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Twitter scoops NFL during draft broadcasts

A quarterback who telegraphs his passes with his eyes is not going to make it in the NFL. The league itself tries not to telegraph each team's picks in the NFL Draft, but in the age of Twitter that seems all but impossible.

On Thursday night, during the first round of the draft, the league did everything it could to keep each team's pick a secret until the moment when Commissioner Roger Goodell announced it. But by the time each presumptive millionaire made his way to the Radio City Music Hall stage to get a man hug from Goodell, the picks had generally been known usually several minutes in advance.

To be fair, this wasn't a draft that was heavy on intrigue, since the selections of Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III at Nos. 1 and 2 had been preordained months ago.

In past years, ESPN cameras had often cut to pictures of draftees on the phone in the off-stage green room just prior to their names being called. But this bit of staged reality TV had stolen some of Goodell's thunder, so this year ESPN agreed to do away with the phone scenes.

ESPN's Chris Berman has also been criticized for tipping off the identity of the picks by dropping hints with his signature brand of word play. Berman, in an interview last week with USA Today, said he was all in favor of the decision to do away with the live shots of players getting the word by phone they were about to be drafted.

"That's long overdue," Berman told the paper. "I talked to producers for years about how they were ruining the draft."

Berman also claimed that "contrary to what's been written, the NFL doesn't tell ESPN -- and I don't get it in my ear -- about picks beforehand."

Hmm. Maybe Berman gets all his inside information from that Buffalo cab driver he talks about. But he doesn't know the picks before Goodell announces them? My answer to that is, pay no attention to the man behind the green screen. We'll have to cut him some slack on that one, being the old-school showman that he is.

The fact is that all of the teams and the top TV outlets -- ESPN and the NFL Network -- are given early word once the picks are submitted to the league. This gives teams a jump on their time "on the clock," and gives the networks a chance to get their packages of highlights and instant analysis ready to roll.

One instant star on Twitter during the draft was Seattle Seahawks owner Paul Allen, a Microsoft co-founder, who tweeted the identity of the first 15 picks as soon as he got the word. He had more scoops than Adam Schefter or Chris Mortensen on Thursday night. Once the Seahawks made their pick, Allen said farewell and stopped the live tweeting, presumably at the urging of some of his NFL brethren.

And throughout Round One on Thursday and the next two rounds on Friday night, it was not unusual for Schefter, Mortensen and other NFL reporters to reveal the picks on Twitter before the names passed Goodell's lips. By the time the commish announced that Stephon Gilmore was the Buffalo Bills' top pick at about 9 p.m. Thursday, that news seemed so five minutes ago, as the pick had been rocketing around the Twitterverse.

Mortensen and Schefter occasionally pre-announced the picks right on the air, as "Mort" did when Tampa Bay had decided on Boise State running back Doug Martin as the 31st overall pick.

The draft, which is itself sort of a reality TV show, has never been more popular, particularly in football-mad markets like ours. ESPN's telecast on Thursday night averaged a 5.1 rating, according to the Nielsen Company, with an average 6,661,000 viewers. That rating was up 16 percent from last year's first round.

Buffalo was the No. 5 metered market, with a 7.3 rating for the draft. Cleveland had the highest rating with 10.7, followed by Birmingham, Ala. (10.5), Dayton, Ohio (8.3) and Columbus, Ohio (7.3).


>Short takes

*Thursday night's Game Seven between the Rangers and Senators was watched by 984,000 viewers on NBC Sports Network, while the Devils' double-overtime win over the Panthers drew 867,000 on NBCSN.

NBC, NBC Sports Network and CNBC combined to average 929,000 viewers, the Nielsen Company said. Those numbers are not likely to last into later rounds, however, after Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Pittsburgh and San Jose were eliminated. Those are all very strong hockey markets.

*First-round playoff action in the NBA continues today with games on Channel 7, ESPN and TNT. When the Los Angeles Lakers take the floor against Denver at 3:30 p.m. (Ch. 7), they will be playing without forward Metta World Peace, who -- you may have heard -- was suspended for L.A.'s first six games of the playoffs (plus the final regular-season game) after crashing an elbow into Oklahoma City's James Harden last week.

ESPN analysts Hubie Brown and Jon Barry, speaking on a mid-week media conference call, both thought that the seven-game punishment was too lenient for the former Ron Artest.

"We're talking about a guy that's been suspended over 100 games," Barry said. "He should have at least lost [the first round], and it wouldn't have surprised me if they said he was done for the season, to be quite honest."