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Covering the Coverage: A Look at How ESPN and NFL Network Covered the Draft

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The last couple of years I have watched NFL Network more and more and ESPN less and less for coverage of the NFL Draft.  I have been moving away from the Worldwide Leader because of a number of their faults, but I have been moving towards NFL Network because their coverage is really as good as it gets.  From the Senior Bowl to the NFL Combine and ultimately to the NFL Draft, Rich Eisen and the gang just do a superior job when it comes to covering these events.

This year especially confirmed for me that ESPN needs to do something to fix its draft coverage.  My positive thoughts on NFL Network aside, every time I flipped on ESPN during the first two days of the draft just to see what their coverage was like, I was treated to low-value production.  For example, during the first round of the draft I checked to see what ESPN had to say about a certain pick, but instead of listening to analysis I got to watch Chris Berman spaz out over the wrong camera shot being aired.  He looked visibly angry and kept motioning for the camera to pan left before realizing he was supposed to say something.  Another example of this was when Tom Jackson's microphone apparently stopped working.  He kept motioning for somebody to fix it while two people next to him were talking.  For some reason Jackson was in the shot the entire time, which was just really awkward.

Occasional mix ups with the wrong shot are far from the only problem ESPN had with its draft coverage.  For starters, as hinted at, Chris Berman is just a terrible host.  It seems like he doesn't have a grip on how the draft should be covered now a days and is beyond unsmooth, especially compared to NFL Network's Rich Eisen.  What's worse, ESPN plays up this whole Mel Kiper/Todd McShay battle that turns into nothing more than an "I'm right, you're wrong" argument.  Personally I couldn't give a damn who is right; I just want to listen to analysts break down the players without being force-fed their agenda about making themselves look better. 

On NFL Network, Mike Mayock has a tremendous knowledge of the players and simply worries about breaking them down rather than winning arguments.  Also, the addition of former player and current operator of Corey Chavous was great, because he was able to break down players with specific examples from specific games, even for players in the seventh round.  When you add in the fact that Texas head coach Mack Brown was on the set all day long on Saturday to provide insight from a coach's perspective, it was just an all-around solid broadcast, even though Mike Mayock was sidelined after losing his voice.

I will give ESPN some credit for their Saturday broadcast, which featured Trey Wingo, Ron Jaworski, Mel Kiper, and Todd McShay on the main set.  With Wingo hosting, which he does nearly every day for NFL Live, the broadcast was just much smoother and had no moments where you cringed over how low-rate the production was like with Berman captaining the main set.  What's more, the flow between Jaworski, Kiper, and McShay was great and there were fewer moments between Kiper and McShay where analysis just turned into an argument, partly because Wingo was a much better host and facilitated discussion in a much better way.

As you can tell, I love NFL Network's coverage of the draft and am not a fan of ESPN's when their "A" crew is there, which was Thursday and Friday this year.  If I were in charge of producing ESPN's coverage, the first thing I would do is get rid of Chris Berman.  Wait, no, that's the second thing I would do.  The first thing I would do is put an embargo on Matt Millen coming anywhere near ESPN's draft coverage, and if I could I would make sure he stays off the channel altogether.  I mean, not only does my dog have more credibility than him when it comes to draft analysis, but Millen can't even manage not to screw up ESPN's draft coverage because he felt the need to call Jaws a "Polack" on national TV.

Anyways, like I was saying, I'd make sure there was no more Millen and no more Berman.  Next I would let Kiper and McShay know that they can leave their arguments at home.  Sure, you could argue battles like that draw in ratings, but how many people tune in just to see that?  I doubt it's very many, and I imagine the vast majority of the audience would rather listen to what the analysts have to say about their team's newest draft pick than listen to an argument about how Kiper is wrong and McShay is right or whatever.

The other thing I'd do is downsize the amount of people appearing during ESPN's coverage.  One former player is fine to give analysis from that perspective, and including a former coach like Jon Gruden is great because his analysis is always interesting.  Aside from that include a Mel Kiper or Todd McShay and then make sure to have Adam Schefter ready to go for the latest breaking news or on the first day, to alert us of the pick a few minutes before it is announced since he was on Twitter doing that anyways.

With the NFL Draft likely moving to primetime for good based on how successful it was this year, ESPN needs to work to improve its coverage.  They're going to dominate the ratings no matter what just because ESPN is more readily available than NFL Network, but I think the hardcore fans would appreciate an improvement in coverage.  I could see casual fans tuning in just for Chris Berman and the other characters who chime in with their views, but then again, I could see a lot of more-than-casual fans opting for NFL Network if that's available to them.  After all, why would I want to listen to Berman and a couple others who haven't said anything about the draft since the year before when people like Rich Eisen, Marshall Faulk, Mike Mayock, etc. have been covering all of the events leading up to the draft?  Their knowledge is simply greater and it helps that they aren't extremely annoying like many of the personalities ESPN uses for their first couple days of the draft.  ESPN certainly has the talent available to put together an exceptional broadcast, but in the future they ought to actually put it to good use instead of keeping people like Berman around.  He is way past his prime, and so is ESPN when it comes to covering the draft.

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