Friday, May 9, 2014

Networks, league top winners at NFL Draft

Let the fan bases and gurus debate about team performances in selecting talent, but it's clear the biggest winners during the first round of the NFL Draft were the perennial champions: the league itself and its broadcast partners.

Overnight ratings for ESPN confirmed its status, with the coverage drawing a 6.8 rating -- the highest-rated first round ever for the network. In addition, NFL Network drew a 1.8. The combined 8.6 was up nearly 50 percent from 2013, according to the league.

At the same time, the league again put on a good show.

It's gotten more and more elaborate through the years, with every step of a draft pick's route from the green room to the stage scripted to the smallest detail, and it's generally gotten better for viewers. The NFL knows how to produce and support a TV show.

Additionally, because of the strong ratings, it's a pretty safe bet the draft will remain at its later May date on the league calendar, too. And still spread out over three nights, maybe even four.

In terms of on-air performances, the draft shows had their share of winners, too. Here are some of those highs, and a few lows:

-- Rich Eisen: Amidst the craziness of the draft and a too big on-site studio group for NFL Network, Eisen handles things well. He muscled into an early discussion to share details of a trade, and he does a good job overall of keeping the broadcast on track.
-- Mike Mayock: He's the best thing the NFL Network has going for it -- informative, opinionated and prepared. He's been doing things too long and too well to be a rising star. He's just a solid pro.
-- Ray Lewis: A welcome addition to ESPN's set. He shared his knowledge and was prepared.
-- Reporters: It's hard to put people who did not have as much air time as others here, but Chris Motensen and Adam Schefter bring credibility to ESPN's efforts. Their segments were strong, and more from them is never too much. Plus, of all the talking heads that kind of run together across the two networks, Mortensen and Schefter are clearly better than their counterparts on the other network.

-- Chris Berman: He was first to share a note about the Browns taking No. 1 QBs at the No. 22 spot overall (Johnny Manziel is the third such pick in recent seasons), and its an snarky Internet thing to bash Berman, but he does come across as superficial. His ESPN bosses talk about his preparation, but sometimes that does not come across. He seems more like a fan than a strong traffic cop for a studio crew. Not sure that that's a terrible thing, but it does open the door for criticism.
-- Jon Gruden: After lobbying over and over for Manziel to be selected, he eventually had to get it right. His approach works much better during games, when it's slightly smaller doses. At the same time, his interaction with Mel Kiper Jr. was interesting. They got close, but did not overstep (by much) into debate-for-debate sake.
-- Sal Palantonio: Sorry, the story about Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam being told by a homeless man to "draft Manziel" was not helpful or interesting. Of all reporters who are on site, his efforts, no matter the time of year, always feel they're more about him than the information he elicits.
-- Deion Sanders: Torn here ... but ultimately a low. His interviews as players left the stage was more chummy and supportive than anything insightful. On the one hand it's hard to expect anything earthshaking at that moment form any of the draft picks, so the happy-happy, joy-joy approach was OK. On the other, it just seems like so much smarm.

NFL Network's Marshall Faulk about the draft overall: "It's the best reality television there is, it really is."

Right after ESPN's Mel Kiper said Jadeveon Clowney was always double teamed in college, the network's broadcast went to a half dozen clips of the No. 1 overall pick dominating opponents in only one-on-one action during games.

NFL Network had a handful of snapshots from each players' family and youth as they made their way to the stage that appeared on screen. It was a nice touch, helping to humanize all the future millionaires.