Here are the biggest takeaways from the three distinct 2019 NFL Draft broadcasts on ABC, ESPN and NFL Network.
The most serious draft-night surprise Thursday came an hour before the Cardinals made their first selection, when a Kansas City TV station published disturbing audio of all-pro wide receiver Tyreek Hill threatening his fiancée amidst a child abuse investigation. The tape puts Hill’s NFL status in jeopardy.
Prior to its release, Roger Goodell told ESPN’s Sam Ponder in a rare interview that the league was going to gather facts and wait before potentially punishing the wideout. ESPN host Trey Wingo—with help from Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen—gave an update on the situation 10 minutes before the draft’s start, but the news faded from conversation once the clock started ticking.
Here’s what jumped out from the rest of three distinct Day 1 broadcasts on ABC, ESPN, and NFL Network.
A MORE CASUAL DRAFT NIGHT ON ABC
ABC’s first telecast of the NFL Draft separated itself from its ESPN sister within minutes. Host Robin Roberts welcomed viewers by talking about the “sea of humanity” that had gathered in downtown Nashville to watch “college football’s elite” wait to hear their names called—rather than orienting coverage around the NFL teams making picks and what they might need. Not long after, Taylor Swift joined Roberts, waving to the masses below.
Throughout the night, ABC offered more human-interest angles, from Tom Rinaldi’s backstage interview with Kyler Murray’s dad to a featurette on new Raider safety Johnathan Abram’s experience as a father with twin to twin transfusion syndrome (TTSS). The College GameDay crew, meanwhile, handled the pick reactions.
With audience numbers not yet out, it’s hard to quantify how much appetite there truly was for the new production. The best parts of the broadcast for dedicated sports fans were interviews conducted with top picks well after their names were called. Roberts coaxed Murray into discussing a direct message Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury previously sent him saying they would be working together in the future, while Dwayne Haskins shared that falling to pick 15 means he’s “more motivated than ever.” (“He looks a little pissed off,” analyst David Pollack said immediately thereafter.)
In fact, I would’ve enjoyed more time dedicated to the big names—diving into Murray’s curvy road to the No. 1 pick, for instance, or hanging out with all three of Clemson’s first round defenders—even if it meant missing some of the less important announcements. It’s safe to assume the mainstream audience isn’t tuning in for four straight hours, and there’s a separate broadcast for the diehards anyway.
EXPERTS SURPRISED BY FORMER EXPERTS
Ex-Monday Night Football analyst Jon Gruden and former NFL Network draft guru Mike Mayock provided the first surprise of the night, grabbing Clelin Ferrell No. 4 overall. For the most part, their previous colleagues went easy on them for taking a guy projected to last at least until the late-20s.
“OK, this is interesting,” Wingo said, drawing a laugh out of analyst Booger McFarland. Draft expert Todd McShay was more direct after a commercial break, saying, “I’m still recovering from that pick.”
“This might be a surprise to a lot of people,” Daniel Jeremiah said on NFL Network, “but he’s a very productive football player…. I think this is a safe pick.” In general, Jeremiah was smooth and informative in his first time manning the channel’s lead draft specialist role, but you couldn’t help but feel he pulled a punch there. Ferrell went No. 25 in his last mock draft.
NFL Network host Rich Eisen followed up with a good bit of context, explaining that as a commentator Mayock would say that a GM’s first ever pick is critical in setting the tone for his team. Oakland’s second and third picks of the night hewed closer to expectation.
ABOUT DANIEL JONES...
A more significant shock came two picks later, at No. 6, when the Giants passed on Haskins for Duke’s Daniel Jones. Mel Kiper Jr. was long on the Jones-to-New-York train and spotlighted the passer as a prospect on the rise back in November, but others have reasonable doubts about Eli Manning’s potential successor.
The pick produced some of the best digital content of the evening—MetLife was stunned, Haskins giggled, and ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky said he had “major concerns” concerning the choice, from what appeared to be a Nashville bar.
Ian Rapoport, who was more present on NFL Network than his ESPN counterparts, said the Giants believe Jones “can handle New York.” Credit to USA Today’s Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz for predicting the pick.
Meanwhile, ABC shortened its Jones discussion to make room for a re-appearance by Swift. She discussed her newest song, Me!. In one final bit of synergy, ESPN announced early Friday morning that the song would serve as its soundtrack for Round 2 coverage.
AN UNCOMFORTABLE HOMETOWN MOMENT
Hosting the draft, the Titans’ pick should have been a cause for celebration. Instead, Tennessee selecting Mississippi State’s Jeffery Simmons forced Wingo to return to the topic of off-field violence, an issue he seemed uncomfortable wading into. ESPN decided to show 2016 video of Simmons hitting a woman several times as part of a larger altercation while NFL Network and ABC only mentioned the incident.
Mortensen reported that 11 teams took him off their draft boards as a result, though Wingo said, “We’re not telling anyone how to think” and “We’re not passing judgment.” Ultimately, voices on all three shows said they had heard only positive things about the defensive lineman during his time in college, as McFarland cited “everyone I trust in the SEC,” while GameDay host Rece Davis referred to a conversation with former MSU coach Dan Mullen and Jeremiah said every scout he spoke to reported hearing positive things as well.