NFL Draft's First Round TV Viewership Plummets 20%

    • Down 34% from record ‘Virtual’ Draft during pandemic.
    • Lack of star QBs hurts TV interest this year.

The NFL is a quarterback-driven league. With only one QB taken during Thursday night’s First Round coverage, the NFL suffered a 20% drop in viewership, posting its least-watched first round since 2017. 

Thursday’s combined First Round coverage across the Walt Disney Co.’s ABC and ESPN and the league’s NFL Network averaged 10.03 million viewers, down 20% from last year’s 12.5 million, according to Sports TV Ratings and other reports. 

That number was off 34% from the record 15.3 million viewers who tuned in for 2020’s “virtual” Draft at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Despite the glamorous setting in Las Vegas, it was the lowest figure since the 9.2 million average viewers for ESPN and NFLN’s First Round coverage in 2017.

Thursday’s First Round didn’t feature QBs like Trevor Lawrence, Trey Lance, Joe Burrow, and Johnny Manziel, who’ve drawn viewers over the years.

Instead, NFL franchises went top-heavy on defensive picks. 

The first five selections were all defensive players: Georgia’s Travon Walker, Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson, LSU’s Derek Stingley Jr., Cincinnati’s Ahmad Gardner, and Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux.

Only one QB was selected: Kenny Pickett of the University of Pittsburgh, who the Pittsburgh Steelers selected with the 20th overall pick.

For the first time since 2014, there were no running backs taken in the First Round.

There were other reasons, too. Due to previous wheeling and dealing, eight franchises didn’t have First Round picks. Coverage also faced competition from NBA Playoff games.