Winds of change blow through draft coverage

The Baltimore Sun

Over the years, I've had a few things to say about ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. And, yes, most of them have had to do with his hair.

I once wrote: "Kiper's hair has loomed over the draft telecast like smoke billowing from Mount Etna." He answered the question directly another time: "Mel, what's with the hair? 'It's my hair, and I have nothing negative to say about it,' Kiper said." I even referred to him as "head of the Committee to Preserve the Pompadour."

But as we enter ESPN's 28th year of NFL draft coverage, consider how the landscape has changed - even if Kiper's hair hasn't (sorry, couldn't resist one last time). When Kiper first started popping up on your television, he seemed to be the only Draft Expert around.

And who else was able to spout authoritative-sounding scouting reports that sorted out the options at tight end on the sixth round, complete with possibilities that included five guys who were household names only in their own households and even then only in the kitchen and family room?

But now, Kiper, Baltimore's gift to draft punditry, has become one voice among many. In fact, live, comprehensive draft coverage itself has moved beyond just ESPN to include the NFL Network.

Without Kiper, would we even be watching hours upon hours of the draft on TV? Given the intense interest in all things NFL, surely such coverage would have arrived, but I would submit that Kiper is greatly responsible for the establishment of draft weekend as a TV sports event. Maybe another Draft Expert would have emerged to shepherd us to graze in the land of draft saturation, but Kiper was the one.

Still, he competes for airtime on ESPN with other draft experts, and the problem is that the Draft Expert can suffer by comparison because of his frenetic style. It's not to question the quality of his information, but the likes of Scouts Inc.'s Todd McShay and former Tennessee Titans general manager Floyd Reese offer similarly solid-sounding information. And their presentation doesn't suffer from the same style that can be so distracting with Kiper, who tries to stuff 10 pounds of analysis into a five-pound sack.

Though, to be fair, Kiper probably could tell us which quarterback would stuff that sack the quickest.

40-yard laugh

For some comic relief, check out a piece running at 11 a.m. tomorrow on the NFL Network. It features Will Ferrell in a typically wacky role as a "strength coach" to Southern California center Ryan Kalil - a potential Raven. My favorite part: Ferrell instructing Kalil to pass protect for a Twinkie.

On the map

This probably wasn't the way the Orioles would have preferred for it to happen, but their Mid-Atlantic Sports Network suddenly has a national profile in the wake of the Gary Thorne-Curt Schilling brouhaha. The story broke so big that baseball fans across the country now have heard of MASN.

Still interested

Too much Boston Red Sox-New York Yankees? Not when Fox can report results such as Saturday, when its Major League Baseball coverage, which was Red Sox-Yankees for most of the country, outrated ABC's NBA playoff game between the Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls, 3.2-2.2.

Recalling Barbaro

NBC presents a look back at the heartbreaking thoroughbred story in Barbaro: A Nation's Horse on Sunday at 5 p.m. (WBAL/Channel 11 and WRC/Channel 4).

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