By scouring videos, (left-to-right) Justin Belcher, Jeremy Drummond and Trevor Gavin help unearth draft gems.
ESPN puts in about as much preparation for the NFL draft (April 28-30) as NASA does for a shuttle launch.
More than 300 individual player highlight packages are produced for the three-day telecast, so every time Mel Kiper Jr. gives his analysis on a prospect there is a convenient 30-50 second video that illustrates that player’s skills. Whether it’s Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton or less well-known offensive lineman David Arkin from Missouri State, ESPN’s production team has to be ready.
The process of compiling the videos starts in early February and lasts 2 1/2 months with daily edits and constant tweaking. Production assistants Jeremy Drummond and Trevor Gavin have been charged with leading the task this spring, along with Luke Dillon, Andrew Irvine, Steven Kim, Gernethia Rich and editor Justin Belcher.
They determine which players to highlight based on the top 20 prospects at each position, as ranked by Kiper and Todd McShay, respectively. Gavin and Drummond then divide up players from the “big six” conferences before moving onto smaller conferences and schools. The cleaner the video, the better. It’s not always available.
“I once got footage on VHS from a school in Tennessee,” said Drummond, now in his third year assigned to the draft.
But Gavin notes the process is getting better: “We are starting to get footage delivered to us from many of the smaller schools. They recognize the exposure the draft gives them and their athletes. Abilene Christian actually sent us HD video, which is great.”
Once they obtain the video, they determine which clips to use, often an arduous process.
“I have to stop myself from clipping sometimes,” said Drummond. “I have 25 minutes of [Texas A&M star] Von Miller making plays, and that’s just for this season. The top-tier players are ranked that way for a reason.”
Gavin adds: “We’re all digging to find the best plays. [Auburn’s] Nick Fairley made most of his this year, but with some players we go back to their freshman seasons. If there’s a signature play you remember, like a one-handed interception, that’s definitely going to be in there.”
On Day 3 (Rounds 4-7), there are some packages that won’t make air. Sometimes, there are pleasant surprises.
Last year linebacker Stevenson Sylvester was not slated to be packaged or drafted. Still, Drummond was clipping videos on other Utah players and Sylvester always seemed to be involved. Drummond told the lead producer, “I’m going to cut a package on this guy. If he happens to get picked, we’ll have it.’”
Sylvester was selected in the fifth round by the Steelers. Drummond alerted the producer and the video aired.
Drummond and Gavin will again be in the truck parked outside Radio City Music Hall later this month. They’ll have their headsets on at ESPN’s mission control ready to call the shots.