TV coverage has a major impact on the fans of any sport, and the NFL is definitely no exception. As a writer who specializes in NFL Draft content, I believe this article will cover a topic relevant to all fans who follow the draft, not just the Steelers fan base.
If you enjoy the draft as much as I do, you probably have a preference as to who you watch or listen to on draft night. For me, I have always preferred the graphics and draft chimes that ESPN provides, giving me that true draft-night feel. The analysts on set, however, are what make or break a network’s coverage, and for years, ESPN has boasted the two most popular draft analysts in Mel Kiper, Jr. and Todd McShay. They also employ the most insightful front office analyst in Louis Riddick. Sadly, that trio is losing one of its members.
Just a couple years after losing host Trey Wingo, ESPN is letting go of yet another talented mind. It was announced on Friday that Todd McShay was one of many on-air layoffs the company was making, which came as a shock to almost everyone who follows ESPN’s draft coverage.
McShay is certain to land a job elsewhere, but this throws a huge wrench into the expectations fans had for future draft coverage. Most expected McShay to be the face of ESPN’s draft coverage once Kiper decides to call it a career, but the network will now look to newer faces, such as Matt Miller and Jordan Reid, to fill the void left by McShay.
This brings us to the topic of today’s article: what does this mean for NFL Draft TV coverage moving forward?
This move is a big hit to ESPN’s draft analyst “depth chart,” but depending on where McShay lands, this could open the door for more networks to join in on draft-night coverage. Before we dive into what election-night style draft coverage would look like, let’s determine the most likely landing spots for the former ESPN draft guru.
Which network is the most likely landing spot for Todd McShay?
FOX seems to be the most likely landing spot, as its robust college football coverage could go to another level with a reporter of McShay’s caliber. Former ESPN reporter Tom Rinaldi made the move to FOX back in 2020, and he has been used for some of the network’s biggest games, no matter the sport. Adding McShay would give them a true draft analyst as well as another sideline commentator, who would be a great addition to their top crew that already includes Gus Johnson, Joel Klatt, and Jenny Taft.
Which network is the best fit for Todd McShay?
Many people believe NFL Network is the logical landing spot for McShay, but I personally could see him wanting to land with NBC. NBC will be covering a top primetime game in the Big Ten each week, with Noah Eagle, Todd Blackledge, and Kathryn Tappen making up the coverage team. Adding McShay would make sense for both parties, as McShay and Blackledge worked on the same crew at ESPN for several seasons. Putting them on the same team in their normal roles would only help the on-air rapport of this new crew. This would also help NBC if they wanted to get in on draft-night TV coverage. A desk comprised of Mike Tirico, Todd McShay, Chris Simms, and Chris Collinsworth would sound appealing to the average fan.
Which network needs Todd McShay the most?
CBS Sports’ draft coverage is relevant, but they are definitely not one of the leaders when it comes to covering the event. Ryan Wilson does what is asked of him at the network, but he is not a household name like McShay. With CBS seemingly desiring to expand their overall college football coverage moving forward, adding a guy like McShay could transform the network’s college football and NFL Draft coverage. He would also bring greater relevance to CBS Sports Network and CBS Sports HQ during the pre-draft process.
When FOX televised the first two nights of the draft in 2018, it was rumored that the NFL may look to get other networks in on the action and make draft night feel more like election night, with coverage of the event taking place on every major television network. Neither FOX nor ESPN were guaranteed exclusivity to the event in their contracts, and it led many to believe that more networks joining in on coverage was only a matter of time.
It was just one year later when ABC launched College GameDay’s coverage of the draft. Since then, it has been an annual tradition for the GameDay crew to cover the first two nights of the draft on ABC, while Day 3 is simply a simulcast of ESPN’s coverage. Outside of NFL Network and ESPN/ABC, no networks have joined in on live coverage since the beginning of GameDay’s coverage in 2019. However, Todd McShay’s departure from ESPN could change that.
Whichever network hires McShay will surely want to utilize his talents as a draft analyst, and what better way to do that than to provide live coverage on draft night? It is reasonable to believe the winner of the Todd McShay sweepstakes will try to get involved in draft-night coverage, but this may be the perfect opportunity for the NFL to get their wish and make the draft an event that is covered by every major network.
There may only be one Todd McShay, but he is not the only credible name in the draft world. Dane Brugler of The Athletic is certainly a name that would garner the interest of a network that fails to land McShay. Lance Zierlein is currently with NFL Media, but if he wanted a more prominent role, he could be another name networks attempt to land. Albert Breer, Mike Renner, Ian Cummings, and Trevor Sikkema could also be in play for television gigs.
For the sake of reality, we will put McShay with FOX Sports, as this does seem to be the most likely place for him to land. With that in mind, let’s make projections and see what election-style draft coverage would look like.
On-set: Mike Greenberg, Mel Kiper, Jr., Louis Riddick, Booger McFarland
Insiders: Chris Mortensen, Adam Schefter
Interviewer: Laura Rutledge
Outside of losing Todd McShay and Suzi Kolber, nothing would change for ESPN. McShay was being used on the College GameDay coverage for the first two days anyway, and ESPN typically prefers a lighter set for the early rounds. Rutledge, the host of NFL Live, was part of the GameDay coverage as well, but a transition to the ESPN team seems like a legitimate possibility.
Also, do not rule out Kevin Negandhi and Joe Buck as long-term hosts of the early-round coverage. Buck is a popular name due to being the voice of Monday Night Football, and Negandhi has displayed greater in-depth knowledge of the draft than Greenberg.
On-set: Rich Eisen, Daniel Jeremiah, Charles Davis, Kurt Warner, Bucky Brooks
Insiders: Ian Rapoport, Peter Schrager
Interviewer: Jamie Erdahl
If this mega-coverage scenario comes to fruition, it would not shock me if Bucky Brooks received an offer to be the lead analyst for CBS Sports, as he would be a logical fit for their style of draft coverage. However, his relationship with Daniel Jeremiah through Move the Sticks may entice him to hang around. An increased role on draft-night coverage might also improve NFL Network’s chances of keeping him.
Melissa Stark worked with the NFL Network team for the 2023 draft, but if NBC decides to cover the event, she may stick with her Sunday Night Football crew, depending on her contractual agreements with both NFL Network and NBC. If she is unavailable, Jamie Erdahl makes the most sense to replace her.
On-set: Reece Davis, Kirk Herbstreit, Desmond Howard, Matt Miller, Robert Griffin III, Pat McAfee
Insiders: Chris Mortensen, Adam Schefter
Interviewer: Sam Ponder
With Todd McShay gone, this is Matt Miller’s opportunity to take the reins as the company’s top draft analyst behind Kiper. This would make Miller the on-set draft guru for ABC’s GameDay coverage, and he would merge with ESPN’s crew for the Saturday Simulcast hosted by Reece Davis. Other than Miller, not much changes. With the insights of Herbstreit and Miller and the humor of Pat McAfee, this set would definitely have balance.
On-set: Rob Stone, Todd McShay, Joel Klatt, Michael Strahan, Tom Brady, Urban Meyer
Insiders: Jay Glazer
Interviewers: Tom Rinaldi, Erin Andrews
With Joel Klatt already in-house, an argument could be made that FOX does not need Todd McShay in order to present intriguing draft coverage. However, a set that includes both McShay and Klatt puts them in true competition with ESPN’s set. Throw in the popularity factor with Michael Strahan and Tom Brady, and all of a sudden, ESPN is wishing they never let go of Todd Todd Todd. Curt Menefee and Kevin Burkhardt could also be in play for the hosting job, but Stone’s strong hosting presence, specifically on Big Noon Kickoff, could give him the edge.
On-set: Mike Tirico, Chris Simms, Albert Breer, Jason Garrett, Chris Collinsworth, Peter King
Insider: Mike Florio
Interviewer: Melissa Stark
Getting the full Sunday Night Football team together would be a big win for NBC, but if Stark were to stick with NFL Network for draft coverage, Kathryn Tappen and Maria Taylor would be alternative options. We saw Peter King leave Sports Illustrated for NBC back in 2018, making NBC the most logical landing spot for Albert Breer, the person who took King’s role as writer of the Monday Morning Quarterback when King left. Jason Garrett would not be my personal favorite as the on-set coach, but he would be the most likely selection for draft coverage. Peter King may see a few TV segments on draft night himself.
On-set: Nate Burleson, Tony Romo, Ryan Wilson, Bill Cowher, Dane Brugler, Boomer Esiason
Insider: Jonathan Jones
Interviewer: J.J. Watt
My personal preference for host would be James Brown, as I consider him a stronger hosting presence. However, CBS has slowly been incorporating Burleson into more hosting roles, and this would be their chance to give him his own event to host. The combination of Tony Romo and Bill Cowher sounds intriguing, but in the eyes of most fans, Ryan Wilson would not provide as much credibility as a Kiper, McShay, or even Albert Breer.
Dane Brugler of The Athletic has gown in popularity in recent years, and he is young enough to develop into a true star in the industry. Simply put, the combination of Brugler and Wilson sounds much more intriguing to the average fan than just Wilson. As it pertains to interviews, Evan Washburn and Tracy Wolfson may be the most likely names to take charge, but newly-acquired J.J. Watt could provide a unique flavor to interviews that no other coverage team provides.
This scenario is far from a sure thing, but it makes sense, given the current landscape of NFL Draft coverage. After Todd McShay’s shocking departure from ESPN, nothing is certain in the media landscape. However, other TV networks could use this as an opportunity to take their own piece of the pie and get in on the NFL’s biggest offseason event.