What TV coverage of the NFL Draft could learn from the radio version

Listening to the excellent ESPN Radio coverage of the NFL Draft was a further reminder of what is missing from the TV coverage as compared to the past.

Led by Chris Carlin, ESPN Radio’s crew actually questioned things, while the TV coverage — whether it was on ESPN, NFL Network or ABC — was far too sweet. Everyone is going to the Hall of Fame!

I love the draft, so I still enjoyed the TV coverage. But what made it spark in the past, what turned Mel Kiper Jr. into Mel Kiper Jr. draft expert, were the moments when he questioned whether the Jets or Colts knew what they were doing.

ESPN Radio did that, and the best example I can offer came near the beginning of the second round after the Raiders moved up three spots to draft Notre Dame’s Michael Mayer.

Carlin immediately said, “Alright, listen, I’m sorry. This one I do not get, guys. I don’t get it. Michael Mayer is a terrific player. Don’t get me wrong. Tight end. They traded away Darren Waller. I understand this, but that is nowhere near where the importance should be for the Las Vegas Raiders here, Mike.”

Michael Mayer runs a drill during Notre Dame's Pro Day.
Notre Dame tight end Michael Mayer’s selection elicited mixed reactions during live coverage of the 2023 NFL Draft.

Analyst Mike Tannenbaum replied, “Chris Carlin, I agree with you a thousand percent.”

Tannenbaum then listed the journeyman tight ends on the Raiders’ roster and pointed out the team did need to upgrade at the position, but said the Raiders are in building mode and it was unwise to relinquish a fifth-rounder when they have so many holes. Tannebaum also mentioned Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker as a possibility over Mayer.

“This pick does not make sense to me,” Tannebaum concluded.

Analyst Chris Canty added, “Mike T., I’m with you on that one.”

Like Tannenbaum, Canty named names, saying Alabama defensive back Brian Branch might have been a better choice. Canty also threw out offensive linemen Steve Avila and O’Cyrus Torrence as alternatives. He said he loves Mayer as a player, too, but felt it was a “luxury pick.”

Next up was draft analyst Jordan Reid. “I think they panicked,” Reid said.

Chris Carlin
Chris Carlin facilitated a frank, compelling conversation on ESPN Radio during Round 2 of the NFL Draft.
Robert Sabo for the NY Post

Rounding out the discussion, analyst Ian Fitzsimmons said, “Here’s my question: How many of us had a first-round grade on Michael Mayer? Why are we screaming about the Raiders taking him in the second round?”

Carlin said, “Because it is far from a need for the Raiders.”

Fitzsimmons replied, “Who cares about need?”

It was all great, genuine stuff.

Meanwhile, here is how TV covered it:

• On ESPN’s main draft coverage, analyst Booger McFarland compared Mayer to Jason Witten. “I like the fit in Las Vegas,” McFarland said.

Raiders fans react to the team's second-round 2023 NFL Draft pick.
Raiders fans were pleased with the team’s second-round pick, and the TV commentary was overwhelmingly positive.
Getty Images

• On NFL Network, before the pick, insider Ian Rapoport said the Raiders could go for a quarterback or a tight end, specifically mentioning Mayer, which was good. Draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah made the comp of the Ravens’ Mark Andrews, and added that Mayer was the best available player.

• On ABC’s College GameDay coverage, analyst David Pollack referenced Mayer’s “Baby Gronk” nickname.

Maybe Mayer goes to the Hall of Fame and all the praise will prove to be correct. On TV, there was no immediate talk of whether it made sense to use draft capital to move up a few spots.

Let me be clear: The TV coverage of this specific moment was fine, but we are using it to illuminate our main point.

The problem with the TV presentations as compared to Carlin and Co. on the radio is there was not enough of a jaundiced eye.

Not all these draft picks are going to be good players, so every couple of picks, it is better to say, “I don’t know about that one.” It has to be genuine, but if it were done like it was on radio, it would make the TV coverage better.

After all, it is how Kiper made his name.

ESPN's Suzy Kolber smiles as she interviews Ohio State wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba.
Suzy Kolber interviews Ohio State wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba on ESPN after he was drafted by the Seahawks.
Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

All that said, the TV coverage did have its strong moments.

• ESPN’s Louis Riddick is at his best on the draft. Riddick looks at the game through a player personnel man’s eyes. He came the closest on TV to actually being a bit critical on some picks, which made his positive comments mean more. The other thing Riddick revealed that was really good: He said he asked Alabama outside linebacker Will Anderson Jr., the No. 3 overall pick by the Texans, who was the best player he faced all season, and Anderson instantly said Tennessee offensive tackle Darnell Wright.

Riddick added to his own evaluation.

“I believe that this young man, when it is all said and done, has the ability to be the best player in this draft,” Riddick said of Wright.

Louis Riddick covers the 2023 NFL Draft for ESPN
Louis Riddick is at his best when covering the NFL Draft for ESPN.
screenshot via YouTube/ESPN

• It might be us more than him, but Mike Greenberg seemed more like he belonged leading the draft. Greenberg is a very good host, so it is not a surprise, but in his third year, he just seemed more comfortable.

• The best draft analyst is NFLN’s Jeremiah. It is not that he is necessarily always right, but he delivers the information in a very cogent way.

• I’m a little more meat-and-potatoes in my coverage preferences, but it will never not be amazing that the first three rounds of the NFL Draft are on broadcast TV with ABC.

• Laura Rutledge, nine months pregnant, working the draft for ABC/ESPN. Scouting report: Gamer.

Quick Clicks

Ryan Ruocco is alone in the YES Network booth
Ryan Ruocco ably handled Friday’s Yankees broadcast on YES Network by himself after Jeff Nelson was sidelined.
via Twitter

Ryan Ruocco had to pull a Vin Scully on Friday. With YES game analyst Jeff Nelson’s voice giving out, Ruocco had to call the second half of the Yankees-Rangers game solo. Ruocco, a Fordham grad like the late Scully, would have made Vin proud. … Elon Musk said he is creating a function on Twitter by which readers can pay for single articles. This long has been something that made sense in a digital subscription world. But will publishers want to play with Musk? I will say it is potentially a good idea. … Turner Sports’ Jimmy Jackson, working with Ian Eagle, has gotten some nice game analyst buzz. Even Bill Simmons chimed in to praise the duo. Before that, Stan Van Gundy was getting some nice buzz working with Eagle. There seems to be a pattern. … Next Saturday for the Kentucky Derby, NBC/Peacock will have 7.5 hours of coverage, the most it has ever done. It will start at noon and go all day on both broadcast and streaming.

Michael Rubin and Fanatics are officially moving into the sports gambling space, betting on leveraging the company’s database of 95 million consumers. How long until Rubin goes strong into sports media? Rubin, talking to Sports Business Journal’s Abe Madkour at the CAA World Congress of Sports, recently said, “When I think about doing live sports in the near-to-mid term, I don’t see it. Do we believe media makes sense for us long-term? Yes. Do I think live sports is intimidating? I do.” … The Phoenix Suns and Mercury struck a deal to put their local broadcasts on over-the-air TV beginning next season, though Diamond Sports is contesting it. Forgetting the legal wrangling by Diamond Sports — which is in bankruptcy and previously held the rights — the bigger sports media story is that an NBA and WNBA franchise owner wants to put games on over-the-air TV and with a new streaming service. That is a big deal. The world is changing, and some of it is back to how it used to be.

Phoenix Suns forward Kevin Durant dribbles the ball during a playoff game against the Denver Nuggets.
Kevin Durant and the Suns will be on over-the-air TV next season in a blast-from-the-past sports media shakeup.
USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con

… Hilarious promo from MSG Network, featuring, among others, Monica McNutt and Alan Hahn, who just happen to talk a lot of basketball in their other jobs for ESPN. In the MSG spot, McNutt says, “You don’t have to roll with those national folks, stick with the home team.” It is funny because McNutt and Hahn both talk NBA and the Knicks all over ESPN. … A really good piece in The Street by Daniel Kline on PR guru Mike Soltys, who incredibly was let go from ESPN after 43 years as part of their recent layoffs.

On Giannis and questions

My biggest criticism of my fellow reporters is not putting enough thought into how to construct questions.

It is one of the only weapons we have in finding answers, but many times, in press conferences and other venues, it feels as if reporters think about what they want to ask, but not how they want to ask it. ESPN, before the company laid him off, used to have a questions coach, John Sawatsky, who wrote the manual on correct practices.

Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of the Milwaukee Bucks addresses the media after a season-ending playoff loss.
Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo’s playoff press conference was the scene of a much-discussed question and answer.
NBAE via Getty Images

That brings us to Giannis Antetokounmpo’s tremendous answer to The Athletic’s Eric Nehm’s question, “Do you view this season as a failure?”

Here’s the first rule of judging a good question: Did it receive a good answer? This received that, so that makes it a good question. Because all these press conferences are now televised, everyone gets to see how the sausage is made.

But when asking a question, it is best not to have any loaded words to elicit the most honest answers. Most people do not want to lie (some do, but most don’t). If the question had been, “How do you view this season?” then Antetokounmpo could have filled in his feelings. If he gave a dry answer, a follow-up would have been in order.

During these press conferences, it is often difficult to get the mic again. That is why I recommend saying: “I have two questions, and I’m going to ask them one at a time.”

Giannis Antetokounmpo loses the ball during the Bucks' Game 5 loss to the Heat.
Giannis Antetokounmpo fumbles the ball out of bounds during the Bucks’ disappointing season-ending loss.

No. 1, you should never ask two questions at once, because invariably the interviewee is going to focus on the easier one. Second, when you tell the subject and, more importantly, the moderator that you are going to have two questions, but will wait, it allows you to listen to the first answer and possibly follow up.

Nehm’s question received some backlash because it was negative in tone. It got a good answer, so no real quibble. But a better way to phrase it, if you specifically wanted to ask about failure, would have been: “How do view this season in terms of success or failure?”

It is more balanced, which allows Antetokounmpo to fill in the blanks. Antetokounmpo did it anyway, so despite the backlash, it was a good question because this is a results business.

source: nypost.com