- What to expect when you watch the 2017 NFL draft, including ESPN and NFL Network's analyst lineups, the features and production elements each has planned and more.
I wrote earlier in the week about what ESPN and NFL Network have planned for you, but here’s a quick viewer's guide to answer all of your NFL draft television questions.
When does the draft air?
First-round coverage from the Museum of Art in Philadelphia kicks off Thursday at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN and the NFL Network. Rounds 2–3 air Friday beginning at 7 p.m. Rounds 4–7 start at noon on Saturday.
What is the biggest change for viewers from 2016?
Of all the production bells and whistles ESPN and the NFL Network have planned, the most notable change in either production is Trey Wingo anchoring the first night of the draft for ESPN. He replaces Chris Berman, who steps away from the event after hosting it for ESPN since 1987. For viewers, this is a positive development. The addition of Wingo on night one and Louis Riddick solidifying his role as one of the focal points of ESPN’s coverage has (at least in my mind) made it an even draw on which network to watch.
Who are the on-air staffers for ESPN?
Wingo will host all seven rounds for the first time. He’s joined by analysts Mel Kiper Jr., Jon Gruden and Riddick in Round 1, and Kiper, Riddick and Todd McShay for Rounds 2–7. Chris Mortensen, Adam Schefter and Suzy Kolber will also be part of ESPN’s coverage onsite in Philadelphia. The reporters at team facilities include Josina Anderson (Browns), Jeff Darlington (49ers), Britt McHenry (Cardinals) and Sal Paolantonio (Jets). “There are no real production changes happening based on Trey replacing Chris,” said ESPN senior coordinating producer Seth Markman. “Trey is a pro. He’s been ready for this opportunity for many years. We always felt fortunate to have him waiting in the wings. Chris basically invented the position of being the host of draft coverage. We will miss him but know we are in the best hands possible. The one advantage Trey has is that he works with these guys for weeks leading up to the draft and he has met with Jon down in Tampa. He lives this stuff every day and I think the viewers will see that.”
Who are the on-air staffers for NFL Network?
The main desk at the Philadelphia Art Museum will consist of host Rich Eisen, analysts Mike Mayock and Daniel Jeremiah, and Stanford head coach David Shaw. This will be Shaw’s sixth consecutive year joining NFL Network’s coverage. There will also be a set at the Franklin Institute featuring Charles Davis, Steve Mariucci and Steve Smith Sr. NFL Network insider Ian Rapoport will be part of the main coverage from the Logan Hotel. Deion Sanders remains the on-set interviewer. Rounds 2–3 on Friday at the Philadelphia Art Museum will feature Eisen, Mayock, Jeremiah and Davis. Chris Rose will host the Franklin Institute set with analyst Brian Billick and reporter Peter Schrager. Melissa Stark takes over the Sanders role for Round 2. For the Saturday slog, Eisen, Mayock, Jeremiah and Davis will be at the Philadelphia Art Museum set with additional aid from Rapoport, and Colleen Wolfe will be roaming the scene at Draft Experience.
“We always have a coverage plan in place, but you also understand that the plan might not see itself through,” said NFL Network coordinating producer Charlie Yook. “The draft is a living, breathing news event. You can never predict breaking news, but you can prepare for it.”
Will ESPN and NFL Network staffers tip picks on social media before Roger Goodell announces them?
No. Markman said that ESPN staffers will not tweet out picks in the first round ahead of Goodell. The NFL Network said it will extend that beyond the first round.
“We will allow our staffers to tweet any behind the scenes conversations teams are having, trade talks, debates etc., but what we won’t allow is for them to flat out give away draft picks before the commissioner announces them,” Markman said. “As I have said in the past, our viewers have overwhelmingly told us that they do not want us to spoil the drama of the draft in any way. This goes for Twitter, too. I realize that there are those who disagree with this approach, but we are not in the business of angering our loyal viewers and I personally like the unspoiled nature of this event. Fans love sitting on the edge of their seats to hear what the commissioner says. Trust me, Adam Schefter could easily report who each team is going to pick minutes before the commissioner announces it. That would be terrible TV, and he has no interest in proving that he could do this anyway.”
What production elements will be unique from ESPN?
Regarding production highlights, ESPN said it has close to 500 player highlight packages, 50 player personality bumps and more than 40 specialty technical breakdowns with analysis from Gruden, Riddick and McShay. Those who deserve citations here are lead producer Bryan Ryder and the following production staffers: Joe Smiley, Aaron Pepper, Matt Brooks, Carlie McCall, Aaron Hilton, Josh Kramer, Steven Bishop, Matt Wheeler, Adam Bauer, Aaron Thompson, Mike Weltman, Lauren Manderson, Fidelis Lusompa, Quianna Lige, Ryan Lacher, Steven Kim, Corey Taylor and Brandon Barrad. “These are the real stars of our coverage,” Markman said. The network will have a camera at Myles Garrett’s draft party in Dallas and at Christian McCaffrey’s draft party in Denver.
What production elements will be unique from the NFL Network?
The NFL Network is a big believer in having cameras in team draft war rooms. The network will be at 20 team facilities this year, including the Browns, 49ers, Titans, Jets, Chargers, Panthers, Cardinals, Colts, Buccaneers, Broncos, Lions, Texans, Seahawks, Chiefs, Cowboys, Packers, Steelers, Falcons, Rams and Vikings. They also have hundreds of player highlight tapes for eligible draftees, as well as 100 player comparison setups. Those who procure and cut all the prospect tapes for the NFL Network’s draft coverage are often young people grinding at the beginning of their careers. That group this year includes highlight supervisor Zach Arnstein, associate producer Matt Schumacher, associate producer Ben Fennell and production assistants Ben Allen and Spencer Bruno.
What features are the networks touting?
Yook said he is particularly excited about the NFL Network’s features, including Denver Broncos star Von Miller going back to Texas A&M to hang out with and interview Myles Garrett. That will air on night one. Mayock also goes back to his alma mater (Boston College) to talk to John Johnson. Reporter Andrea Kremer’s interview with Texas running back D’Onta Foreman, who played through unimaginable personal pain and tragedy, is a must-see and is already out.
Markman said ESPN has interesting features for the final day of the draft. “I would say that Pittsburgh running back James Conner is probably the best chance for us to tell a terrific story of a player that everyone can root for,” he said. “I should also mention Travis Rudolph, a wide receiver from Florida State, who sat with an elementary school child with autism at lunch, which became a national story.”
How many people watched the draft last year?
ESPN drew 6.289 million viewers for its opening round coverage of the draft last year, down from 2015 (7,026,000 viewers) and significantly down from 2014, the year that featured Johnny Manziel and stands as the most-viewed (9,943,000 viewers) opening night in draft history. WatchESPN delivered an average minute audience of 198,000 for Round 1 of the NFL draft in 2016, a 37% gain year-over-year.
The opening round of last year’s NFL Network coverage drew 2,039,000 viewers, up 12% from 1.82 million in 2015. That was impressive given ESPN’s drop, and it pointed to people (at least in small numbers) shifting from ESPN to the NFL Network. Of course, WWE Smackdown beat the NFL Network (2.1 million to 2.039 million) on Day One, so it's good to keep things in perspective. The NFL Network’s Day Two draft coverage last year was the most-watched coverage for Day Two in the network’s history.
Do you have any worthwhile links on the coverage?
What if you want to listen to the draft?
One of the better ways to consume the NFL draft is via SiriusXM NFL Radio (channel 88 on satellite radios and on the SiriusXM app). It’ll air every pick from every round, live from Philadelphia. The host is Jason Horowitz, with analysts Gil Brandt, Pat Kirwan, Jim Miller and Phil Savage. Sirius said former NFL wide receiver Torry Holt will make his debut as a SiriusXM analyst on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio. He will also work on SiriusXM NFL Radio during the year. Fox Sports Radio will be broadcasting live throughout the entire first round on Thursday from the Hard Rock Cafe in downtown Philadelphia. Jay Glazer, Joel Klatt and Chris Spielman will work the broadcast for FSR.
Is Sports Illustrated planning anything for the NFL Draft?
Let me go company man here for one item: Sports Illustrated has an NFL Draft show on Thursday running on SI.com and Facebook that looks pretty cool. The show will be anchored by Maggie Gray, Andy Staples and Albert Breer (who will not be waiting for Roger Goodell if he knows the picks), with a second set featuring Pro Football Focus staffers Steve Palazzolo and Mike Renner. Palazzolo and Renner will provide analysis and film breakdowns using PFF signature stats. The show will also have taped segments with WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen and offensive coordinator Jake Spavital.