- The Washington Times - Friday, April 27, 2007

The NFL Draft kicks off again this weekend with round-the-clock coverage on two cable networks.

Underscoring how the draft has become one of the top events in sports that doesn’t involve actual athletic activity, both ESPN and the NFL Network will have a horde of hosts, analysts and reporters inside New York’s Radio City Music Hall for all seven rounds. Both networks also plan to add additional analysis online and on the radio.

ESPN’s coverage will feature two sets inside Radio City Music Hall, with reporters assigned to at least three team sites. Overall, the network plans 18 hours of live coverage on ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPN Radio. Chris Berman will be the main anchor on Saturday, and will be flanked by analyst Mel Kiper Jr. and reporter Chris Mortensen. Suzy Kolber will perform interviews of drafted players Saturday and anchor coverage of rounds four through seven on Sunday. Former 49ers quarterback Steve Young and current Carolina Panthers wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson also will weigh in.

The league-owned NFL Network, covering the draft for the second year, will have a similar presence inside Radio Music Hall and a studio in Los Angeles.

“We hope to build tremendously over last year,” NFL Network senior producer Eric Weinberger said. “With any TV or any reporting, you always want to get better. And we hope to make some more advancements at the draft this year to continually be considered as the top football source for fans and everyone out there.”

Former players Deion Sanders and Marshall Faulk will be new additions to the NFL Network’s coverage, which again will be hosted by Rich Eisen. Mayock, Charles Davis and Jamie Dukes also will provide analysis.

ESPN said it actually has reduced the number of people on air, with Johnson the only active player involved in its broadcast. Fewer people on air allows the crew to react more quickly as the draft picks are announced, according to Jay Rothman, senior coordinating producer for ESPN.

“Increasingly, it’s just become too much in numbers, and that’s one place where we’ve scaled down,” he said.

Rothman said the emergence of the NFL Network has had little effect on what ESPN does.

“I don’t ever worry about it, to be honest,” Rothman said. “It’s such an overwhelming show to do because it’s unscripted. I’m pleased with the roster we have. We are dialed. We are not short of strength at any position. I’m not concerned.”

ESPN plans to link to all NFL team cities through video conferencing but will not be live inside any team “war rooms.” Officials said they plan to give more air-time to a feature that allows fans to weigh in on their team’s draft selections through the Internet.

Despite competing against the NFL Network head-to-head for the first time last year, ESPN recorded its highest-ever ratings for the event, drawing more than 36 million viewers at some point during the weekend.

And Johnson acknowledged that interest in the draft has increased in the years since the New York Jets selected him with the first overall pick in 1996.

“I think it’s a good thing, but it also puts a lot of pressure on a guy,” Johnson said. “There are now 30 million people who will think they are your fan, or at least your part-time fan.”

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