Radio City Music Hall has held many grand shows and performances on its stage since opening in 1932 in arguably the most well known city in the country. Since 2006, Radio City Music Hall has housed one of the most exciting shows to hit the stages, the NFL Draft.
This may seem like an odd statement to some and I really do not want to insult any theatrical connoisseurs out there, but the NFL Draft has truly become exhilarating live television. The differing opinions held by front office executives about prospective players coupled with ESPN’s enhanced presentation over the years has made the NFL Draft into a thrilling primetime event.
The 2011 draft, just like any year, was full of surprises. Many mock drafts had Julio Jones being gobbled up by the Cleveland Browns with the 6th pick this year, so I was shocked to see something other than “The Pick is In,” pop up next to the Browns logo on the ESPN draft ticker. I thought maybe the Rams would trade up, but the draft is never that predictable. It was in fact the Atlanta Falcons, who have Roddy White, trading a king’s ransom to get up to number 6 and take Julio Jones.
Surprises not only come in the form of trades but also in team’s reaching for players. With the 8th pick in this draft, it was pretty clear that the Tennessee Titans would not be taking a quarterback unless maybe Blaine Gabbert was there. To their luck, Blaine Gabbert fell right into their laps and so they did actually decide to go with a quarterback…named Jake Locker. Just four picks later the Vikings had me falling off my rocker again as they choose Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder, who like Locker was not slated to go until the 20th pick by most projections.
If the bold move of some franchises was not enough to keep you entertained, the ESPN coverage must. The character that fuels the fire of suspense the most by my account is Chris Berman. Berman’s subtle and foreshadowing hints at who the pick might be right before the Commissioner goes to the podium are overlooked by most draftniks, but that little comment he utters makes you wonder he really knows who your team is picking just seconds before the pick is unveiled.
Another aspect of ESPN’s coverage that has been advanced over the years is their presence in players’ homes. ESPN has eliminated some of this suspense with their camera shots of the player about to be picked on the phone, who just so happens to have the correct hat of the team selecting him within seconds of getting the phone call. But of course, as the clock was winding down on the Ravens at pick 26 and CB Jimmy Smith on the board, ESPN’s shot of Jimmy at his home had him without phone in hand (though of course Drew Rosenhaus had two). Luckily the situation with the Bears was corrected (which I’ll come back to) and with the 27th pick Jimmy Smith became a Raven.
This year was not the first year that the Baltimore Ravens had been in the middle of some draft day drama. Going back to the 2003 NFL Draft, the Baltimore Ravens needed a quarterback – and bad. The Ravens had the 10th pick that year but it did not seem like top QB prospect Byron Leftwich would slip past the Jacksonville Jaguars at number 8. While the Vikings were on the clock with the 7th pick and the clock winding down, the Vikings and Ravens thought they had a deal for the Ravens to come up and select Leftwich. Time ran out and the Jaguars and Panthers got their selections in before the Vikings got their card with Kevin Williams name turned in. Luckily, the Ravens landed Terrell Suggs instead of Leftwich on that wild draft day.
Then in 2010, top WR Dez Bryant came tumbling down the board in a year where the Ravens were looking to improve the passing game. When the Green Bay Packers came on the clock with the 23rd pick, ESPN’s Adam Schefter came onto the television with a “decree” he developed from his own insider knowledge. Schefter announced that the Packers would be selecting OT Brian Bulaga and that the New England Patriots were looking to select a defensive player at 24, and so the Baltimore Ravens were being handed Dez Bryant by the order of Adam Schefter. Once the Patriots got on the clock at 24, I could not wait to see “The Pick is In,” watch a defensive player come to the podium, and start dreaming about a WR corps of Anquan Boldin, Derrick Mason, and Dez Bryant.
As we know, this never happened. The Patriots used almost the whole time allotted to them, and then ripped our hearts out when they traded the pick to the Cowboys who took Bryant. I could not believe the seemingly infallible Adam Schefter lied to us, but so goes the draft.
This brings us to the selection of the prospect I was really hoping for this year, CB Jimmy Smith.
The top of the draft was going as needed for Smith to fall. The run on quarterbacks happened earlier than expected, pushing top defensive line prospects down a bit. Instead of taking a corner, teams like Detroit and Tampa Bay took top flight defensive lineman. After pick 20 all that stood in our way seemed to be the Philadelphia Eagles at 23. The Eagles pick came in and it was OG Danny Watkins of Baylor, and I knew Smith would be ours.
While the Ravens were on the clock, Jimmy Smith was shown by ESPN in his house and he was not celebrating. Then suddenly the Kansas City Chiefs were on the clock. Did we trade with the Chiefs? Actually we botched a trade, or really had one botched by the Chicago Bears, but the Chiefs took WR Jonathan Baldwin and the Ravens got in their card with Jimmy Smith on it before another team could hop them.
Order was restored and the madness was over until Round 2.
The first round of the 2011 draft had come and gone, and the NFL proved again that its annual selection meeting is fit for a big stage.