kolber will be there to do some interviews and give Wingo a breather. "In the past we have had a set in Bristol on Saturday and pin-balled back and forth," Markman said.
"This year we will stay in Radio City for virtually all of Saturday."
Numbers of interest: ESPN says it has 316 player highlight packages available. They will have 23 cameras at Radio City.
Celebrity connections: The opening tease to ESPN's coverage features Seahawks stars Russell Wilson and Richard Sherman talking about how big a moment it was to be drafted, with Aloe Blac singing "The Man" to a montage of draft picks.
The ground game: ESPN's reporters at team sites include Josina Anderson (St. Louis Rams), Bob Holtzman (Minnesota Vikings), Britt McHenry (Jacksonville Jaguars), Sal Paolantonio (Cleveland Browns), Michele Steele (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and Ed Werder (Houston Texans).
Odds and ends: ESPN Radio will broadcast the NFL draft live on Thursday at 7 p.m. from Radio City with host Dari Nowkhah, analysts Louis Riddick and Mark Schlereth and ESPN.com senior NFL writer John Clayton. Coverage resumes Friday with Nowkhah, Riddick, Schlereth and Clayton. ESPN International will offer television coverage of the Draft to more than 31 million households in 41 countries and territories.
The vitals: This is the 10th draft the NFL Network has covered since it debuted in Nov. 2003.
Staffing: The main set for Round 1 consists of Rich Eisen, Marshall Faulk, Mike Mayock, Steve Mariucci, and Michael Irvin. Deion Sanders will interview draft picks on stage. The Radio City Music pit includes insiders Ian Rapoport and Daniel Jeremiah. Kurt Warner will weigh in from a studio in Los Angeles. For Rounds 2-3, Eisen will host the main set with analysts Mayock, Charles Davis, and Brian Billick. Melissa Stark will handle the interviews in the Green Room. Warner will also weigh in on Day Two. For Day 3 (Rounds 4-7), the main set will be Eisen, Mayock, Davis and Jeremiah. The Saturday coverage will include Stanford coach David Shaw (11 a.m. - 2:45 p.m. ET) and Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher (3-5 p.m. ET).
"We are trying tighten up our analysis before and after picks," said Weinberger. What does that mean? It means a faster rhythm to get in and out of picks rather than have every main set staffer weigh in on every selection.
What's New?: The NFL Network has added more voices to its opening night coverage including for the first time someone not in NYC: Warner has his own Warner's Corner segment in Los Angeles and when every quarterback gets picked, viewers will hear from him second. Look for NFL Network analyst Warren Sapp to weigh in when Clowney is selected. Ohio State coach Urban Meyer will appear prior to Friday's draft coverage at 5:30 ET p.m.
Numbers of interest: The network will have approximately 2,500 player video highlight packages available -- the most they've ever had. That's tape on approximately 750 players.
Celebrity connections: Prior to the start of the first round on Thursday, Stark and Kevin Frasier will conduct the annual sycophantic, ass-kissing festival that is the red-carpet. They'll interview each of the 23 prospects attending in the hours leading up to the live draft coverage.
The ground game: The following staffers will be assigned around the country: Michelle Beisner (Rams); Albert Breer (Vikings on Thursday and Redskins on Friday); Stacey Dales (Patriots); Jeff Darlington (Jaguars on Thursday/Friday, and Dolphins on Saturday); Alex Flanagan (Seahawks); Rebecca Haarlow (Bears); Rich Hollenberg (Atlanta Falcons); Kimberly Jones (Giants on Thursday and Jets on Saturday); Aditi Kinkhabwala (Browns on Thursday; Ravens on Friday, and Steelers on Saturday; Randy Moss (Jets); Desmond Purnell (Cowboys); Omar Ruiz (Raiders on Thursday; Niners on Friday and Saturday; Mike Silver (Rams); Ari Wolfe (Eagles) and Steve Wyche (Texans).
SI.com: Will your reporters be tipping picks on Twitter?
Markman: Adam Schefter and I have spoken about this and decided that he will tweet potential trade talk, inside draft room rumblings, and added perspective to complement, not spoil, the broadcast. Our viewers have told us clearly that they want the drama of the draft. Saying that viewers shouldn't be on Twitter during the draft or should unfollow him is ridiculous in 2014. Adam clearly owned the NFL offseason. If someone else wants to break some draft picks and spoil the drama, so be it.
Weinberger: Our staff [and] ESPN's staff that is in the know will not be announcing picks. As we all now, these guys can get each pick because the teams for years call the player they will pick before they pick them and that player, his family and his agent know he is getting picked. But in Round 1 and even in 2 and 3, [we] will not tip the pick. We want that drama so when Commissioner Goodell announces the pick, that is the first time the world hears where the player is going. I would also discourage non-ESPN and NFL Network "insiders" from tipping picks but I can't police them.
SI.com: Where does Jon Gruden stand on Manziel?
Gruden: I don't have any concerns. I'm a Manziel - I don't know what the word I should use is - advocate, proponent. I want Manziel. I realize he's under six feet tall. Maybe he can't see over the line. We blew that theory in the water last year with (Russell) Wilson and (Drew) Brees. I spent two days with him and I know he wants to learn. He had four different offensive coordinators at Texas A&M. He had two different head coaches. It didn't matter. He adapted and did extremely well. This is the first Heisman Trophy winner as a freshman. In two years at Texas A&M, he had the most productive back-to-back seasons in SEC history. I don't know what you want him to do. He threw for eight thousand, ran for two thousand, he has 93 touchdowns. All I know is I want Manziel.
SI.com: Will Trey Wingo eventually be the Day One host of ESPN's Draft coverage?
Markman: We have never had any discussions about who will replace Chris Berman when he decides he does not want to do this anymore. That is the honest truth. Chris has earned the right to decide when he wants to step away from this. If and when Chris decides he wants to scale back or live in Maui full time, Trey would definitely be in the discussion. He has earned that. He has done a great job on Days 2 and 3 and he has done all the pre-shows. He is a great host. But let me go on my diatribe now. Chris has not missed a beat preparing for this draft. He has made numerous phone calls to coaches and general managers and I'm not sure other hosts have that ability. This is my personal opinion and I don't think you give him enough credit for the preparation and for how hard he works on this event. I would just tell you to watch closely because I don't think some of things people criticize Chris for have really happened over the past years.
SI.com: Give the readers a Day 3 prospect you are really curious about and why?
Mayock: I would say Caraun Reid from Princeton. Rarely do you get the Ivy League getting drafted and last year Princeton had a guy name Mike Catapano [defensive end] that went in the seventh round to Kansas City and they really like him. He has a chance to be a player. So I'll be dammed if a year later they have a player who might go higher than that. Caraun Reid showed up at the Senior Bowl and I had not seen any tape on him. But if he is at the Senior Bowl, he is legit. In a pair of gym shorts he is awesome, a big, defensive tackle who is really put together. He looks the part and had a really good Senior Bowl week. I think he is probably going in the fourth round but he could go a little higher or lower. But the fact that Princeton has back-to-back draft picks is amazing to me and this kid I believe has a chance to become an immediate contributor as a rookie. I'm really intrigued to follow the kid's career because I get a kick out of some of the guys who went to college to be students as well as athletes.
SI.com: How much coverage will Michael Sam get?
Deitsch: Both ESPN and NFL Network have made repeated efforts to get a camera with Sam upon his being drafted. His camp has declined those entries so far. Look for Sam to be covered more than your usual late-round pick, but the discussion will center more around his football abilities than the societal impact of his selection.
SI.com: Why use college coaches for draft coverage?
Weinberger: We've used David Shaw before and we are very comfortable with what he brings to our team. Jimbo is coming off a national championship and FSU having a couple of players going high will give us some great perspective. Urban has done stuff around national championship games and we think he will bring tremendous expertise."
The Noise Report
SI.com examines some of the more notable sports media stories of the past week:
1. TNT averaged 4,009,000 total viewers for the first round of the NBA playoffs (26 live game telecasts), up 19 percent from 2013 (3,374,000 total viewers).
1a. The Clippers' Game 7 win over the Warriors averaged 6.0 million total viewers, TNT's most-viewed NBA postseason first round telecast since Game 7 between the Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets in 2012 (6.5 million total viewers).
1b. Inside The NBA's initial discussion of Donald Sterling last Tuesday produced heavy viewership. The pre-game coverage on TNT (8-8:09 p.m. ET) averaged 2,301,000 total viewers, up 45 percent over the network's pre-game coverage to that date during the 2014 playoffs. The post-game show that night (1:30-2:30 a.m. ET) averaged 1,889,000 total viewers, up 17 percent compared with the NBA playoff average viewership for the show this year. Inside the NBA studio show averaged 1.8 million total viewers through the first round of the playoffs, which tripled the audience for the playoff games airing on CNBC and NBCSN (617,000 total viewers).
1c. Game 6 of the Pacers-Hawks series was the most-viewed NBA TV telecast ever with an average of 1,071,000 total viewers.
1d. Game 7 between the Grizzlies and Thunder on TNT drew 5.8 million total viewers while the Pacers-Hawks (which aired late afternoon) drew 3.5 million viewers.
1e. Writer Douglas Pucci provided great insight into where we watch major sports news conferences. Here was the viewership for the Adam Silver press conference.
1f. Well done by this fan who had an amazing Vine of Damian Lillard's game-winning shot to win the Trail Blazers-Rockets series.
1g. ESPN's Mike Tirico and Hubie Brown were a pleasure to listen to during the NBA's opening round -- a team at the top of its game.
2. Los Angeles County prosecutors declined to file charges against ESPN analyst Keyshawn Johnson in connection with a domestic incident at Johnson's home last month. Authorities said the victim was uncooperative and the injury appeared to be minor and accidental.
On Saturday ESPN told SI.com Johnson does not have a specific assignment at this time, though that is common with his schedule at this point in the NFL offseason. Said an ESPN spokesperson on all matters: "We have looked into the situation and discussed it with Keyshawn."
2c. SiriusXM NFL Radio (Channel 88) will once again carry every selection of the NFL Draft. The broadcast team includes Gil Brandt, the former vice president of Player Personnel for the Dallas Cowboys; Pat Kirwan, a former NFL scout, coach and front-office executive; veteran NFL QB Jim Miller; former college coach and NFL general manager Phil Savage; and lead host Jason Horowitz.
3. Sports pieces of note:
• SI current and former editors and writers, including Rick Reilly, as well as some sports media admirers (ESPN's Wright Thompson and Yahoo!'s Dan Wetzel) pick their favorite Gary Smith story.
• Alan Siegel also offered a terrific tribute to Smith on Deadspin.
• Kate Scott, the morning anchor at KNBR 680 in San Francisco, the television sideline reporter for the Earthquakes, and co-host of the Giants, writes with humor and honesty on her coming out.
•ESPN.com's Ramona Shelburne had a terrific tick-tock of what went down with Donald Sterling and the Clippers.
Non-sports pieces of note
•If you want insight into big-time media, ego, ambition & sex appeal, read this profile of 60 Minutes and Lara Logan:
•The White House Beat Uncovered: Loved this infographic on White House beat reporters.
• A fantastic obit about a 106-year-old former FBI agent who took down some of the Ma Barker gang.
4. I asked a panel of sports journalists of color a few weeks ago why more people of color, especially women, are not hosting sports-talk radio shows. Here was the answer from ESPN's Jemele Hill:
"In general, for people of color, it seems that the only way we can host or be a content driver is if we are a former athlete," Hill said. "Where's the black Colin Cowherd? Where's the black duo equivalent of Scott Van Pelt and Ryen Russillo? It's not a talent pool issue, it's a trust and believability issue. I'm extremely happy for [ESPN colleague] Bomani Jones, but truth be told, he should have had the platform he has now years ago. Decision makers in our business don't give their audience enough credit. They fear that the audience will reject someone like Bomani or me. Those who are in power are more comfortable with what has worked previously. So, if it hasn't been successful, they are less likely to try it."
Now read this and make your own judgment on Hill's take.
5. Mariano Rivera's autobiography (written with Daily News sports writer Wayne Coffey) comes out on May 6. The title is The Closer.
5a. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar will work as a regular contributing columnist to Time Magazine and Time.com, and appear in a regular video series. His debut column (on Donald Sterling) is here.