It is the TV equivalent of the old triple option play.
ABC joins network brother ESPN and The NFL Network this year in covering the NFL Draft.
The coverage starts at 8 p.m. Thursday and continues at 7 p.m. Friday and noon on Saturday.
ABC replaces Fox, which simulcast The NFL Network coverage in 2018, as the broadcast network option that has a larger potential audience than the cable channels.
Unlike Fox, ABC – whose affiliate in Buffalo is WKBW-TV (Channel 7) – is offering its own coverage in an effort aiming to attract more than just football fans on Thursday and Friday night telecasts by including celebrity appearances and up-close and personal features on the players and their families.
With the draft in Nashville, "American Idol" judge and country singer Luke Bryan is part of ABC's coverage. Radio personality Bobby Bones, an "Idol" mentor this season, will give viewers a tour of Nashville. Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes, last season's most valuable player, is a special guest, which will remind Buffalo fans already distraught that the Bills could have drafted him in 2017 before they traded down.
ABC also is bringing in its own celebrity on Thursday’s opening night, “Good Morning America” co-host Robin Roberts, who started her broadcasting career as a SportsCenter anchor on ESPN.
She will be joined by ESPN’s "College Game Day" crew of host Rece Davis, Kirk Herbstreit, Lee Corso, Desmond Howard, David Pollock and reporter Tom Rinaldi. Jesse Palmer and Maria Taylor will also be part of ABC’s telecasts.
It is smart to have the college guys involved since they actually have seen many of the players being drafted play live and not just on film.
Interestingly, Herbstreit said last week that Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins would be his top quarterback choice when Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray is expected to be the draft’s top pick by Arizona.
ESPN is the second draft option, with its Thursday and Friday night telecasts bound to be old school and more likely to attract the hardcore football fan it has satisfied in its decades of draft coverage.
On Friday, ESPN carries the first hour at 7 p.m. and – because it has a scheduled NBA playoff game starting at 8 p.m. – passes to ESPN2 for the rest of the night. On Saturday, ABC simulcasts ESPN’s telecast of rounds four through seven.
Trey Wingo will host the first round Thursday, with Mel Kiper Jr. offering his draft expertise. Draft expert Todd McShay comes aboard in round 2 to try and give some balance to Kiper. They will be joined by Louis Riddick, who is usually the most insightful of ESPN’s analysts. NFL Insiders Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter also are part of the Thursday telecast with host Suzy Kolber. Off of his lackluster first season as a Monday Night Football analyst, Booger McFarland will be part of Thursday’s coverage. McShay, Kiper, Wingo and Riddick also work Friday and Saturday.
Noticeably absent is former Buffalo Bills General Manager Bill Polian, a valuable asset on previous draft days. He has left the network. He is a much bigger loss than Jon Gruden, who loved just about every drafted player when he worked the draft for ESPN before becoming Oakland’s coach last season.
The third option, The NFL Network, could be the biggest loser competing against ABC. It also has lost one of its go-to-analysts – Mike Mayock. The best thing about NFL Network coverage in the past, Mayock is now the general manager of Gruden’s Oakland Raiders.
His replacement at the NFL Network, Daniel Jeremiah, worked on the draft with Mayock last year. He is a former scout for the Philadelphia Eagles, Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens so he has solid credentials. But he has a tough act to follow. A year ago, Mayock predicted the Bills would draft Josh Allen with a trade up for the sixth pick. They picked Allen with the seventh pick after a trade.
In one of his latest mock drafts before the final one to be announced in a special at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Jeremiah had the Bills picking Iowa tight end T.J. Hockenson. He likened him to Dallas tight end Jason Witten, who returned to the Cowboys after one season as a Monday Night Football analyst. One of the more popular mock draft choices for the Bills, Mississippi wide receiver D.K. Metcalf, wasn’t in Jeremiah’s first round. However, he said in a conference call last week he expected Metcalf to be drafted in the round.
In the same conference call, Jeremiah said he saw little difference in the players who would be drafted 20th and players drafted in the 60s.
The Bills are one of 23 teams allowing The NFL Network to put cameras inside their war room to get a behind-the-scenes look as team executives prepare to make their picks. Notably, the New England Patriots aren’t one of them.
Besides Jeremiah, The NFL Network draft crew Thursday night includes hosts Rich Eisen and Chris Rose, analysts Kurt Warner, Stanford Coach David Shaw, Charles Davis and Steve Smith Jr and NFL Insider Ian Rapoport. Smith famously told University at Buffalo quarterback Tyree Jackson to stop throwing passes so hard during the NFL Combine. Deion Sanders will be interviewing the drafted players.
The NFL Network team differs for rounds 2 and 3 starting at 7 Friday night. Peter Schrager, Melissa Stark and Fox college football analyst Joel Klatt join Eisen, Jeremiah, Davis, Rose and Rapoport. Saturday’s coverage of rounds four through seven starting at noon is augmented by Colleen Wolfe and Kyle Brandt, who will be on Broadway in downtown Nashville.
None of the three options plan to announce the picks before the teams do, which likely will send viewers to Twitter because other NFL reporters don’t have to live by the unofficial no-tweet rule.
Before the draft starts, there will be specials offered by two local network affiliates.
WIVB-TV (Channel 4’s) draft special starts at 7 p.m. Thursday, while WKBW-TV’s (Channel 7) starts at 7:30 p.m.