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



Draft Forecast: Mel Kiper

The Draft Daze interview tour continued with a conversation with Mel Kiper. His experiences after more than 30 years in the draft business made for some interesting stories.

ESPN’s Mel Kiper, the draft guru who has helped transform the event into the television phenomenon that it is today,  gave me a few minutes of his time and I got a lot of great stories and analysis in return. Kiper took me back in time to his first draft in 1984 and also previewed this year’s draft in April. Here are a few of his thoughts on this year’s draft class. Everything else will be covered in the book.

1. Andrew Luck is Kiper’s highest-graded player since John Elway in 1983. In fact, Kiper said he believes Luck would have went No. 1 overall last year before Cam Newton, who set some records on his way to becoming the NFL’s Rookie of the Year. Luck’s talent level makes the Colts’ selection – and their corresponding dilemma with Peyton Manning – all that more interesting.

2. Kiper thinks 17 – 18 underclassmen could be selected in the first round. He also predicts a defense-heavy early round, with as many as six defensive tackles being selected on the draft’s first night, April 26th.

3. Trent Richardson might be the only running back taken in Round One according to Kiper. After T-Rich, Kiper believes Lamar Miller, David Wilson, and Doug Martin could all slide into Round Two or beyond.

4. The draft is deepest on the offensive and defensive lines. Although Kiper thinks four wide receivers could go in the first round, he sees the skilled players taking a back seat to the lesser-known guys in the trenches. There might not be the flurry of quarterbacks that dominated last year’s draft, but there are a lot of good interior players who can really impact some teams.

All in all, Kiper didn’t disappoint. He was the fast-talking, entertaining, and opinionated guy that has made for such good television over the years.  Follow his upcoming work on ESPN’s NFL Draft page, his updates on Twitter (@MelKiperESPN), and his appearances with Todd McShay on the captivating podcast, First Draft.