If only every industry could develop as fruitfully as the one surrounding the NFL Draft. Long just the domain of scouts, diehard NFL fans and one Mel Kiper Jr., the Internet and a multitude of college football television broadcasts has opened up interest in the controlled crapshoot known as the draft to anyone who thinks he can differentiate among seven rounds’ worth of pro football hopefuls.
ESPN soon incorporated draft analysis into its regular coverage of the college football season. The NFL Network then created an entire week’s worth of programming just from televising 40-yard dashes and cone drills at the draft combine. SportsCenter, grasping for anything to prevent extended hockey highlights, consistently features debates between Kiper Jr. (from an ESPN Zone that could double as his home) and Todd McShay (perpetually in front of a green screen backdrop to be named later). Now, ESPN has developed a podcast, First Draft, to consolodate some of the analysis. And for people like me who mute SportsCenter with reckless abandon, have no fear. The podcast provides a strong weekly snapshot as to what teams are thinking leading up to the April 25-26 event, with a minimum of forced debate or antagonism.
Ryen Russillo hosts each episode, setting up the tee so that Kiper Jr. and McShay can whack away. Given Russillo’s experience on ESPN Radio and the experts’ media saturation, the conversation sounds almost like a polished compilation from previous radio bits. But what should attract listeners who wake up with SportsCenter are the extended, divergent conversations that take place when considering a team’s or player’s prospects. Free from the confines of the revved-up television script, the half-hour show feels like a much more complete snapshot than picking up bits of news on TV or in the blogs.
The March 3 podcast (the fifth in the show’s run) probably mentions more than two dozen players, and all of it starts with a simple hook – given the shuffle of NFL free agency, how does that affect draft needs? Not every team gets mentioned, so diehards breathlessly awaiting any word on the Colts’ needs can find that elsewhere. But as anyone who follows the draft knows, knowing what other teams might be interested in directly feeds into our greatest pie-in-the-sky delusions. Kansas City scored a quarterback? Time to Bear down, Mark Sanchez! And McShay/Kiper Jr. nicely balance between what they see and what teams think they see, allowing for a sigh when combine warriors shoot up draft boards despite game tape to the contrary.
Rusillo caps the show with a visit from other members of Scouts Inc. In the latest show, Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl quickly give updates on players heading into pro day workouts. Both sound much less polished than their counterparts, but they don’t make the show any weaker for their inclusion. With as many players involved in the draft, more eyes at ground level only can improve the level of information and discourse.
Right now, the most in-depth coverage remains online, where an encyclopedia’s worth of daily multimedia awaits. Still, I like the niche-ing of ESPN’s podcasts (to wit: did you know there is a fantasy soccer podcast?). If you have somehow held onto your job and only the mid-afternoon Web surf has been laid off, a commute featuring the ESPN First Draft podcast will allow football fans to at least be more knowledgable than Michael Irvin during those golden days when the Playmaker analyzed the draft earlier this decade.
Gratuitous plug: For draft analysis outside the NFL draft, check out Diesel’s Draft Analysis, which is written by my friend’s spouse and comes from someone who played the game above the sandlot level.