For those fans who enjoy having more analysts than first-round picks, the NFL Network's draft coverage is for you. The network has assigned 40 staffers for the event, an armada of neatly groomed people who will report from Radio City Music Hall in New York City, the NFL Network/NFL.com studios in Los Angeles and team headquarters around the country.
The network's main set in New York for opening night features a cast of familiar figures: host Rich Eisen and analysts Marshall Faulk, Mike Mayock, Steve Mariucci and Michael Irvin. Eisen, Mayock, Charles Davis and Brian Billick share the set on Friday. College coaches Bret Bielema (Wisconsin), Butch Davis (North Carolina), Brian Kelly (Notre Dame) and Nick Saban (Alabama) join Eisen, Mayock and Davis for Rounds 4 through 7. The opening round of the draft airs Thursday at 8 p.m. ET and Rounds 2 and 3 will be broadcast the following day, beginning at 6 p.m. The three-day event concludes with Rounds 4-7 on Saturday, starting at noon.
The incomparable Mayock, long praised in this column, has separated himself as the most authoritative draft analyst on television thanks to his attention to detail, grinder's mentality and concise explanations. The analyst lost his voice during the final day of the draft last year and opted to cut down on media interviews in the final weeks this year to save his lungs.
"Mike is a game-changer during this event," said NFL Network executive producer Eric Weinberger, whose fondness for Mayock is rivaled only by ESPN draft producer Jay Rothman's veneration of Jon Gruden. "He will be rested and hydrated. He will be there for three days."
Asked if he thinks Mayock has lifted himself above all the other television draft analysts, Weinberger said, "I think he has. We think the world of Mel [Kiper], and he does an unbelievable job, but Mike's analysis and with the amount of travel he does, he knows these kids on paper and on the field like nobody else."
Faulk, Davis and Billick are also well-liked in this space, as each provides thoughtful and well-researched opinions. That group, along with Eisen, helps dull the pain of listening to Irvin and Sanders wax on and off, often about themselves. Irvin, in particular, is the David Blaine of NFL analysts, performing magic on network executives to inexplicably bring him back year after year.
"We have three Hall of Famers [Faulk, Irvin and Sanders] that will be an integral part of the festivities and they happen to be part of our staff," Weinberger said. "They have perspective like no one else and when you combine that with the coaches we have and then Charles Davis and Mike Mayock, the depth and range we can have with all those voices definitely enhances the viewers' experience."
NFL Network executives believe one of the advantages of its coverage is draft room access, and to that end the network will be inside the draft rooms of three of the first five selections and six of the top 10 picks. Those include the Carolina Panthers (who hold the No. 1 overall pick), Denver (No. 2), Buffalo (3), Arizona (5), San Francisco (7), Dallas (9), Seattle (25), Atlanta (27), New York Jets (30) and defending champion Green Bay (32).
NFLN also has reporters at 10 team facilities across the country and plans an extensive look at Broncos vice president John Elway's first draft as an executive. (The NFL Network will have a live interview with Elway at 5 p.m. ET on Thursday.)
"We have always asked our production teams to have points of differentiation," Weinberger said. "The one area where we can differentiate ourselves from a look, feel and content is actually seeing the men and women in these rooms making the decisions."
Where ESPN is highlighting all things Gruden for its lead-up to the draft, the NFL Network will air a 30-minute special,
We asked Weinberger to answer