Last year we broke down the good, bad, and ugly from ESPN's 1st round NFL Draft coverage. Aside from the obvious baggage that comes with ESPN's NFL coverage (more on that later) last year's "less is more' approach provided a significant upgrade over previous seasons. Gone were analysts like Steve Young and Keyshawn Johnson talking just to hear themselves speak, while saying nothing of substance. Going in to this year's draft, with pledges to reduce the tipping of picks, it looked like ESPN was poised to once again improve on the previous year's performance. But, did they? Let's go through the highs and lows and sort out a final grade for ESPN's Day 1 draft coverage.
-Once again, the reduced main set for ESPN's 1st round coverage allowed Mel Kiper Jr. and Jon Gruden the time to shine. Without having to elbow their way through fourteen other analysts, Kiper and Gruden had time to go to that deeper level of analysis on many of the prospects' strengths, weaknesses, and fit for their new team. Even interviews from Suzy Kolber and reports from team sites (with only Ed Werder making his contractually obligated appearance from Dallas) were cut down dramatically to the benefit of the Kiper/Gruden combo who continued to exude knowledge and chemistry. The extra time was noticeable as Kiper was able to add insight on why Luke Kuechly might be the next Brian Urlacher or why 'Dre Kirkpatrick might have trouble against the speedy receivers of the AFC North. Yes, others like Mayock and Todd McShay have cut in on Kiper's turf, and nobody can be 100% correct on every pick, but there's no doubt Mel Kiper can still bring it strong throughout the NFL draft. There's a reason this was his 29th NFL Draft for the WWL.
-Overall, Jon Gruden seemed to have a much more consistent performance in this year's first round. For a while, it looked like Gruden was once again going to start all of his analysis somewhere on the continuum between "I love this guy" and "I really like this guy". But then Gruden cited a lack of productivity from Memphis DT Dontari Poe against weaker competition. Then, he called out North Carolina DE Quinton Coples's lack of effort last season. Those might be obvious points to those who follow the draft closely, but it was nice to hear Gruden avoid putting every draftee directly into the Hall of Fame. It wasn't a perfect performance, but it again showed the potential Gruden has to be the best NFL analyst in the business.
-The behind the scenes folks often don't get a lot of credit when it comes to putting on an event like the NFL Draft. And certainly an area where ESPN has excelled for many years has been their highlight packages on each of the 1st round prospects. The best example was showing a montage of dropped passes that plagued Ryan Tannehill at Texas A&M last season. The highlight packages make the analysis of the likes of Kiper and Gruden look even better.