It was a new experience last night for viewers watching ESPN's NFL Draft coverage. Gone were the days of 25 analysts crammed on the main stage all fighting for the little bit of talking time between picks. Gone were endless cutaways to team sites and war rooms. Instead, ESPN went all-in with the tandem of Mel Kiper and Jon Gruden. So, how did the leaner and meaner NFL Draft coverage grade out? Let's go through the good, the bad, and the ugly to give ESPN's 1st Round performance the proper evaluation.
-The reduced main set with Gruden and Kiper was a classic example of addition by subtraction. Last year's 1st Round was ruined by Steve Young dominating analysis without saying anything of substance. The revolving door of NFL analysts brought in by ESPN over the years (Tom Jackson, Keyshawn Johnson, Michael Irvin, etc.) all seemed more interested in making sure their voice was heard instead of analyzing the draft. Reducing the circus to the duo of Kiper and Gruden allowed the two analysts to shine. Instead of waiting for Steve Young to finally stop talking, we finally got our money's worth from Mel Kiper, who was able to give the type of analysis this year that he had to cram into 30 seconds in previous years. What little debate there was between Gruden and Kiper allowed both to shine as well.
-Gruden especially was on top of his game, separating himself from the pack of ESPN's NFL analysts with a tour de force performance. With the extra time allowed by the slimmed down set, Gruden was able to showcase the insight everyone loves from Gruden's QB Camp. The scouting reports ESPN had from Gruden and Kiper were very informative, especially the 2 pages of adjustments Gruden suggested Cam Newton would have to make to be successful in the NFL. The extra air time given to Gruden also allowed him to actually get into some of the concerns he had for each player. And while Gruden was still largely positive, he wasn't the one-trick "I LOVE THIS GUY" pony that he can revert back to at times. While Gruden still isn't the perfect draft analyst (more on that later) his attention to detail and clinical breakdown of each prospect from a coach's perspective was a breath of fresh air.
-Mark Ingram's moment, although contrived by ESPN and Suzy Kolber, was still an emotional moment. Seeing the former Heisman Trophy winner read an email from his father (currently in prison) allowed all of the emotion of the draft to bubble to the surface. And while I'm normally not one to accept such made for TV moments, the connection of father and son was worth the manufactured drama.
-Although it was a minor detail, I was relieved ESPN chose not to use Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen to spoil every pick before it happened. The revealing pictures of young men getting a phone call they had dreamed their whole lives about was more than enough. Once again, ESPN decided to scale back the on-screen presence of Mort and Schefty and it worked. For those who wanted to be in the know, Schefter was again a Twitter maniac, which is exactly the proper forum for tipping potential picks.