As the order stands now, Bears fans will wait the longest for their team to make a pick in the NFL Draft, which begins Thursday night in Nashville, Tennessee. After trading out of the first two rounds, the Bears’ first selection is No. 87, more than halfway through the third round, which is Friday night.
Why should Bears fans have any interest in watching the first two-plus rounds? I asked two of the people in charge of their network’s draft coverage — NFL Network vice president of production Charlie Yook and ESPN vice president of production Seth Markman — to sell their broadcasts to Bears fans.
Yook will produce his 13th NFL draft, and if you like local success stories, you’ll be happy to know he went to Glenbrook South High School — unless, of course, you went to Glenbrook North.
Nevertheless, Yook billed the draft as the great unknown, pitching the chaos that comes with trades and the surprises of players being picked where no one thought they’d go.
“We keep selling, we don’t know what we don’t know,” Yook said. “If we knew more than we thought we did, Tom Brady would have been the No. 1 overall pick when he got selected, not at 199. It depends on our guys conveying this is who this player is, this is why he makes sense on your team.”
Among those conveying will be new lead draftnik Daniel Jeremiah. He takes over for Mike Mayock, who’s now the Raiders’ general manager. Mayock had sat in the analyst’s chair since the network began broadcasting the draft in 2006. Jeremiah has been with the network since 2012, but this is a step up in class.
Jeremiah has what Mayock didn’t: professional scouting experience. He was in the war room with the Ravens, Browns and Eagles before joining the network.
“Daniel is ready for this moment,” Yook said. “We haven’t changed our planning. So that speaks a lot to what Daniel brings to the table. We’ve continued to push the envelope, challenge him to do more, watch more tape, give us more breakdowns, give us more player comparisons, and he hasn’t blinked one iota.”
There are also non-football reasons to tune in, especially for music lovers. NFL Network’s theme is “A Star is Born,” which ties into Music City more than the movie. Yook said when he and his crew first visited Nashville, they were struck by the music they heard on Broadway from morning to evening.
“And it dawned on us, everyone’s there to become a star,” Yook said. “And while we’re doing this, we’re thinking the NFL is going to convene here and the players are going to try to do the same thing.”
Dolly Parton will voice the open, and the network will broadcast from Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, a famous honky-tonk bar. Musicians also will be part of the presentation.
But the network won’t lose sight of the main event, which leads to another reason for Bears fans to watch from the start.
“Bears fans need to tune in because they’re basically doing homework on the opponents,” Yook said. “If I’m a Bears fan, I’m definitely watching us on Thursday because the Packers have two first-round picks, and I’m curious to see what the main competition is going to do.”
ABC & ESPN
Markman, who oversees ESPN’s NFL studio shows, has been responsible for the on-site coverage of the draft for several years. He figures Bears fans won’t mind waiting considering whom the team acquired for the first-round pick it traded.
“I would assume that Bears fans wouldn’t trade Khalil Mack back for those picks,” Markman said. “Just because they don’t have a first-round pick doesn’t mean that we ignore them for a day and a half. I think it’s still a must-watch for a Bears fan that’s an NFL fan.”
The biggest difference in ESPN’s coverage this year is its expansion to two networks. For the first time, ABC will broadcast the draft, with Robin Roberts of “Good Morning America” hosting Thursday. Rece Davis will co-host from a separate set with the “College GameDay” crew.
Roberts’ presence will make for a different kind of broadcast. Markman said ABC’s presentation is aiming for a broader audience. It will still break for the announcement of every pick, but it will focus on the stories of the players being picked. The ESPN broadcast will handle how the players fit with their new team.
“If you’re a hard-core football fan, you’ve always enjoyed watching the draft a certain way, you want the analysis, stick with the ESPN broadcast,” Markman said. “If you want to hear more about the kids’ journeys, more about their college experiences, what kind of person they are, I think you may want to try the ABC version.”
“College GameDay” joined the draft coverage for the first time last year, and the crew’s performance made you wonder what took so long to include it. This year, it’s being featured on broadcast TV. It will bring energy to the show with the help of Nashville celebrities and their music. “American Idol” judge and country music icon Luke Bryan will be on set Thursday.
“There’s a lot of music woven in and out of both broadcasts, more on the ABC side,” Markman said. “There’s going to be some special guests from Nashville. Each place we go, we try to get a good sense of where we are, and I think Nashville probably more than any other year you’re going to see a lot of the fabric of the city throughout both broadcasts.”
The fact that two broadcasts from the same network are covering the draft makes it worth checking out.
“We always joke we could fill two networks, and now we really can,” Markman said.
NFL DRAFT ON TV
Thursday 7-10:30 p.m.: Round 1 – ABC, ESPN, NFL Network
Friday 6-10:30 p.m.: Rounds 2-3 – ABC, ESPN/ESPN2, NFL Network
Saturday11 a.m.-6 p.m.: Rounds 4-7 – ABC (simulcast of ESPN), ESPN, NFL Network