The final day of the NFL Draft is a mantra for sports television people, a 12-hour workday featuring more than 150 players selected. Think of all the production work of that, from the thousands of premium packs and graphics to the slick discussions about players that many watch at home, delivered for the first time. Everyone who works in the NFL Draft tells ESPN and the NFL Network that day three is when you make your money.
If you happen to be watching the NFL Draft on Saturday — congratulations, NFL die-hard — you witnessed one of the best sports moments of the weekend when Kansas State running back Deuce Vaughn was selected in the sixth round by the Cowboys with the pick 212.
NFL Network succeeded in the moment. It began by showing the actual selection on stage – fans Jacob and Michael Craig announced the selection of Dallas. Then Daniel Jeremiah—who, in my book, went on to become the NFL Draft’s top TV analyst—realized the bigger story. “That’s very cool,” said Jeremiah. “His father, Chris, is a scout for the Dallas Cowboys, who really went out of the room when they discussed him as a player.”
That’s when the NFL Network’s production truck took off into high gear. When Jeremiah spoke about Vaughn, viewers saw several highlights of the 5-foot-5 Kansas State’s cutting ability in open fields, explosiveness, and pass-catching skills. “If you ignore the size, this baby is incredible,” said Jeremiah. “It’s like Houdini in space.”
While Jeremiah was speaking, the producers switched to live footage of the Cowboys draft room as viewers saw Cowboys assistant scouting director Chris Vaughn overcome with emotion and colleagues congratulating him. Jeremiah locates Cowboys owner Jerry Jones in the room. Insider Peter Schrager added: “This is his pops. Very cute.”
NFL Network executive producer Charlie Youck said the way it was shown on television was the result of preparation and serendipity.
“Obviously there’s a lot of interest when the Cowboys do anything,” said Youk. “Deuce was a name in this draft that we wanted to highlight. As soon as Jeremiah said his dad works for the Cowboys, we got the shot. It was a complete storm. The Cowboys made the selection, he was a player we were interested in,” says Daniel Jeremiah. Something that makes us look at the items we have. It was a great moment.”
There were other nice items too. The NFL Network’s graphics department produced a chart for the shortest players in NFL history, educating viewers about 5-foot-1 Jack Shapiro, who played one season in 1929. They followed that up with another impressive graphics of the shortest running backs ever selected in the draft NFL. Since 2003 the iPhone has topped the list. The cabin crew smoothly devolved into a discussion of running back Texas’ Pejan Robinson, who finished eighth for the Falcons. Excellent TV.
“Look, on day three, do we pick by choice? No, you want to find those logical nouns,” Yok said. “We’re not necessarily worried about the next pick. We’ll shove it onto a billboard tape or somewhere else. This was a big moment, a family moment, and something that connects everyone whether or not you’re a Cowboys fan or a Kansas State fan. He was a player who we think would be really good for the Cowboys. You want to find those moments that occur naturally and have production value behind them. When those two things collide, you get great moments.”
On ESPN, host Rece Davis informed the audience of Chris Vaughn’s background and ESPN showed the same footage of the Cowboys draft room. The group discussed Deuce Vaughn’s slow time at the NFL Scouting Combine and said it wouldn’t matter. ESPN also cleverly went long with Vaughn’s pick, offering four signature packages.
“It’s just what we dream about,” said Seth Markman, vice president of production at ESPN, ESPN’s equivalent of Yook as the lead person in his company’s NFL draft coverage. There are certain moments over the years when you need to get to know your staff. This is a special moment and we have to stay. “I wasn’t in the van at the time. I was watching it as a viewer. I’m nervous that someone is going to make the decision to leave and cut that shot and go spotlight. So what pleased me the most was the amount of time we gave him. We let the moment happen.”
ESPN analyst Todd McShea made a bold prediction, one of those segments years from now in which he’ll either look like a genius or a lemon. “I promise you 10 years from now – I’ll be in my mid-50s sitting at this desk and (Mel) Kepper, you’ll be right next to me, I don’t care what you say – and we’re still talking about this guy, Duus Von, in the Football Association,” McShay said. American.
Kiper, Matt Miller, and Louis Riddick added their ideas as the production continued to show the Cowboys’ drawing room. Said Riddick: “That phone call right there It kind of embodies everything we talk about as far as life changes over this weekend.” Good stuff.
A few other notes of interest from the draft TV coverage:
• Jeremiah predicted before the first round that Texas would move into third place in the trade with the Cardinals. “Getting that in your mock draft the night before was one of those ‘silent’ moments,” Youck said. “Not a lot of people had that. That was absolutely amazing and a great moment for us. You can’t recreate that, and sometimes that’s a bit of luck, but he’s very connected and smart and does his homework.”
• I expected the NFL First Round to draw more viewers than it did. The numbers are up 11 percent over last year, with an average audience of 11.4 million viewers across ESPN, NFL Network, ABC, ESPN Deportes and digital channels (vs. 10.3 million in 2022) — but that was to be expected given the dearth of quarterbacks last year and eight Teams not selected in the first round. What I don’t know is if some of the alternative productions – such as Pat McAfee doing a private draft on his platform, and many others doing the same – caught some viewership. It is something to follow. However, if you’re from the NFL, up high, and a double-digit increase is always cause for celebration in today’s climate.
• First round televised details for each network, courtesy of Sports Media Watch:
ESPN: 5.62 million (up 26 percent from 2022)
ABC: 4.11 million (up 8%)
NFL Network: 1.56 million (down 12 percent)
• Markman said he expects rookie analyst Matt Miller, who appeared on ESPN’s keynote scheduled for Day 3, to return to the same role next year.
“I thought he did a good job,” Markman said. “I need to go over everything, of course, but from what I’ve seen, I wouldn’t say ‘slow’ because I think that’s not fair, but I do think it takes time to adjust to this kind of role. At first, he was probably very respectful of Mel and Todd and maybe felt, “Do I really belong here?” But soon I think he got more comfortable and then he did exactly what we expected him to do and fit in right. As the guys got older, those guys took turns talking about each player and they had some good fourth-backs. We chatted briefly. At the end he said, “Now I get it, I’m ready for Detroit. The plan is to bring him back to Detroit (2024 draft site)”.
• Yuk said he is pleased with the NFL Network’s first-round hire, which has seen a change from previous years. The main group this year was host Rich Eisen, Jeremiah, Charles Davis and Joel Klatt, with Kurt Warner and Ian Rapoport in the second group. Yok said he expects this to be the same next year.
• As chronicled by NFL Network senior researcher Jack Andrade, Jeremiah’s scouting recruiting process was quite impressive.
• The green room in the NFL Draft is an interesting place and navigational mission. ESPN’s Laura Rutledge pulled it off well on opening night — and she did when she was nine months pregnant. I wrote about her challenging and rewarding assignment.
• The Network Partners are all very excited about next year’s draft in Detroit.
“A lot of us have been talking about the wave of names that are likely to come,” Yock said. We all feel like these upcoming upcoming names are going to drive viewership for the year. If you ask the runners in our spot or ESPN, they’ll say if North Carolina’s Drake May and USC’s Caleb Williams come out, those two quarterbacks will be better than either. Those quarterbacks this year. There’s also the best wide receiver we’ve seen in a long time – (Ohio State) Marvin Harrison Jr. – and a lot of other serious talent.”
• Courtesy of Playmaker Capital (Canada) sports media analyst Adam Seaborn: The first round of the NFL Draft averaged 111,000 viewers on TSN, which had draft rights in Canada. That same night at the same time, Sportsnet and CBC’s coverage of the Leafs-Lightning game drew 2.8 million viewers. Canada’s population is about 37 million.
• During the sixth round of the draft, NFL Network hosted some puppies from the Wayside Waifs, a nonprofit animal shelter in Grandview, Mo. It was a cute clip with one surprise: one of the dogs peed on Jeremiah.
“We actually said right before this happened, ‘If a dog pees, what do we do? The response in the van was, “It depends on who pisses the dog.” Then moments later we hear, “Oh, my God, puppy on DJ.” We got to help local shelters, and that was cool. And yeah, Jeremiah threw that shirt off.
The Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury announced that their games will be available in Arizona on over-the-air gray TV channels as well as a collectively branded digital service. The turnaround could be an indication of where other teams are going as they prioritize access over RSN’s crumbling business. There are at least 70 matches each season that are not nationally exclusive. the athleteMike Forkunov and Daniel Kaplan both increased, as did ESPN’s Brian Windhorst and Sportco’s Eben Novi-Williams.
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Some of the things I’ve read over the past week that have been interesting to me:
• This was massive. “Inside the NBA” remains the best current studio sports show, as well as the best show of all time.
• Recently released White House photos depict the day Osama bin Laden was killed. By Nate Jones from The Washington Post.
• ‘Learning from Pain’: Why Germany Protects Soviet War Memorials. By Anatoly Kurmanaev, Christopher F. Schuetz, and Ekaterina Podisagina from The New York Times.
• Letters to my friend Ivan Gershkovich in a Moscow prison. We chronicled Russia together, and hope for its future. Now a Wall Street Journal reporter has been imprisoned for a month. By Polina Ivanov for the Financial Times.
• Doug Smith, longtime reporter for the Toronto Star Raptors, says the Raptors should hire Becky Hammon for the head coaching position.
• Could Disney move out of Florida? No way, experts say. By Hannah Sampson of The Washington Post.
• Almost died from the pursuit of HIV infection. Then this Canadian scientist set his sights on the COVID lab leak theory. This is what he found. By Kate Allen for the Toronto Star.
• John Underwood, stylish sportswriter and writer, dies at 88. By Richard Sandomier of The New York Times.
• A homeless person in the city where he used to serve as mayor. By Mike Baker of The New York Times.
• via Sam Amick the athleteGiannis’ Answer to Failure The NBA’s Rings culture shows the strength of reporter-player relationships.
• You are the only survivor of a plane crash. That’s what I learned in just eight days in the woods. By Paula Cocuzza, The Guardian.
• Computer scientist Cal Newport raises the hood of GPT and talks with David Epstein about whether to replace you and/or take away the nukes.
• In brilliant prose, Margalit Fox painstakingly chronicles a deeply harrowing chapter in American history. One of the best things I’ll read in 2023.
(Photo: Stacy Revere/Getty Images)