ESPN coverage of draft wide-open with possibility


The NFL draft is all about possibilities. As Tom Petty sang, "The future was wide-open."

And keep in mind that Petty grew up in the state that's home to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

On Sunday and Monday, you can watch your favorite NFL team and fantasize that its first-round selection will be the next Lawrence Taylor. Of course, that's assuming that you still have a favorite team and that you can stand to have Paul "Baltimore? Isn't That a Washington Suburb?" Tagliabue on your screen without tossing a shoe at the TV.

But let's put aside petty concerns (though not Petty ones) for the moment and consider the momentous nature of this year's NFL draft coverage on ESPN and ESPN2 (whose motto is: "Sport Coats R Not Us"). (For some reason, I'm feeling very parenthetical today.) (I'm not sure what it is.) (Maybe I should see a doctor.) (Or something.)

Between the two networks, each selection during the seven rounds of the draft will be covered. And best of all, this means more of Mel Kiper Jr., Draft Expert.

In his 11th year analyzing the draft for ESPN, Kiper will be on the air more than those NFL helmet phones that I think you used to get for subscribing to Sports Illustrated before they started giving you videos such as "Michael Jordan: Tying His Shoes." But if you think that Kiper somehow will run out of things to say during the 14 hours of draft coverage, you haven't being paying attention for the first 10 years.

"This will be more fun," Kiper said in a news conference Wednesday.

"A lot of times, we talk about guys, and they don't even get drafted," he said, referring to shows covering just the first two rounds.

The draft shows won't be All Kiper, All the Time, though we fervently might wish it so. Chris Berman, who can rattle off nearly as many names as quickly as Kiper can, will be host of Sunday's coverage, joined by analysts Joe Theismann, Mike Gottfried and Craig James. (Kiper, of course, is a Draft Expert, far beyond a mere analyst.) (Oh, no, the parentheses are back.)

In addition, ESPN will station its folks at eight team headquarters: Cardinals, 49ers, Patriots, Vikings, Eagles, Colts, Cowboys and Buccaneers. NFL insiders say Fred Edelstein will be with the 49ers.

Ron Jaworski will be at NFL Films, where perhaps he will summon up the ghost of John Facenda to comment on Edelstein's choice of double-breasted jacket.

Back again is the popular War Room Cam, positioned in the private conference rooms of the Buccaneers, Cardinals, Cowboys and Vikings. There will be just pictures, no sound, so we don't get to hear new Cowboys coach Barry Switzer saying, "Guys, hey, guys, can I make one pick, please? Huh, can I, can I?"

On Monday, Mike Tirico takes over as host of the ESPN2 coverage, joined by most of the same Sunday crew, plus a fellow named Jon Drenning. Drenning is also known as Johnny Musac, lead singer of the rock group Crush. He's also "a published NFL draft expert." I'm not making this up.

When it comes to published NFL draft experts, though, no one can match Baltimore's own Kiper. He publishes several reports each year, and he says he's not snookered by disingenuous general managers.

"My report is not based on what people tell me," Kiper said. "It's based on what I see."

Kiper's critics, such as those within the NFL, have said exactly the opposite, but then maybe they don't like it when he calls one of their picks "a reach."

"When I say it's a reach, it's based on what ratings I have," Kiper said.

Foxy coach

Fox yesterday announced Jimmy Johnson, who quit as Cowboys coach March 29, has become an analyst for its NFL pre-game show, joining Terry Bradshaw and Howie Long. No host has been named.

For Bill Walsh and Bill Parcells, television was an interim job before returning to coaching. So far, Joe Gibbs and Mike Ditka just have been linked with coaching openings. Last week, Johnson told The Sun's Vito Stellino that he expects to be coaching in 1995. Yesterday, he said: "There's still a possibility I may be coaching in a year or two."

He said he doesn't expect the audience to view him as someone who's using a TV job as a bridge loan -- not that Johnson needs it; he got $2 million when he left the Cowboys -- to his next coaching assignment.

"People are going to look at me as someone who was just in coaching," he said. "I don't know that people care about the future of the people they see on the screen."

Ed Goren, Fox's NFL executive producer, who has known Johnson since they worked together on CBS' "College Football Report" in the mid-'80s, said: "Regardless of what the future holds, he shoots from the hip."

Now pitching

Mike Flanagan debuted as an Orioles analyst on Tuesday. His voice is a little nasal and he speaks in a monotone, but Flanagan has interesting things to say, particularly -- as you'd expect -- on pitching.

During that game, Flanagan and play-by-play man Mel Proctor were making a lot of the ball-strike calls. What they weren't making a lot of was the replays from the home plate overhead angle -- a great addition this season -- that showed the umpire was making correct calls.


ESPN and ESPN2 schedules for NFL draft coverage:

Sunday: 3:30 p.m.-9 p.m., ESPN; 9 p.m.-10:30 p.m., ESPN2

Monday: 10 a.m.-5 p.m., ESPN2


The first 10 picks in the NFL draft, as predicted by Mel Kiper Jr. on Wednesday (this assumes no trades, though Kiper says he expects some):

Bengals: Dan Wilkinson, Ohio State, DT; Colts: Marshall Faulk, San Diego State, RB; Redskins: Heath Shuler, Tennessee, QB; Patriots: Willie McGinest, USC, DE-LB; Rams: Aaron Taylor, Notre Dame, OL Buccaneers: Antonio Langham, Alabama, CB; Colts: Trent Dilfer, Fresno State, QB; Seahawks: Bryant Young, Notre Dame, DT; Browns: Trev Alberts, Nebraska, LB; Cardinals: Aaron Glenn, Texas A & M, CB

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