NFL

Draft Academy puts Winston, Gordon, Gurley and others under microscope

Draft_Academy_2015.jpegThe second season of ESPN’s Draft Academy debuts tonight (7 p.m. ET, ESPN). Over the next four weeks, the series of original one-hour episodes will give fans a personal, behind-the-scenes look at six of the top prospects in the 2015 NFL Draft class as they experience different elements of the pre-draft process.

The players who will be profiled include 2013 Heisman Trophy winner and the potential No. 1 overall pick Jameis Winston (Florida State); running backs Melvin Gordon (Wisconsin), Todd Gurley (Georgia) and John Crockett (North Dakota State); defensive end Shane Ray (Missouri); and wide receiver Devin Smith (Ohio State). A preview video is above.

Coordinating producer Jose Morales of the ESPN Features Unit is overseeing production of the series, which continues filming through the conclusion of the NFL Draft on May 2. Below he discusses the ambitious project.

We heard that NDSU running back John Crockett was quite a character and he’d make a compelling athlete to follow in our show, so we decided to send a camera to the game and see what we could get. NDSU won its fourth consecutive national title that day and we found one heck of a character in Crockett.
Draft Academy producer Jose Morales

How big is the ESPN crew working on Draft Academy?
We have six producers on the project, one assigned to each player. Five of the six producers are from the ESPN Features Unit while one is a freelancer. We have a relatively small crew in comparison to other shows of this nature but all of our producers work extremely hard for four months to deliver a quality series.

When did you start shooting and where are some of the places the series has taken you?
Our first shoot was Jan. 10 at the FCS Championship where North Dakota State beat Illinois State. We heard that NDSU running back John Crockett was quite a character and he’d make a compelling athlete to follow in our show, so we decided to send a camera to the game and see what we could get. NDSU won its fourth consecutive national title that day and we found one heck of a character in Crockett.

The series has taken us to Southern California, Florida, Ohio, Indiana, Georgia, Missouri, Texas, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin and New York.

Was it difficult to attract such high-profile players?
The caliber of players we have been able to secure this year speaks to the depth of ESPN’s storytelling brands. Whether it’s SC Featured, E:60, Outside The Lines, or ESPN Films, athletes and fans have come to expect quality long-form content from ESPN and I think that makes the job of selling Draft Academy to potential players and their agents that much easier.

Jameis [Winston] has been very easy to work with, and it’s easy to see why he was a favorite in the FSU locker room. He’s a natural-born leader. – Jose Morales

What’s the most interesting thing you’ve witnessed?
One of the scenes that stands out to me is when Jameis Winston went to the University of Michigan to meet Jim Harbaugh before the NFL Combine. Harbaugh put Winston through a series of questions meant to mimic what Winston could expect from teams at the combine. The access was raw, unfiltered and extremely compelling.

How has the experience been working with Winston, the likely No. 1 overall pick?
Jameis and his camp have been very accommodating to our crew. Our producer, T-L Fielder, has been working directly with him. Jameis has been very easy to work with, and it’s easy to see why he was a favorite in the FSU locker room. He’s a natural-born leader.

Beyond the series itself, where else will fans see Draft Academy content?
In addition to the shows, fans will be able to see original material and excerpts on SportsCenter, NFL Live, ESPN.com and SEC Network. We will also post clips on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

Coordinating producer Jose Morales helps edit the first episode of Draft Academy. (Photo courtesy Jose Morales)
Coordinating producer Jose Morales helps edit the first episode of Draft Academy.
(Photo courtesy Jose Morales)
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