Barry Jackson

A primer on the major changes to expect on TV coverage of the NFL Draft this week

ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit replaces new Oakland Raiders coach Jon Gruden on ESPN's main NFL draft set on Thursday.
ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit replaces new Oakland Raiders coach Jon Gruden on ESPN's main NFL draft set on Thursday.

Within 10 years, it appears every television network will be airing the NFL draft except possibly Bravo and Animal Planet.

We’re certainly headed in that direction.

Proving again that the draft apparently has no saturation point, there will be five – five! – network combining to televise the proceedings this weekend, with Fox and ABC joining the mix for the first time.

Here’s the lineup:

Round one on Thursday night: Fox won rights to televise the first two nights of the draft for the next five years – in conjunction with NFL Network and opposite ESPN’s coverage – as part of its deal to televise 11 Thursday night games through 2022.

But Fox concluded it made more sense to do a joint production with NFL Network instead of producing its own telecast.

To give Fox a presence on the NFL Net broadcast, Fox’s lead NFL analyst, Troy Aikman, will work on an outside set with Steve Mariucci and Steve Smith.

Fox’s main set will remain intact: Rich Eisen, Mike Mayock, Daniel Jeremiah and Stanford coach David Shaw. Deion Sanders will work the stage. Fox’s Jay Glazer also will be involved on NFL Net's coverage for the first time.

Meanwhile, ESPN will introduce two changes: Lead college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit will replace new Raiders coach Jon Gruden on the set for round one, joining Trey Wingo, Mel Kiper and Louis Riddick.

“It's something that has been talked about for years,” ESPN executive Lee Fitting said of Herbstreit’s addition to the set. “[ESPN executive] Seth Markham said how about Herbstreit this year? And it sort of felt like a no-brainer to everyone. Kirk covers these players inside and out from their time in college as closely as anyone. You couple that with that fact he's one of the premier faces of the network and it was a pretty simple decision.”

The other change: ESPN2 will produce a separate Thursday night draft telecast with emphasis on the college side. Not sure there’s a need for “College Football Primetime at the Draft,” but ESPN believes this will serve an audience that’s more interested in the college game than the pro game.

Rece Davis, Desmond Howard, Lee Corso, David Pollack, Booger McFarland and Joey Galloway will anchor the ESPN2 coverage, with the screen split into three boxes including a rotation of graphics on two of them.

“Ideally we hope people will switch back and forth,” Fitting said. “The pacing [on the Thursday night ESPN2 show] will be slower. We'll be able to do a little deeper dive on the player and also the school that just lost the player.”

Will the ESPN2 coverage speculate on who might replace drafted players, such as the replacement for Sam Darnold at USC?

“I think we'll get to that,” Fitting said. “I'm not sure that's the first direction we'll go…. Eventually we'll get to what are the effects for USC.”

This will be the second year that Wingo handles the first round instead of Chris Berman, whose role at the network was dramatically reduced more than a year ago.

Rounds two and three on Friday night: ESPN’s set will feature Wingo, McShay, Kiper and Riddick.

Fox and NFL Network will counter with a main set of Eisen, Mayock, Jeremiah and Charles Davis and an outside secondary set of Chris Rose, Fox lead college football game analyst Joel Klatt and Peter Shrager.

Rounds four through seven on Saturday: ESPN is throwing a carrot to the NFL by having ABC simulcast ESPN’s coverage of the final four rounds. That means more exposure for the league, because there are 26 million TV households that have ABC but not ESPN.

Meanwhile, NFL Network’s coverage will feature a main set of Eisen, Mayock, Jeremiah and Davis plus a Los Angeles set of Dan Hellie, Shaun O'Hara, Reggie Bush and Charley Casserly.

Both ESPN and the NFL Network have broadcast separate productions of the draft since 2006. Last year, 6.7 million viewers watched ESPN’s first round coverage, compared with 2.5 million for NFL Network.

So is there justification for five networks televising what amounts to a listing of names?

Yes, ESPN’s Fitting said, noting that “what the draft started at 30 something years ago to what it is now is amazing.”

AROUND THE DIAL

Fox got a decent schedule for its first year of 11 Thursday NFL games, with Denver-Arizona and Dolphins-Houston arguably the least appealing of the 11.

The Dolphins’ Sept. 9 opener against visiting Tennessee at 1 p.m. was cross-flexed from CBS to Fox to balance the network schedules. The upshot is that South Florida can get three afternoon games that day, instead of two if the Dolphins had stayed on CBS, which will air Chiefs-Chargers locally at 4 p.m., likely against Dallas-Carolina on Fox.

Thanksgiving games next season: Chicago-Detroit, Washington-Dallas, Atlanta-New Orleans… Jets-Lions and Rams-Raiders is the opening Monday night doubleheader; ESPN requested the first game of new Raiders coach and former ESPN analyst Jon Gruden….

Falcons-Eagles will be the regular season opener Thursday, Sept. 6 on NBC… NBC’s Sunday night opener is Chicago-Green Bay, a change from Cowboys games in past years…. Philadelphia-Jacksonville, perhaps the best London matchup ever, will be an NFL Net telecast at 9:30 a.m. Oct. 28.

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