NFL Draft (Press) Coverage: Winners And Losers For ESPN and NFL Network

With round one in the books, we thought it made sense to look at some of the draft's early winners and losers. Heck, football people far smarter than me can tell you if Sam Bradford is really 32 picks better than Jimmy Clausen or if the Rams would have been better served taking an offensive or defensive tackle and then trading back into the late first round to take one of the remaining quarterbacks. People more in the know than me can tell you why San Francisco gave up more than Santonio Holmes is currently worth to move up two spots in the first round.

This is about the winners and losers of the coverage on TV.

For the purposes of this experiment, TV shall include the internet as well. First, it was impossible to miss the fact that Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen from ESPN and Jason La Canfora from NFLN were blatantly announcing picks on Twitter minutes – sometimes up to five or six minutes – before the commissioner announced a selection. I'm all for scoops, but we aren't sitting around for five hours watching this spectacle of a draft so we can have our picks leaked out before hand. And this isn't coming from a team's beat writer just trying to do his job. These tweets were coming from the reporters working for both networks covering the event on TV. If getting the scoop is that important, just eliminate the whole fanfare of the draft altogether and have NFL insiders in a room with a Blackberry just reading off who picked whom.

Yes, I understand that millions of people watch the NFL Draft and no more than a few hundred thousand are following on Twitter, but those few hundred thousand are likely the more dedicated viewers. Please stop making the fact that we're watching the draft so unnecessary because, as you'll see, there wasn't all that much else worth watching.

• I've had long-standing debates with many insiders at ESPN about the quality of Jon Gruden's work. I just don't see how ESPN can make him their lead analyst when it's obvious that he's developed an inability to criticize teams in the league – which many pundits think is nothing more than posturing for when he eventually returns to the NFL as a coach. Look, I've watched the old NFL Films features. The guy is just not that positive. The guy reading his Blackberry back from a break saying, "It's a crazy league, there's a lot of dumbass…" that's the Gruden I wish we got more of on TV. (H/T to Colin Cosell for the video.)

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But those in charge at ESPN clearly love Gruden, and love him so much that the long-standing feud between Mel Kiper and Todd McShay didn't even exist on Thursday night. McShay was relegated to one or two segments with a big board back in Bristol. And Mel? Mel was completely castrated by the addition of Gruden on the set.

The old ESPN formula worked for them: Chris Berman tipped a pick, the commissioner announced it, Berman did the housekeeping on his vitals and Mel did the breakdown over the highlights. After that, the rest of the pundits gave their thoughts. Was it just me, or was Gruden doing more and more of the analysis over the highlights Thursday night? Maybe I found myself gravitating more toward the NFLN coverage so I could have missed a lot of his analysis, but it felt like ESPN had Kiper sitting on the end of the desk doing nothing other than staring at his Big Board that had Jimmy Clausen stuck at the top as every team in the league passed on one of his "can't miss" talents.

As I mentioned on Tuesday in our NFL Draft coverage draft, this night is made for Mel, but it sure didn't feel like that on ESPN.

• By contrast, NFLN made Mike Mayock into their star of the evening. They had a draft expert and they deferred to his expertise on everything from player grades to who would be the right fit for which team. Mayock felt like an expert on Thursday, and the credit clearly goes to Rich Eisen for that. Eisen coolly and calmly drove the bus for NFLN, even managing to get in every single sponsor name the network overstuffed their coverage to include. Eisen was the anti-Berman last night, who seemed, well, like Berman doing the draft. If you notice, after a lengthy conversation between pundits on ESPN, Berman just lets the conversation hang for two or three seconds – a long time on TV – before abruptly moving on. That's because he's obviously not paying attention, right? Or because, as we saw on the wide shot, he's busy yelling at the director.

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Despite his new contract, ESPN would really be better served having Berman sit in the Suzy Kolber chair to do interviews and hand over the draft coverage for the full three days to someone like Trey Wingo. Wingo, like Eisen, is cool and collected during the draft chaos. Watch ESPN on Saturday and tell me if the coverage anchored by Wingo ends up being more or less chaotic than the rounds with Berman. Berman is great at a lot of things, but anchoring the draft, with all that can change on the fly, is not one of them.

Eisen, on the other hand, is perfectly suited for the draft and his even temperament and quick wit was on full display during the first round. He even dropped in a "fuggedaboudit" which, from the Staten Island native, is a nice shout out back to his East Coast roots. I thought for a minute the California sun had bleached that out of him.

We won't recap everyone on both telecasts, but here are some other winners and losers…

• Jeremy Schaap and Scott Hanson both spent the evening with the Tebow family and both had enormous payoffs when Tebow was taken by Denver. If they had the chance to pick their assignments, they chose wisely.

• Suzy Kolber and Deion Sanders both did decent work with the player interviews. Deion, specifically, didn't ask one insightful question but seemed to play a big brother role to every single draft pick that was amazing to watch. After Thursday night, I'm fairly certain that Deion is secretly the agent for every player in the first round. That, or their pastor. Yes, there was a lot of God blessing going on during those interviews.

• Steve Young, Steve Mariucci, Marshall Faulk and Tom Jackson were all solid in their analyst/pundit roles. Of the four, Faulk seemed to stand out the most with his preparation and poise on the set. I feel Jackson is the best NFL analyst of the bunch and was concerned that he wouldn't add as much to ESPN's Draft coverage, but was happy to see him prove me wrong. Both Mariucci and Young seem to be on the set more for their broad, general analysis and storytelling than anything else. Both are good, but perhaps some of that time could be spent more on in-depth breakdown of the draft picks. I'm not sure.

• I am sure, however, that Michael Irvin served little purpose on the NFLN set. The network would have been better served going with a four-man set and leaving more time for LaCanfora or Deion to get on TV. Irvin even seemed lost when the Cowboys traded up to draft Dez Bryant, which you'd think would have been an exclusive scoop for the former Cowboys wideout.

• Speaking of Bryant, the NFLN coverage of his draft process – from the camera in his house with his family celebrating followed by Bryant coming into the room and falling on the floor in a heap of emotions – juxtaposed with the Cowboys war room camera, won the night. The Tebow coverage may have gotten more fanfare, but the NFLN coverage of Bryant's situation was the moment of the night.

• Watching ESPN on TV, I had the NFLN feed online. After about an hour, the NFLN feed switched to their studio show in Los Angeles. The air came out of the balloon. Mike Lombardi has a lot of great information – except when he angrily admitted he couldn't reach his phone and had no service inside their studio – but the rest of the crew, while providing solid analysis did nothing to compliment NFLN's New York set-up. It was a bad move by the league and they should have left their online coverage as a mirror to what they had on TV. Those watching ESPN would have wanted an online alternative, and the league dropped the ball with how much time the online feed spent going back to their static studio show.

• Last, if there was one winner of the night, it's Mike Mayock's daughter, Leigh. The Penn State senior was Tweeting last night, replying to people out there, myself included, who talked about her dad:

⇥Dads drinkin diet coke...everyone else has water in their mugs if any1 was wondrin!
The younger Mayock is planning to graduate this May with a degree in broadcasting and journalism. Let's hope she keeps up the inside info on her dad the rest of the draft.
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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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