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Three-man set improves ESPN coverage

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Posted May 03, 2011 @ 10:04 a.m. ET
By Barry Jackson

ESPN devotes countless hours and resources to the draft year-round, but the network wisely took the "less is more" approach in one aspect of its coverage.

In using a three-person main set (Chris Berman, Jon Gruden and Mel Kiper), ESPN did something it should have done years ago. Last year, ESPN used five on set, including ponderous Steve Young. That created two problems: Kiper — who knows these prospects better than anybody else at ESPN — didn't have enough time to speak. Nor did Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter, whose newsy reports were among ESPN's draft-weekend highlights.

Gruden proved far better than others who have sat in the chair before (Young, Keyshawn Johnson, etc) and critiqued players with a more critical eye than he sometimes does on "Monday Night Football." He said of CB Patrick Peterson: "I rarely see him put hands on anyone. His bump and run mechanics have to improve." He said WR Julio Jones "struggled catching the football throughout his career. He has suspect hands at times." On LB Akeem Ayers, Gruden said, "I saw a grab tackler. I didn't see enough physical plays."

And when Kiper correctly noted Jake Locker's accuracy issues, Gruden made a terrific point, noting he was forced to throw away 66 passes, largely because of a subpar supporting cast. Gruden also had lively and playful exchanges with Kiper, telling him at one point, "You got to stop being so negative" about  Houston's secondary and the Brandon Harris pick.

• Kiper has become less acerbic in recent years. He still questions picks, but not with as much venom. His strongest criticism during the first two nights was directed at Seattle, which chose OT James Carpenter at No. 25. "He's a late-round guy, I don't see it. A reach," Kiper said. But he added, "It doesn't mean he's not a good player."

• NFL Network nailed more early-round picks before ESPN did — including Muhammad Wilkerson, Ryan Williams, Rahim Moore — largely because the league's channel usually came back sooner from commercial and immediately focused on players who were on the phone.

• Kudos to several commentators for nailing picks shortly before they were made, including NFL Network's Mike Lombardi on Ryan Mallett (New England) and Gruden on Jaiquawn Jarrett (Philadelphia).

• When NFL Network's Rich Eisen pressed Mike Mayock to specify the non-football issues that caused Mallett to drop, Mayock said, "I don't believe it's my place to put anything out there. He's had some off-the-field issues. Repeated bad decisions." Mayock was prudent not to say anything he couldn't prove.

• ESPN's first-round audience plunged from 7.3 million viewers in 2010 to 6 million this year. NFL Network increased to 1.04 million viewers for the first round — still well behind ESPN, which is in far more homes.

• NFL Network had the sense to realize the Joe Theismann/Matt Millen Thursday-night booth wasn't working and will have Mayock replace them. At press time, the network hadn't decided whether incumbent Bob Papa or CBS' Gus Johnson would do play-by-play.


Barry Jackson covers sports media for the Miami Herald.

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