Inside the Draft: ESPN’s John Wildhack

ESPN's John Wildhack has had a front-row seat for the tremendous growth of the NFL Draft.

John Wildhack, one of ESPN’s key players behind the scenes, gave us some interesting stories and information in yet another interview for the book, Draft Daze. Wildhack has been at ESPN since its infancy in the 1980s and has played important roles in the NFL Draft broadcast and a number of other events as ESPN’s Executive Vice President of Production. Here are a few highlights from the interview. (Everything else will appear in the book).

When ESPN first started airing the draft, did anyone have any idea how big it would get?

Not really. I think if any of us told you anything different, we would be a little disingenuous. We knew it was a property that had growth potential. What it has ultimately developed into now is truly amazing. I don’t think anyone foresaw that 30 years ago.

What has Mel Kiper meant to ESPN’s draft coverage?

When he started, he looked like he was about 15…(Laughs). His preparation was unbelievable and his knowledge was encyclopedic. He was really, really valuable for us. His expertise and his passion (were tremendous) and we had the platform to give him the time. It was a perfect combination. He was young and energetic and knew his stuff cold. We had the platform and the opportunity to give him time and fans instantly gravitated  to him.

The draft seems to be one of the biggest events on the spring sports schedule.

No question. If you look at the second quarter for us, clearly the draft, along with the Masters and the women’s (basketball) national championship, is one of our signature events. The NFL and college football continue to enjoy tremendous popularity and when you blend those two together with the draft, it’s very powerful.

Do you feel the energy when draft day finally arrives?

I think you have to, no question. With the fans in attendance and outside there’s a great energy about it. It’s an enormously complicated show to do and an incredibly complex (process). That and the combination of the unknown makes it so much fun.

Many thanks to John for the interview. Check out his ESPN bio here



Inside the Draft: Ozzie Newsome

Ozzie Newsome and the Baltimore Ravens have had tremendous success in the NFL Draft.

The Draft Daze interview tour continued with the “Wizard of Oz” Ozzie Newsome, a Hall of Fame player and standout general manager for the Baltimore Ravens. Newsome has been running the draft since the Ravens arrived in Baltimore and has long been celebrated for overseeing drafts that have produced a Super Bowl champion and a number of future Hall of Famers. Here’s a snippet of the interview. Everything else will be covered in the book.

Are there any drafts that stick out in your mind?

That very first one (with the Ravens). I live through the creed of ‘take the best player on the board.’ We took Jonathan Ogden and we haven’t looked back. I’ve had a lot of great picks, but none probably none better than those two (Ogden and Ray Lewis, both first-rounders in 1996).

How does your draft preparation affect the draft?

We try to do as much work and preparation for the draft as we can, so that when we get in the draft or on the clock, 80-90 percent of the work is already done. (The other 10-20 percent?) Some of that is based on who we’ve taken in the picks before or whether you have a trade offer or not. If you get a trade offer, you have to evaluate the trade versus taking a player.

Many thanks to Ozzie for the interview. Check out his Ravens bio here. 

Draft Rewind: Reggie Kelly

Even after 13 years in the NFL, Kelly hasn't forgotten the magic of draft day.

I spoke with tight end Reggie Kelly recently and we turned back the clock 13 years to talk about the 1999 draft, when Kelly was selected in the second round…

The phone rang in Kelly’s house and his dad picked it up. Kelly was a little annoyed, thinking someone was bothering him during the draft, on perhaps the most important day of his life.

But that emotion subsided pretty quickly when he took the phone. On the other end was Dan Reeves, head coach of the Atlanta Falcons.

“I got up in an angry mood and all the anger quickly drained away,” Kelly said. “It was none other than the head coach for the Atlanta Falcons, Dan Reeves. I was in awe, a man who could quite possibly be in the Hall of Fame was calling me, Reggie Kelly, a little country boy from Mississippi…I was ecstatic, I was getting to live out my childhood dreams of being in the NFL.”

In addition to his draft-day memories, Kelly offered a lot of other insight on the draft process that will be featured in the book. He’s a free agent heading into what will be his 14th season in the NFL and his career has been filled with productive plays and plenty of highlights.

But it’s clear that even after all these years, the memories of that draft day 13 years ago still hold a special place in his heart.

Many thanks to Reggie for the interview. Check out his line of Kyvan salsas and sauces here, which are perfect for tailgating, and follow him on Twitter, @ReggieKelly82

Draft Spotlight: Brandon Brooks

Brooks is an interesting player to watch in the upcoming draft. The smaller-school guard just might make it big.

For every Andrew Luck and RG3, for every player at a high-profile position who dominates the headlines and seems destined for the top of the draft, there are many others like Brandon Brooks, talented players shining at lesser-known positions. Brooks performed well at his recent pro day and was just named a draft “riser” by ESPN guru Mel Kiper, but he still isn’t quite sure where and when he’ll be drafted.

Round Two? Round Three? Even later? It’s anyone’s guess.

Such is the reality of being an offensive guard at a Mid-American Conference school (Miami of Ohio), away from the hype and hysteria of bigger schools and brand names. Still, Brooks has remained upbeat, focusing on what he can control and seeming to ignore everything else. It’s that same mindset coupled with some great measurables (6-5, 353, sub 5-second 40-yard dash) and impressive versatility (he’s played every position on the offensive line) that could make him a solid pick for some team in April. In whichever round that may be.

Here are a few thoughts from Brooks as the draft approaches. Everything else will appear in the book.

What’s this whole draft process like?

It’s a crazy experience and a crazy time in my life. I’m just trying to understand that – one, I’m blessed and a lot of people don’t have the same opportunities. And two, that I just need to have good people around me. I feel that if you have a solid group around you, they will always keep you on the straight and narrow.

Did your pro day go about as well as you could hope for?

Yeah it really did. At this point, I had a little chip on my shoulder after not getting invited to the combine. I felt like not getting invited to combine made me want to prove them wrong and make them see I was supposed to be there.

Have you thought about what it will be like on draft day when you hear your name called and your lifelong dream comes true?

I haven’t. I’m sure I won’t be able to be put in words how joyful (I’ll feel) and it’s hard to put in words right now. I’ll just be overjoyed, it’s a lifelong dream come true. How many times does someone who wants something so bad…How many times does it happen the way you want it to?

Many thanks to Brandon for the interview minutes amid his hectic schedule of draft workouts and preparation. Listen for his name on draft day.