Thursday night, April 25th, live from Radio City Music Hall, the 2013 NFL Draft will make for a friendly battle between two networks that pride themselves on their coverage of the league. We have ESPN, who invented the way the draft is covered, vs. the NFL Network, the one owned by the league.
You can bet that both ESPN and the NFL Network have put in hours of research into getting ready for Thursday night. While both networks will be there in full force for all three days, it is the first round on Thursday night where both will be judged and are likely to have the largest audience.
So who really does do the best job of covering the NFL Draft?
The Thursday night anchors are ESPN’s Chris Berman and the NFL Network's Rich Eisen. Both men are great at keeping the show moving and making sure that all of the analysts have their say as each network gets through round 1.
The advantage goes to Berman, who is hosting his 34th NFL Draft for the network. He is in his element doing the draft and while Eisen, a former ESPN colleague, has established his own strong hosting skills the edge still goes to Berman.
Next up we have the draft analysts, with the ESPN duo of Mel Kiper, Jr. and Todd McShay going up against Mike Mayock of the NFL Network. This duel is fun because we really have a three way battle going on here with Kiper and McShay going at each other in a good-natured way. Meanwhile, the crafty Mayock just sits back and gives viewers plenty of solid information. This comes down more often than not to who fans like, so for me Mayock, who played briefly in both the NFL and the CFL, does bring a better analysis. He knows and can explain why a team made the right choice. So I will give the edge to the NFL Network on this point.
Both networks look to former coaches who can bring the insight on how they handled draft day. What types of players they were looking for in the draft and how they made their choices. ESPN is using Monday Night Football analyst Jon Gruden as their main coach while the NFL Network has the tandem of former coaches Steve Mariucci and Brian Billick. This one goes to ESPN and Gruden. He has done a great job over the past two years of breaking down the top talent in the draft with his one-on-one profiles.
The NFL Insiders are the men who tell the viewers if there is going to be a trade happening or why a player expected to go high in the draft might be slipping. For ESPN it is Chris Mortensen, Adam Schefter and Jon Clayton. The NFL Network offers the fine work of Ian Rapoport, who handles their "Insider" reports. This one goes to ESPN; all three of their Insiders, Mortensen, Adam Schefter and Clayton, are draft proven and normally get their information ahead of the other networks, and get it right.
Lastly, we will look at the boots on the ground. Who is following the big stories of the draft on site and not in New York City? The NFL Network will have 15 War Room cameras offering behind-the-scenes video access as team executives make their selections.
Teams with War Room cameras with ability to instantly access executives will be in drafting order: the Kansas City Chiefs, the Jacksonville Jaguars, Arizona Cardinals, Tennessee Titans, San Diego Chargers, Miami Dolphins, Carolina Panthers, St. Louis Rams, Dallas Cowboys, Minnesota Vikings, Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans, Denver Broncos, Seattle Seahawks and the Atlanta Falcons.
This area of coverage goes to the NFL Network because of ease of access to the coaches and executives for quick interviews. One of the clear advantages of being owned by the league is the access that the NFL Network has to the War Rooms.
OK, I expect that the overall opening night coverage advantage will go to ESPN. While, there is no doubt that the NFL Network has made great strides in all areas of coverage, it is hard to beat ESPN with their vast resources and army of talent.
The real winners will be the fans because they will have the chance to flip back and forth between the two finding the coverage that they enjoy the most.
As the sports media columnist for the Washington Examiner, I receive all of the press releases from the broadcast networks.