Media

Why Mike Greenberg was the perfect choice to host ESPN’s NFL Draft ‘party’

Tim Nwachukwu
Mike Greenberg’s reportedly makes $6.5 million per year at ESPN. Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images


It’s understandable why ESPN bumped up Mike Greenberg into the main host’s chair for its NFL Draft coverage last year. He’s prepared and affable, familiar and polished, as ESPN-anchory as ESPN anchors get.

But it’s not that he “fits the suit,” like Johnny Bravo. The suit, and the role, were tailored for him.

Heck, given Greenberg’s ascent at the network in stature and salary (he reportedly makes $6.5 million per year), his role at the draft is beyond understandable; it should have been seen as inevitable long before he got the gig in 2021.

There’s another reason, evident over and over again Thursday night, why this is Greenberg’s gig. He sells everything. The buzzword for the live scene in Las Vegas where the draft was held was “party,” and I lost count how many times Greenberg repeated it in the first few minutes of the broadcast. I half expected him to break into a nasally rendition of “Party in the U.S.A.”

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Greenberg slathers on the hyperbole, to the point where it’s tough to tell whether he’s attempting to be tongue-in-cheek. When the Lions took Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson with the second overall pick, Greenberg noted that “America fell in love with his family” when he was a Wolverine. My apologies if I missed a great story along the way, but I’d never seen the guy’s family until they were lining up to hug him in the green room.

And Greenberg introduced prospect expert Mel Kiper Jr. — who was broadcasting from home because he is not vaccinated against COVID-19, he says for a medical reason — as “the man who invented the draft.” The first pro football draft took place in 1936. If that was Kiper’s brainchild, he’s much older than his listed age of 61.

To his credit, Greenberg did ask Roger Goodell about Brian Flores’s lawsuit against the league for racial discrimination, and also queried the commissioner on Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson’s status as he faces 22 civil lawsuits accusing him of sexual misconduct. Goodell, as usual, looked appropriately concerned and spent a lot of syllables to say nothing.

When watching the draft coverage, I jump around to the various networks, including the NFL Network (Rich Eisen, in effortless command as usual, hosted for his 18th straight year) and ABC’s version with its college football-focused crew. But I tend to settle on ESPN because of, well, old habit, and the fact that Louis Riddick is the draft analyst I trust most, going back to his pound-the-table advocacy for Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes before the 2017 draft.

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The banter between Kiper and Riddick was particularly interesting when the Patriots pulled a surprise and took Chattanooga guard Cole Strange with the No. 29 overall pick. Kiper noted that it was similar to the decision to take Logan Mankins in the first round of the 2005 draft. “Everybody kind of shook their heads and said, ‘How could you do that?’ “ said Kiper, without acknowledging that no draft expert was more flummoxed and put off by that pick than he was.

While Kiper seemed to like the player but not where he was selected, Riddick proved familiar with Strange and why the Patriots would see him as a fit. “Look, I’ve got to tell you this,” said Riddick. “You throw on Chattanooga tape against Kentucky, against an SEC defense. [Strange] whipped them for 60 minutes. This is a guy who has a bar down the middle of his facemask, old school, no tape on his hands. I’m just telling you, his tape was … I can see why Bill [Belichick] looked at this and goes, ‘I want that guy.’ ”

There were no real moments of prolonged drama or unintentional comedy in the first round, no single vignette that we’ll be seeing on draft coverage for years to come. Nothing like Aaron Rodgers’s extended stay in the green room (2005, where he presumably planned his vengeance on the rest of the league), or the revelation of Laremy Tunsil’s — for lack of a better term — bong mask (2016), or CeeDee Lamb’s display of quick hands and an elite catch radius when a female companion attempted to intercept his phone (2020).

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The only moment that might prove similarly enduring, and for all the right reasons, came when Sam Prince, a 19-year-old Giants fan, came up to announce the team’s No. 5 overall pick. Prince, who has had a heart transplant, did the honors as part of the Make-A-Wish program, and his true-fan enthusiasm was infectious. Prince pumped up the crowd like a veteran hype-man, announced the selection of Oregon edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux, celebrated with the dancing player when he took the stage, then posed with Goodell and Thibodeaux for the traditional photo holding up the jersey. It was a sweet scene, and one Greenberg, for once, resisted overhyping.

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