By: John Molori
April 27, 2005

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THIS WEEK:

- Feel a Draft
- Rising Stars, Falling Stars: Who's hot and not in Boston sports media?

ESPN enjoys NFL Draft bonanza

As former ESPN and current NFL Network personality Nick Bakay says, "The numbers never lie." Last Saturday's NFL Draft on ESPN was the network's most watched draft ever, seen in an average of 3.84 million households, a 4% increase over 2004. The draft was also the most viewed cable program of the month with men ages 18-34, 18-49 and 25-54. Over 34 million people tuned into at least part of the draft, up 9% from 2004.

When Saturday's coverage switched to ESPN2 from 5:30 p.m. until the end of Round 3 at 11:08 p.m., the numbers stayed strong. An average of 1.69 million homes tuned in, making it the most watched draft ever on "The Deuce" as well.

Suffice to say that the miniseries (18-plus hours) that was the 2005 NFL Draft was filled with drama, data and dilemmas. Kiper began the proceedings with his customary hyperbole on Utah quarterback Alex Smith. He called Smith "the smartest player overall ever to go from college to the NFL."

Kiper's top 5 overall players in the draft were USC's Mike Williams, Auburn's Ronnie Brown, Braylon Edwards of Michigan, Auburn's Carnell Williams and Cedric Benson of Texas. Smith was sixth.

Mel was more "Hyper" than Kiper as ESPN's telecast began, reeling off names, stats and opinions with lightning fast precision. Host Chris Berman noted that Kiper "came out of the garage in fifth gear." ESPN's graphics provided pertinent information on each team including their picks, 2004 records, and 2004 offensive and defensive rankings.

While Adam Schefter of the NFL Network reported that Cleveland was trying to trade up with the Niners to get Smith, ESPN's Chris Mortensen said that San Francisco told both Braylon Edwards and Aaron Rodgers that they would pick Smith and keep him. Smith did go to the Niners. ESPN later reported that Smith instructed his agent Tom Condon to get a deal done avoiding any type of a holdout.

ESPN had reporters speckled all over the country. In Miami, Hank Goldberg said that new Dolphins coach Nick Saban "will take the best player available over need." Goldberg stated that Miami got a second round pick in the deal with Kansas City for Patrick Surtain.

Berman apparently was not listening. After Goldberg finished his report, Berman stated that after round one, Miami wouldn't pick again until the third round. As the ESPN talent wondered whom Miami would choose with the second pick, the network's cameras showed the Ronnie Brown camp laughing, crying and shaking hands.

Again, ESPN's graphics were terrific. After Miami chose Brown, we learned that he was the highest drafted Miami running back since Larry Csonka went in the first round in 1968. Think of all the great runners that the " genius" Don Shula passed up and think of the titles Dan Marino could have won with a top back behind him. When the Browns took Edwards at number three, a graphic stated that since returning to the NFL in 1999, Cleveland had yet to draft a Pro Bowler. Good stuff.

Andrea Kremer hosted a players' roundtable discussion on the set of ESPN 's "Cold Pizza." Kremer again showed why she is the best NFL interviewer in the business. Guests Jon Jensen, Trent Green and Patriots Mike Vrabel and Rodney Harrison all looked like future TV stars thanks to some great questions from Kremer. With all of the new programming popping up at ESPN Networks, you would think that Kremer would rate a show of her own. Memo to ESPN czar George Bodenheimer: Do it.

Guest analyst Torry Holt started slow, but gained speed as the day progressed. He liked the passion of Texas running back Cedric Benson and questioned the durability of Auburn's Williams saying, "He was OK at Auburn, but what about with Vrabel and Harrison chasing him?"

Benson provided the most candid moment of the day when he told Suzy Kolber that the pre-draft process was horrible. He said that coaches were " talking down" to him and tried to "manipulate" him. "The process is a slap in the face," said Benson. "They have no respect for what you've done." Kolber asked the silliest question of the day to Benson. "Who is the real you?," she queried. Paging Barbara Walters!

Kolber was slightly off her usually strong game. Carnell Williams told her that he and teammate Ronnie Brown had a bet as to whom would be picked first. Moments later, Kolber asked Williams if he and Brown had a bet as to whom would be picked first. Sean Salisbury added his two cents on the day, challenging Merrill Hoge who criticized Mike Williams' game. Salisbury said that Williams was a steal for Detroit at number ten and that he would be a Pro Bowler.

When Jacksonville took Arkansas QB/WR/TE Matt Jones with the 21st pick, Berman said that they had some explaining to do. Again, Salisbury disagreed, praising Jags' coach Jack Del Rio for the choice.

Throughout the round, ESPN focused on the uncomfortable squirming of would-be top five pick Aaron Rodgers as he fell into the late first round. Berman had a nice exchange with analyst Randy Mueller who said that the Packers should choose a defensive player over Rodgers at twenty-four.

As the ESPN gabbers over-analyzed Rodgers' habit of carrying the ball high before throwing, Kiper revealed that Cal coach Jeff Tedford taught Rodgers the technique and that Rodgers could change his style easily. Another good tidbit.

Overall, ESPN provided deep thoughts on a not-so-deep draft. When Seattle chose WR Roddy White, Berman chastised the pass-dropping Seahawks by asking, "Does (White) catch most of the balls?" Mortensen said that the Colts drafted CB Marlin Jackson "to build a defense to get past the Patriots."

Berman echoed that theme when he asked Colts' coach Tony Dungy if he picks players to beat New England. "You are over-analyzing," answered Dungy. "We're just trying to get better."

Speaking of the Pats, Kremer pressed Mike Vrabel on the status of friend and teammate Tedy Bruschi. "Tedy Bruschi is the poster boy for our defense, " said Vrabel. When Kremer asked what he and Bruschi talk about and whether Bruschi will play in 2005, Vrabel wryly stated, "We've been talking about golf. Tedy will do what's best for his family."

As New England prepared to make its first round pick, Berman stated that it would surely be "a smart football player." When OL Logan Mankins was selected, Berman stressed that the lineman's versatility was a key for the Pats. Mortensen said he spoke to several GMs who "love this guy" and Kiper liked the pick although he had three guards rated ahead of Mankins.

Holt, whose Rams lost to New England in Super Bowl XXXVI, was most animated stating, "(Mankins) might even play fullback for New England and he's nasty. Who are we to question the New England Patriots? They're winners."

Rising Stars

Paul Perillo, Patriots Football Weekly- Perillo cemented himself as the most knowledgeable local draft commentator with excellent stints on CN8's "Sports Pulse" and Sports Radio WEEI. John Wallach ably hosted a great WEEI draft day show with Perillo and Mike Reiss.

Dale Arnold and Michael Holley, WEEI- The new midday pair had their best exchange yet in a recent discussion on whether Celtics' coach Doc Rivers tried to win the C's last regular season game. Highlighted by Holley emphatically calling Arnold "dense."

Patrick Gilroy and Jeff Hickman, AM 1510- The "Celtic Pride" and C's postgame radio pair have provided lucid hoops talk all season long and filled in nicely for Eddie Andelman on a couple of occasions. Consistently good guests and great repartee.

Falling Stars

Sean McAdam, WEEI- Subtly opined that Manny Ramirez might be faking his quad injury. McAdam stated that Ramirez has a track record of such behavior. Are we back on this silly tangent again? The guy just can't win!

Pedro Bashers- Just waiting for all those media types who labeled Pedro Martinez a slow-healing, injury prone, over the hill, six-inning pitcher to say the same things about media darling Curt Schilling. I expect a long wait.

Charles Barkley, AM 1510- As a guest on "The James Brown Show," he criticized Bob Ryan for "accusing" Nomar Garciaparra of taking steroids. Ryan merely implied such a possibility, and Barkley is one to talk. On TNT, Barkley accused the Mavericks of being "soft" and on AM 1510 he implied that racism plays a role in criticism of Tiger Woods' marriage.

John Molori's columns are published in The Providence Journal, The Boston Metro, The Lawrence Eagle-Tribune, The Salem Evening News, The Newburyport Daily News, The Gloucester Times, The Lowell Sun, Patriots Football Weekly, Boston Sports Review, New England Hockey Journal, The RemyReport.com, PatsFans.com, BostonSportsReview.com, BostonSportsMedia.com, RedSoxNation.net and MethuenOnline.com. Email John at JOMOL3@aol.


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