When an 18-year old Mel Kiper, Jr., started covering the NFL Draft back in 1978, there were 12 rounds of player selections and minimal media coverage.
With the rise in popularity and interest in the NFL came an appetite from the fans for more coverage of the league’s annual selection meeting. Now, the NFL Draft is a three-day event carried live by two networks, NFL Network and ESPN, and has two of its three days featured in primetime television.
In addition, fans receive nearly four months of analysis, prospect breakdowns, updates from workouts and coverage of the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.
“It’s phenomenal,” said Kiper, now a draft analyst for ESPN. “To see the way it was when I started in 1978 … and to see it grow to this point, obviously, I thought it could. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have gotten into this business if I didn’t think it had a chance to be successful and create this industry, which is huge.
“Think about what ESPN does with the draft and all the other entities that are covering this, and the coverage on the Internet and the talk from August to April. To see it grow from where it was, was something I thought could happen.”
Kiper said the NFL Draft was unique in the fact that when he started, it “was the only way to improve your football team.”
“The NFL has always been the king of all sports,” Kiper said. “There were very few trades. Free agency didn’t exist. The only way your team changed its make-up from year to year and improved was the draft. It was 17 rounds back in the day, then, it was 12 rounds. Then, it became eight, then, seven right now as we speak. It’s the only vehicle to improve your team.”
While the NFL Draft has grown in popularity, it took a lot to bring it from a 17-round meeting to a seven-round, three-day event made for television.
“People weren’t able to see a lot of these players in the ‘70s and ‘80s,” Kiper said. “You couldn’t see players; nobody watched players. I’d go to two games every Saturday in person, call schools and try to get tape, try to get film. I had a big satellite dish on the roof because I wanted to see as many football games as I could. You had to work hard; you had to do a lot of research to find out tackles for lost yardage.”