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Monday, May 20, 2024

NFL Draft Grades: Belichick, Saban, and Detroit Get High Marks

  • This year’s draft is on pace to shatter attendance records.
  • On TV, the former coaches impressed many with their analysis Thursday night.
Detroit Free Press

The NFL, the Lions, and Detroit officials all knew they had a likely hit on their hands by putting the league’s draft in Motor City’s downtown. But even the most bullish of previous projections are quickly being rendered obsolete. 

The first day of the three-day showcase event drew a crowd of 275,000, according to league commissioner Roger Goodell, smashing the prior single-day attendance record of 200,000 for the event set by Nashville in 2019. At Detroit’s current pace, the city could also top Nashville’s three-day total of 600,000, which remains the draft’s high-water mark, and attract roughly 750,000 fans by weekend’s end.

That NFL attendance total for Thursday night denotes only the number of fans within the official event footprint, which reached capacity about 90 minutes before the formal start of the draft’s first round. Detroit police, however, pointed to as many as 400,000 people having descended on downtown. 

Big crowds are expected Friday and Saturday for the latter two days of the draft, as well, further emphasizing the rapid transformation of Detroit as a top-tier market for NFL fan affinity. After decades of on-field futility, the Lions’ march last season to the NFC championship game helped reenergize the city and lead to a full sellout of the team’s home schedule for the first time in Ford Field history. 

“This community is such a football town,” Goodell said on ESPN’s live draft coverage. “We told the people here to do this Detroit-style, showcase the things that make you special, and these fans are a big part of it.”

Legendary Analysis

The options for watching Thursday night’s madness play out on TV were plentiful: ABC, ESPN, ESPN+, and NFL Network all rolled out their A-list football analysts and personalities, but two draft coverage newbies captured the most attention. Former Alabama coach Nick Saban fronted ABC’s more family-focused telecast, while former Patriots boss Bill Belichick got out of his comfort zone with The Pat McAfee Show draft special.

In the eyes of Front Office Sports media expert Michael McCarthy, both coaching legends lived up to the hype. “Saban seemed comfortable in the center chair on what amounted to his debut on College GameDay this season,” McCarthy says. “Why not? He brought unique knowledge, either playing against or recruiting many of the top prospects. As I previously predicted, Belichick was a surprise. He was sharp, incisive. He told war stories and passive-aggressively settled scores with the Pats.”

Belichick’s draft duties are done, but it looks like he could have a stint on the ManningCast during ESPN’s Monday Night Football this fall, as well as more work with Peyton Manning’s Omaha Productions. Saban will return to ABC’s coverage of the second and third rounds of the draft Friday night as another 69 players—many of whom he coached or faced in college—come off the board. 

On Saturday, the convergence of rounds four through seven will play out as the NFL seeks a viewership boost from the average audience of six million viewers that consumed last year’s draft, a figure that was up 12% over 2022.

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