We all owe Ryan Mallett a debt of gratitude. Had the Arkansas quarterback not slid down the draft board to the third round, we might not have gotten the moment where the NFL Network won the television draft.
It came deep on Friday night after Michael Irvin and Deion Sanders had thankfully exited the property. The third round had just concluded and the quartet on the NFLN set -- Rich Eisen, Charles Davis, Brian Billick and Mike Mayock -- dug deep into the Mallett selection. Each offered insight on why the quarterback had tumbled down to New England with the 74th overall pick.
Davis gave a quick primer on Mallett's background and New England's success with players who had joined the organization with so-called character issues. Billick discussed the subjectivity of evaluating quarterbacks and that what was now in Mallett's control was learning how to be a professional. ("If you can't learn and adopt your trade here [New England], then you don't belong in the National Football League," Billick said).
Mayock said Mallett was "harshly punished" for his off-the-field activities but "ultimately ended up in the right place." Eisen asked the panel what the "end scenario" was for a guy who was unlikely to play for years. Billick responded that Mallett could learn maturity sitting behind Tom Brady, while Davis explained that developing Mallett could eventually provide New England with future players and picks -- the way it did when Matt Cassel was traded to Kansas City.
The network owned the Mallett selection. NFL Network insider Michael Lombardi, clearly tapped inside the Patriots' draft room, had tipped viewers 10 minutes before the selection that New England was going to draft the quarterback. Lombardi later explained that Mallett was the top quarterback on the Patriots' board and that Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino had texted him how surprised he was that his player had fallen so far. NFLN analyst Kurt Warner even texted Brady about the pick. Brady responded: "I'm here for 10 years."
"I thought, from start to finish on that story, we just nailed it," said NFL Network executive producer Eric Weinberger. "The team was so proud of it. It was a great moment. And Kurt texting Tom Brady put a bow on it."
Perhaps it was one too many puns, dated references or primal screams from Chris Berman, but it was during NFL Network's
The terrific quartet of Trey Wingo, Trent Dilfer, Todd McShay and Kiper restored order nicely for ESPN on Saturday. Wingo again highlighted that he is everything Chris Berman is not: Delivering information in a smooth and digestible manner, while drawing from the experience of doing a daily show on the NFL. I noticed more and more people this year through social media and other means cite they enjoyed the NFL Network's coverage. Is that a knock on ESPN? Not really. Both productions are sound, and it's an incredibly difficult show to produce. But each year it feels like ESPN's second-day crew outshines its so-called wow guys.
There were plenty of other talking points that arose from ESPN's and NFL Network's coverage last week. On Sunday, I contacted Weinberger and ESPN's Jay Rothman to get them to address some viewers' concerns.
One school of thought is it's reality TV, you are in the moment, and it's the nature of the immediacy, so yes, you are getting tipped and the announcement of the pick is just a formality and a kiss-off. That's one scenario, and that allows you to get ahead of the team on the clock. The other scenario would be no cameras allowed in the green room and players are not allowed to have a phone. When the pick is made, we all get the pick and then you are analyzing the player. We then use that 10-minute clock for analysis of the player.
For example, with Jon's analysis of Julio Jones. When the Falcons traded up to the sixth spot -- and Jon being a receiver coach for Mike Holmgren -- we asked why wouldn't the Browns take Julio Jones for Colt McCoy if he is such a great receiver? Jon was like, "There is no way Mike Holmgren would tolerate drops from a receiver." When the trade came up -- and not to hurt the kid -- Jon was very critical right then and there. We dug up the video of dropped passes.
I just felt we were more balanced and educating fans on who these players were... I also thought Suzy [Kolber] did an awesome job with Mark Ingram, from telling that story all the way until the moment where she got an email from his father in prison. That was phenomenal. We played it back during the weekend and every time I saw it, I cried. That was the most unbelievable moment, and I've worked 20 drafts.
When the pace started moving, I thought we handled that well. We'd like to do a better job at the draft parties we showed and I'd like to be in more than 10 draft war rooms next year. I think we always can do a better job continuing to find ways to give viewers context of what's happening, when a pick is made, and how it affects that fan base.
(In honor of Peter King, here are some additional notes about the coverage)
A. I think Trent Dilfer was terrific during the Saturday coverage. Dilfer has long been a favorite of this column, and would be my choice to succeed Gruden on
B. I think television executives remain enchanted by Gruden. "I met Friday with [NFL Network Senior Vice President of Programming and Production] Mark Quenzel and Eric Weinberger," said Rothman, "and the first thing they said was, God, Gruden is f------ awesome. And before Dilfer came on the set, he said to me, 'Gruden was awesome.' I think Jon has that buzz and people want to hear what he has to say. It's just like QB Camp. He is a sticky guy, meaning you want to stick around and see what he has to say."
C. I think the NFL Network remains inexplicably transfixed with Irvin. "I thought Michael did a great job on opening night," said Weinberger. "He sat back most of it and he chimed in when he needed to chime in. Those are tough roles.
D. I don't think Gruden and Kiper hate each other, but I do think ESPN knows genuine conflict is good television. At one point, it seemed Gruden's head was about to explode as he exclaimed how much he liked Locker ("He reminds me of a young Rich Gannon!") following Kiper questioning his accuracy in the pocket. "Jon has the utmost respect for Mel and vice versa," said Rothman. "If you sat in our meetings, they were awesome and hysterical.
"Jon is a grinder. He works his butt off. Mel respects him for that. There are analysts out there who just read the preview guides and don't do the work. Jon does the work. He watches the tape. He always says to me: 'Jay, you think a monkey flew out of my ass and put this tape together?' Mel respects him for that.
"Conversely, Jon respects the hell out of Mel because he does the work. He's not a talking head who just regurgitates stuff. I was glad that Jon got lit up a bit and had his balls busted. I think he takes to heart this rap of 'Johnny Positive.' John is the ultimate ball-buster and he wants his balls to be busted back."
D. I think the NFL Network actually might add more staffers for its draft coverage next year. Said Weinberger: "I want to add more and more layers to the foundation of the analysis."
E. I think you can never have enough information guys on the set. ESPN's Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter were excellent throughout the three days and Schefter (
F. I think NFL Network analyst Deion Sanders proved once again that it's always about him. During a taped interview with Cam Newton, Sanders asked the Auburn quarterback, "Do you know the cologne I'm wearing? It's called confidence. I wear it every day." (For the record, Newton said it smelled good.)
G. I think both networks showed how the labor rules affected the draft, with easy-to understand graphics. Schefter and Mortensen, in particular, did a nice job at the top of Thursday night's broadcast explaining the possibilities of what could be coming.
H. I think Kiper and Mayock were accurate on nine of the first-round picks
J. I think NFL Network host Rich Eisen did the best job of anyone capturing the surrealism of the moment when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was booed at the start of the draft.
J. I think Mayock showed why he was terrific when Cameron Jordan went No. 24 overall to the Saints. Within a short timeframe, Mayock told viewers that he's the son of former Vikings tight end Steve Jordan, he was tough against the run, he did not have elite end speed, but why he would be effective as a bookend with Will Smith.
K. I think the NFL Network has a philosophy of staying in the room with the picks for Rounds 4-7, while ESPN often opts to for extended conversation from the Bristol set. Both strategies work. For example, Mayock was talking about the Broncos' selection of Oklahoma safety Quinton Carter on Saturday, while ESPN interviewed Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff about the Julio Jones pick
L. I think the NFL Network getting Boston College linebacker Mark Herzlich on Skype was very cool. But not as cool as Eisen giving on-air props to the NFL Network staffer who pulled it off. I'd love to see more name drops of behind-the-air staffers.
M. I think one of favorite lines of the draft came from Mayock on his analysis of Pittsburgh wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin, who went to Kansas City in the first round. "Jonathan Baldwin is a diva. Jonathan Baldwin is a handful. But he's a talented handful."
N. I think Kiper and McShay had a nice moment on Saturday when Kiper dogged McShay for falling in love with Mallett now that he was a Patriot. Clearly, these two like each other, and when they have genuine disagreement, it is just that. No Sean Salisbury-John Clayton faux-fighting here.
O. I think NFL Network executives would not mind expanding the draft to four days "We'd be for it; it's another day of an event," said Weinberger. "It will shorten and help the television window. You may want to push that through the competition committee.
P. I think ESPN is going to have a three-person set for the first two rounds of next year's draft. "I definitely thought three on the main set was the way to go," said Rothman. "I thought fans got what they needed to get. They got more Mel and Jon."
Q. I think (actually, I know) ESPN and the NFL Network drew approximately seven million viewers Thursday night for the opening round, down from 8.3 million last year for the opening round. It was the second-most watched first round ever (8.3M in '10).
R. I think (actually, I know) ESPN's coverage drew 1.3 million fewer viewers for this year's first round than a year ago (6 million viewers from 7.3). The rating was 4.4, down 17 percent from 5.3 a year ago. But viewership was up among young men. The NFL Network averaged a record 566,000 viewers over the three days of the 2011 NFL Draft, up from 560,000 in 2010). The network averaged 1.04 million viewers on Thursday night.
S. I think after Gruden said A.J. Green was the best offensive player in the draft, he delivered a great smackdown on a current Bengals receiver. Said Gruden: "I think this guy is just what the Bengals need. Terrell Owens doesn't look like he'll be back. Ochocinco is playing soccer somewhere."
T. I think you should file away these predictions made by ESPN analysts prior to the draft and see how they play out:
Ron Jaworski: "Virginia Tech's Ryan Williams will be the best running back in the draft."
Tom Jackson: "Nick Fairley will win the Defensive Rookie of the Year but not make the Pro Bowl because of his style of play."
Keyshawn Johnson: "Jake Locker will be the first quarterback in this draft to make the Pro Bowl."
Dilfer: "The first quarterback to take a team to the playoffs will be Andy Dalton."