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Mixed Media: Networks shine a light on Buffalo while TV draft coverage grows

The three-day extravaganza known as the NFL Draft will engulf and devour our TV screens this week. Fox TV and the NFL Network for the first time are partnering for a simulcast of the first round on Thursday, and for rounds 2 and 3 on Friday. ESPN will have its own broadcast each day of the draft, with alternate coverage on ESPN2.

On Saturday, when rounds 4 through 7 are selected, NFL Network will be on the air, while ESPN’s coverage will be shown on ABC TV, its sister network. Thus every round of the draft this year will be covered live on broadcast television, a TV first.

An item in the Sporting News last week said the NFL might in future years add even more TV coverage, inviting CBS, NBC or other broadcast outlets to join the draft party. Unlike the telecast of a game, the NFL's contracts with its TV partners for draft coverage are not exclusive, so other TV outlets could get in on the act, similar to the way a political convention or national election night is covered.

Will we eventually hear draft-night analysis about players "with a high motor" on HGTV, Tru TV or the History Channel? At some point the first night of the draft could be like an episode of the old "Twilight Zone," where a TV viewer keeps clicking through channels and can't find a single one without Mel Kiper Jr. staring back at them.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. When the Bills are on the clock in Round 1 on Thursday evening, the NFL Network's Aditi Kinkhabwala will be reporting from the Bills' facility at New Era Field, as will Jeff Darlington of ESPN.

Fox Sports analyst Troy Aikman will join the Fox/NFLN show for Round 1, along with Rich Eisen, Mike Mayock, Daniel Jeremiah and Stanford football coach David Shaw. Fox college football analyst Joel Klatt will also be part of the team for rounds 2-3, along with Charles Davis, Peter Schrager and Chris Rose.

Before Round 1 gets underway on Thursday, Rece Davis will host a two-hour edition of College GameDay on ESPN, from 5 to 7 p.m. Lee Corso, Kirk Herbstreit, Desmond Howard and David Pollack will also be on hand.

At 8 p.m. over on ESPN2, there will be a GameDay-themed draft telecast. The mothership, ESPN, will feature Kiper and Herbstreit along with Trey Wingo and Louis Riddick, with contributions from Todd McShay, Chris Mortensen, Adam Schefter and Suzy Kolber. Herbstreit moved into the ESPN draft-night lineup after Jon Gruden left to coach the Oakland Raiders.

Davis will host the College GameDay-themed programming for Round One on ESPN2, originating from the NFL Draft Experience exhibit at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, site of this year’s draft. Howard, Pollack, Joey Galloway and Booger McFarland will also be on the air, along with guest appearances from college head coaches.

Eyes on the Bills

We caught up with ESPN’s Darlington and NFL Network’s Kinkhabwala for a five-question Q&A on what they expect this week at One Bills Drive.

Q: The big question in Buffalo, of course, is which quarterback might the Bills land. Do you have any best guess on which quarterback they might covet most?

Darlington: I don’t necessarily know which one they covet, but I think there is significant interest in all of these quarterbacks. What happens with the Browns at No. 1 will certainly shape the next four picks of the draft. Certainly I expect the Jets to take a quarterback, that’s why they traded up to No. 3. And there are other teams like Denver who have an interest in a quarterback. The Bills will have to move up to to get assurance of getting the guy they want. And there’s no guarantee that Sam Darnold is going first overall, despite what a lot of people think. I would hold out the possibility that Darnold slips past No. 1. And if that’s the case, the I suspect the Bills would look very hard at using the ammunition they have to move up.

Kinkhabwala: Unless the Bills are moving up to No. 1 – which I have no sourcing suggesting is likely – it doesn’t really matter which one they may covet most. What’s maybe more interesting is how many do they think could be their franchise quarterback, and the capital they’re willing to give up to get to one of them, be it at No. 2 (the Giants’ pick) or No. 4 (the Browns’) or even after.

Q: Buffalo is about as NFL-crazed as any city there is. Have you had assignments here before and did you get a sense of that?

Darlington: No question. I have covered a lot of games in Buffalo and I have been both awed and overwhelmed by the fans there. I remember pulling up to the stadium, whether it was a preseason game in scorching hot weather, or a freezing day – like the home game late last year against the Dolphins – and both of those drew the exact same kind of crowd, with people getting rowdy. I don’t expect the draft to be any different.

Kinkhabwala: I was here when the Steelers played the Bills in a snowstorm two years ago. You couldn’t see the lines on the field, and you couldn’t see a single empty seat. Is that what you mean? I’ll say this: I watched that video montage the Bills put together, of the team reacting to Tyler Boyd’s touchdown (for Cincinnati) in Baltimore, ending Buffalo’s playoff drought, to the fans waiting at the airport, at least three times. It’s easy to root for fan bases like that.

Q: Being assigned to New Era Field for the first round, do you get inside access to the team’s “war room” as they make their first pick, or what is your role like on Thursday?

Darlington: I got into town Tuesday night and my coverage started all day Wednesday. My purpose there is a lot about setting it up. I’ll talk to people there with the Bills, getting a sense of what they might do, trading up or sitting still and making two picks in the first round. I won’t be in the war room itself. Those conversations will get very intense, especially when the Giants go on the clock at No. 2. I’ll try to get a combination of the flavor of the fans and the intensity of the actual football decisions being made.

Kinkhabwala: Can you put in a word for me with Brandon Beane? The NFL Network will have cameras in 21 war rooms, but as of now, the Bills’ are not one of those teams. Which is definitely a bummer. Two first-round, two second-round and two third-round picks? The potential for some major maneuvering? Beane’s first ever draft as THE person in charge? This one would be a fun war room to have eyes on.

Q: NFL Network is simulcasting with Fox this year, and ESPN is doing more draft coverage than ever. Why does the draft seem to continue to build audience while there’s evidence that live game broadcasts are slipping a bit in number of viewers?

Darlington: From the draft perspective, there is opportunity for new hope. Every team sits there, and teams that might not be as relevant in November and December, they get a chance to change that, and do it in a three-day span. Every team that gets that December depression, they now have a shot at fixing that. When you look at the prospect of a franchise quarterback stepping in, that can literally change the organization overnight. That is definitely the case for teams picking in the top 10.

Kinkhabwala: This requires a way longer answer, but in a nutshell: Talking about any viewer decline is problematic, simply because all television outside cable news has seen a slip in numbers since the last presidential campaign cycle. Football is still America’s favorite sport and the draft is still where you witness young men’s dreams come true, where you see the fruition of their work and their families’ sacrifice – and where fans across the country find out who they’ll be rooting for the in the fall.

Q: Do you need any restaurant recommendations for your time in Buffalo, or have some of your colleagues given you some tips on places to try?

Darlington: I’ve got all the best wing stops, I’ve got those covered. But what the Pegulas have done downtown, I can’t wait to discover some new places. The transformation downtown in the last five or six years is really impressive.

Kinkhabwala: The fabulous Derek Boyko, the Bills’ VP of Communications, has hooked us up with a few suggestions, but if your readers have some favorites, please send them my way. We’re expecting to be in town five days and that’s a LOT of meals.

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