Media Column: Thoughts on ESPN's coverage of the 2020 NFL Draft
The most unprecedented NFL Draft of all-time has come and gone, with 255 players fulfilling their lifelong dreams of being drafted. To reference another sport, one curveball that the NFL, ESPN/ABC, and NFL Network faced was bringing an entirely virtual draft, with three straight days of coverage. The coverage was a multi-network presentation for the second-consecutive year, with Trey Wingo of ESPN hosting the three-day extravaganza from ESPN studios in Bristol. One of the questions that many people had coming into the event was a simple, but also complex one: how will the broadcast go, and what happens if something goes wrong--from a technical standpoint.
The viewers never found out the answer, as, thankfully for all fans and the league, the draft from the very first pick to the last selection went extremely smooth. The only “issue” I seemed to catch with the broadcast, especially on day three, was Louis Riddick seemed off-key all day, as it seemed he had a three-to-four second delay whenever he was prompted to speak. Again, a very minor issue when you think of all of the other possibilities that could have happened. All things considered, the production of the 2020 NFL Draft was very good, and commissioner Goodell slowly not giving a you-know-what during the course of the draft was an interesting twist.
The partnership between the two networks saw NFL Network’s (and Hall of Famers) Michael Irvin and Kurt Warner work the first two days of the draft on ESPN and insider/draft expert Daniel Jeremiah work all three days with ESPN’s own Mel Kiper, Louis Riddick, Adam Schefter, Chris Mortensen, and on occasion during the first two days, Anthony “Booger” McFarland.
One of the takeaways I have from the talent perspective is how good Jeremiah was. His insight and input about the prospects brought HUGE value to the broadcast and was the star attraction of the multi-network presentation, which, in a way, is not a good thing for ESPN. To me, if ESPN’s biggest star was from another network, it shows the lack of star power for ESPN in that department (besides Mel Kiper, of course).
Yes, prospect guru Todd McShay was unable to cover the draft for ESPN because he himself coming down with COVID-19, but I still felt like even with a McShay, it would not have made a difference. Daniel Jeremiah was the best thing going for ESPN during the draft. His eye for recognizing talent is at a Mel Kiper level. My gut tells me Jeremiah, who is only 42, will soon be working for another network in a bigger role, or back in the NFL, this time taking the Mike Mayock route and becoming the general manager of an organization.
ESPN Radio’s version of the draft might have been one of the more underrated productions from the year so far. Sports radio is built off of crowd noise, and the draft is no different. However, the team of Dari Nowkhah, Mike Tannenbaum, Bart Scott, and Ian Fitzsimmons stole the show for me and made the draft worth listening to on the radio. Tannenbaum’s background being in a front office brought a unique perspective, while Bart Scott had the ex-player angle, Nowkhah driving the show, and Fitzsimmons adding his (for lack of a better term) hot takes/opinions really made for a great three days.
The new question sports fans have following the conclusion of the 2020 NFL Draft is, can the NFL do a virtual style draft again? Seeing all of the players’ reactions in real-time was a really nice touch. On the other side of the coin, ESPN turning some of the telecast into more depressing tones at times throughout the draft was not a good idea. Moreover, based on various reporters from around the league, a lot of executives, coaches, and personnel raved about how this crisis/format allowed them to spend more time with their families, which is awesome, too.
The 2021 draft is in Cleveland, so it will be interesting to see, assuming life is back to normal by then, how much of the “normal” draft format is altered because of the success of the virtual one. Will we get more of Roger Goodell in his basement? Will the NFL Draft expand into multiple cities? Will Bill Belichick’s dog be making a cameo every year? Some of those questions will be answered in less than a year. The torch has been passed, and now, the city of Cleveland is on the clock.