Grading the NFL Draft Broadcast

Brian Giuffra
Roger Goodell.
Roger Goodell. / Handout/Getty Images
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The NFL Draft has come and gone. Seven rounds, three days, 224 picks. If it all seems like a dream to you, trust me, you're not alone. I'm sure plenty of people at ESPN and the NFL slept better last night than they have in weeks as they prepared for arguably the most complicated live sports broadcast of all time.

Now here we are, on the other side of history, wistfully reminiscing on what happened, knowing we won't have live sports for a long time once again. But before we move on from the past, let's grade it. We see grades for every pick and every team, but never the broadcast. That is until now. Here are the grades for the 2020 NFL Draft broadcast, presented by The Big Lead.

Roger Goodell

Goodell worked overtime in this draft, calling the first three rounds instead of just the first. He was put in an unenvious position of being the face of this draft and live sports in general. Add to it the fact that a lot of people just don't like his face in general, and you've got a tough spot for anyone to handle. There were mistakes, most obvious of which was his announcement of the Raiders getting the 2020, I mean, 2022 NFL Draft. But there were also highlights, including him doing a Tik Tok with Jerry Jeudy. Personally, I felt he handled the situation well considering the position he was in. He had to deliver a lot of sensitive messages and pronounce a lot of names. Can't hammer him for making a mistake here and there along the way. Grade: B

Analysts

The NFL and ESPN did a joint broadcast on their networks, which meant combining their NFL Draft analyst teams. Then they were thrown a curve ball when Todd McShay announced he had COVID on the day of the draft and wasn't going to be able to participate in the broadcast. You don't build on-camera chemistry overnight, especially when you're in different locations, but these people are pros and they handled it admirably. The biggest issue was talking over each other, which, if you've done conference calls during this pandemic, you know is simply a way of life these days. But the pick break downs were as in-depth as ever and the delivery was solid. The biggest missing element was the face-to-face disagreements, which is what makes McShay and Mel Kiper's relationship so great on draft day. It felt like the NFL and ESPN analysts almost avoided that confrontation at times for the sake of unity, which I understand, but did miss. Grade: B

Trey Wingo

I was going to call this category play-by-play, but if I'm being honest, I didn't watch any of the ABC broadcast, so it wouldn't be fair to grade Rece Davis, Jesse Palmer and Maria Taylor, who led the broadcast over there. Meanwhile, Trey Wingo was the only host on the ESPN-NFL broadcast, setting up analysts, transitioning from Roger Goodell announcing the picks to Wingo introducing the picks and, in many cases, discussing the obstacles they overcame to get where they are. And he did that for nearly 24 hours over three days. It was a herculean task and he rose to the occasion. There's only one grade for his performance. Grade: A

Broadcast Creativity

Listen, when your broadcast is predicated on web cam production, it's always going to be tough to raise the bar. I just thought there was room for improvement here. We got a lot of Tom-Rinaldi-style human-interest stories, which was important and interesting. It just wan't unique. The fan booing felt staged because it was and the fans behind Goodell as he was announcing the picks didn't hit home. Obviously the NFL was playing it safe, not having actual fans live on the broadcast, which could have resulted in something really bad happening. But why not incorporate more social media elements, like face filters? Or how about some sort of competition between analysts? Or maybe a game of some sort? Perhaps that would have felt cheesy, I don't know, but I just felt like, because this was a unique situation, there could have been more experimental elements to the broadcast. Grade: C

Backgrounds

To me, the best part of the first round of the draft (outside of the picks) was the unveiling of the coach and GM backgrounds. Jerry Jones was on his Yacht. Kliff Kingsbury looked like he was on the "Entourage" set. Mike Vrabel, I'm not sure what was going on in his house, but it was funny. Overall, getting a view into these people's lives was interesting and it made the broadcast feel more authentic. I just wish more people went the Vrabel route and had some fun with it. Grade: B+

Internet Bandwidth

In the lead up to the draft, internet bandwidth was a hot topic of discussion. Would there be issues sending picks to the NFL? Would broadcasts freeze mid-interview? Would someone hack the broadcast and shut the whole thing down? Turns out none of these were major issues. The internet held up across the board and things went smoothly. Grade: A

Producers

ESPN's producers had the hardest job of everyone and they didn't get the credit they deserve because you don't see them. But imagine trying to juggle over 300 broadcast lines with a mask on your face and the pressure of an entire football-loving nation watching every second of the coverage while you're also thinking about COVID and your family. That's a lot to even think about. Somehow things went off without a major hitch and it's time to give the production team credit and a big thank you. Grade: A+

Overall

Broadcasting the NFL Draft is a tough job in the best of times. In this situation, it was even more complicated. Somehow ESPN and the NFL combined to produce a high-quality draft broadcast that felt authentic to both the purpose of the broadcast (the draft) and the situation we're in (national pandemic shutdown). The individual people behind and in front of the cameras were professional and avoided major issues. I'm sure more things happened behind the scenes than we know, but somehow that was kept under wraps and the only focus was on the draft. Sure, there are areas we can nitpick and question. In the end, however, what we should be is thankful for a job well done. Grade: B+

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