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Networks welcome normalcy with NFL draft coverage

By John Ourand

This weekend’s NFL draft will mark a return to normalcy for ABC, ESPN and NFL Network, following two years of COVID-affected telecasts.

That means viewers should not expect the star of the 2020 NFL draft — Bill Belichick’s dog — to make a return appearance during this weekend’s event in Las Vegas.

Those oftentimes awkward shots of new draftees with their families? Those will be going by the wayside, too.

Even most of the COVID-inspired protocols that were in place during last year’s Cleveland event were scrapped.

Seemingly every year, networks trot out new technology or new editorial strategies around their NFL draft coverage. This year, top producers with ESPN and NFL Network expressed a lot of excitement about channeling 2019 — the last draft before the pandemic.

“What we’ve embraced is that we’re back,” said Seth Markman, ESPN’s vice president of production. “I’m excited to have normalcy as much as we can. … I want to be able to see people’s faces. We want to capture all of the emotions.”

Both ESPN and NFL Network will incorporate scenes from Las Vegas into their coverage. ESPN will have sets at the Paris Hotel and High Roller Ferris wheel, in addition to one in the NFL Theater, next to the Caesars Forum. NFL Network will have one outside the Bellagio hotel and one atop The Cosmopolitan hotel.

“We learned a lot doing this traveling road show since it started outside of New York in Chicago in 2015,” said Charlie Yook, NFL Media executive producer. “Showcasing Vegas is going to be primary for us. It’s the model we follow — the hub and spoke. Vegas is the hub; the spokes are the tentacles that reach out to every club that makes a pick.”

Both Markman and Yook are excited about all of the uncertainty around this year’s draft and who would go No. 1. A full week before the first round, neither executive knew which player would be taken with the first pick.

“A great show would be chaos with trades, teams moving up, surprise players getting picked and surprise players dropping down,” Yook said. “That’s what we all want. We want to react just like everyone else is reacting. You don’t want things to go scripted.”

All of the uncertainty surrounding how this year’s picks will turn out virtually ensures that it will have no script. Markman called it as unpredictable a draft he’s seen in his nearly quarter century of covering the event.

“Last year, we knew Trevor Lawrence was going to go first and Zach Wilson was two. Then the draft started at three,” Markman said. “This year, the draft starts right at the top. That’s the biggest overarching storyline.”

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