With Jon Gruden returning to the Oakland Raiders, most of the attention regarding ESPN replacing him on its NFL coverage has focused on the Monday Night Football broadcast. (We’ve also wondered if the network might keep Gruden’s QB Camp going with another analyst leading up to the NFL Draft.) But who will replace Gruden on ESPN’s NFL Draft coverage?
According to the Associated Press’ Ralph D. Russo, the network has tapped Kirk Herbstreit to fill Gruden’s former chair at ESPN’s desk from the draft. With Herbstreit’s role as lead college football game analyst for ESPN and ABC and part of the College GameDay crew, he’s already familiar with many of the top college players that will be in the draft and can speak to what they do and don’t do well. And there’s plenty of time between now and Day 1 of the NFL Draft on Thursday, April 26 to study up on many of the other top prospects.
Herbstreit joins fellow analysts Mel Kiper and Louis Riddick, along with host Trey Wingo, at the anchor desk for ESPN’s draft coverage. Kiper provides the hardcore draft analysis (supplemented by the network’s other draft guru Todd McShay, also a college football reporter) and Riddick adds a front-office perspective as a former scout and director of pro personnel for the Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles. Thus, ESPN’s core team won’t include a former coach who could lend insight as to what a NFL coach is looking at with a draft prospect, but Herbstreit will presumably make up for that with his deep knowledge of college talent.
Other than Rex Ryan, none of ESPN’s NFL analysts are former coaches. So either the network might consider bringing someone in for that coaching perpsective or plans to rely more on interviews with current NFL coaches, general managers and personnel directors. Or ESPN is opting to go with more knowledge about the players themselves and kind of punting that coach role during its three days of coverage.
Per Russo’s report, Lee Fitting — ESPN’s vice president, college sports, and longtime College GameDay producer — had the idea to add Herbstreit to the network’s NFL Draft coverage. The two felt that Herbstreit’s talent for working in an unscripted environment suited him for this assignment.
“After we talked about my role, I was pumped up,” Herbstreit told AP. “I’m going to stay in my lane and let Mel and Louis and Trey kind of say, ‘Hey, the Broncos really need to do this.’ I’ll kind of be more of breaking down some of the prospects from a college football perspective. Once they told me I was doing that and not projecting … I’m not into that at all.”
This year, ESPN faces additional competition for eyeballs with Fox planning to simulcast NFL Network’s draft coverage, giving viewers a free TV and streaming option to follow the league’s annual player selection meeting.
The 2018 NFL Draft will be held at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, home of the Dallas Cowboys. ESPN’s coverage will run from Thursday, April 26 through Saturday, April 28.