Trey Wingo is plenty familiar to NFL fans as one of the lead hosts of ESPN's studio coverage. This year, his role is bigger than ever. In addition to his traditional role as the host of ESPN's coverage of the second and third days of the NFL draft, Wingo has taken over ESPN stalwart Chris Berman's chair as host of the first round.
As he prepared to head to Philadelphia, Wingo took some time to talk about what it means to step into an even bigger spotlight, what it's like to work at the draft, and what he expects to see when names start being called.
You've been one of the hosts of ESPN's NFL draft coverage many times, but this is the first time you're hosting the entire thing. How different is that going to be for you?
Obviously, doing all three days is different, but to me, the process and what we try to accomplish doesn't really change at all. It's just one more day of it, and we're looking forward to putting together an informative and entertaining broadcast, and hopefully people will see it that way.
I would like to acknowledge Boomer [Chris Berman] and all the years that he's done this. Boomer and I have had a great relationship over a lot of years. We've talked about this over the last couple of years. He's sort of joked around, "Hey, get ready, the draft is going to be yours soon." The moment it was announced, I got a text from him saying congratulations. It meant a lot to me.
One of the reasons the draft became a thing was because Chris Berman made it interesting and funny for a lot of years, instead of just a list of names being read. So anything that we're going to try to do going forward is basically built on the foundation that he laid for a lot of years. I'm happy to inherit a well-built house from him.
Is the first round different from the other rounds, in terms of how the broadcast handles it?
Well, I think the first round [has] names that are more familiar to people, college football people in particular, and guys that have followed a lot of mock drafts and all that kind of stuff. So I think there's a little more familiarity with the subject matter. But really, it's the same process for me, just one more day of it in a situation where people may know a little bit more about some of the guys that we're talking about.
Are the mechanics of the first round any different, with all the theatrics and players going up on stage and more time between picks?
Yeah, certainly. A lot of the players come up in the second round, which happens on Friday night - but it's an event, it's a spectacle, you know? And I think you have to embrace that part of it dramatically. People are tuning in to see something, and not just hear a name be called. So there's a spectacle to it that I think is really a lot of fun, and the first round - well, the whole draft, really - it's so unscripted.
It is, in my opinion, the only true reality television show. Because you can't do a reality television show with 800 cameras everywhere and not know that the cameras aren't there. This thing is happening in real time as we're doing it, so we're sort of getting it and processing it in the same way that everybody is watching it. That's what makes it a lot of fun.
You were at the big draft spectacle in Chicago last year, and at the years of drafts at Radio City Music Hall in New York before that. What is this draft going to be like atmosphere-wise, being in Philadelphia and also with much of it being outdoors? Will it feel different from past years?
I think it will. The idea that it's on the steps out there in front of the museum, I think, is just great, because you really get a chance to interact with a much larger crowd. Radio City [in New York] was always packed, but it was an indoor venue. The theater in Chicago for the first two days [the auditorium at Roosevelt University] was an indoor venue.
Now, we were outside for the last two years in Grant Park in Chicago for the final day of the draft. But obviously, there's not as many people there for - well, actually, there were a ton of people there the first year, over 100,000. But then last year, the weather turned, and that made it sort of difficult.
So I guess since all three days are going to be outdoors to some degree, the first thing I'm hoping for is warmer weather than Day 3 in Chicago last year. It was was like 37 degrees and sideways rain. That was less-than-stellar, for lack of a better term. In fact, it got so bad we actually had to move back inside the theater to finish up the draft.
You get a sense of playing off the size of the crowd, and the energy that they bring you. It makes it a lot more fun, and it makes it more of that spectacle that we were talking about. I'm sure that will be a big part of the three days in Philadelphia. That is going to be really neat.
Well, you alluded to it, so I might as well just go there: What are your expectations of Philadelphia fans for this thing?
I think they're going to be great. Look, Philadelphia fans are nothing if not passionate, and that's what you want. I think they're going to be awesome. I really do. They're not afraid to tell you what they think, and that's the best thing about it. I think it's going to be pretty raucous, but in a good way. I don't think it's going to be bad. I'm really looking forward to it, actually. I've enjoyed all of the times I've ever been to a sporting event in Philadelphia. I get a kick out of it. They're great.
How far away from the masses were you in Chicago, and how far away will you be this time?
Inside the theater, our little box in Chicago - we were like two rows away from everybody. So we were really close to them. Now, again, there weren't as many people in there. We're going to be pretty close to everybody on the [Art Museum] steps out there. The only thing that's going to change there is the amount of people around us. But in Chicago, we were literally right there. We could hear everything they were saying. It was a cozy environment.
For better or worse, a lot of people here are talking about the potential for fans to get unruly, given the potential mix of Eagles, Giants, Cowboys, Steelers, Jets and who knows how many other fan bases. How easy or hard is it to ignore whatever's going on out there from the broadcast set?
Is it certainly possible that some of the things you're talking about could happen? Absolutely. But honestly, if it does happen, I hope to not even know about it, because I'm concentrating on what's going with me and Mel [Kiper Jr.] and Louis [Riddick] and Jon [Gruden] and Adam Schefter and everybody else that we're talking to.
My approach is going to be that this is my bubble here, and I'm dealing with what we have to deal with here to make sure it gets out to everybody watching that's not outside in Philadelphia. That's the only way I can look at it, you know? I've got to have a little tunnel vision about what I've got to do.
There are always conversations every year about local and national reporters trying to get the picks out there on social media before they are announced on stage. You and your television colleagues at ESPN and NFL Network play along with the league in not doing that so that the surprise isn't spoiled for television viewers.
So I wonder: Even if you can't say the name on air when you first hear it, when do you find out? When it's announced, or before then?
Let me answer that two ways. The last couple of years, both NFL Network and ESPN have had an agreement that on-air, we will present it as it happens, and not try and tip the picks. Now, people and reporters on their Twitter feeds are going to do that, and that's fine. But that's sort of the protocol that we've put in place.
Most times, literally, and I'm not kidding, it's a matter of seconds before we find out [and] before you guys find out what's happening. And there are certain times when we don't find out at all. Sometimes we do get a heads-up, but literally it's less than 10 to 15 seconds before you guys find out.
Once the pick comes in, how many people do you have in your ear talking to you or others giving orders to get the highlight video of that pick whom viewers may or may not know about?
Hopefully only one voice at a time, because believe me, I've got enough voices in my head already. It can get difficult with two people trying to talk to you at the same time, because that's the hardest thing to do. But it happens really quickly, and that's really a credit to all the people who work behind the scenes that year-round go to these places.
We're going to have a guy drafted from Shepherd [University in Shepherdstown, W.V., tight end Billy Brown]. We might have a guy drafted from Marian University [an NAIA program in Indianapolis, wide receiver Krishawn Hogan], and Ashland [College in Ashland, Ohio, tight end Adam Shaheen], and Bucknell [offensive lineman Julie'n Davenport] this year. Places that aren't exactly football powerhouses.
The production folks that go find the tape for all these guys for us to break down, they're really the heroes of this entire process. Everyone focuses on Day 1, but they're there getting us highlights all through Day 3, and we've never lacked for video on anybody that we've wanted to talk about. That's a real testament to the depth and the experience and the work ethic of all those guys that put that together.
How much do you feel you have to know about each pick to start a conversation with your analysts?
That is a great question, because to me, my job is to get the best out of Louis and Mel and Todd and Jon. So I need to know this person, and I need to know their story, but I need them to explain to me why this player is X or why this player is Y. And if they say something, I need to be able to respond to that and get it out of them. My job is to set the ship in the right way and let those guys take us through the waters.
Louis really gets to shine this week. Fans have seen him do great work on TV for a while now. You get to sit next to him almost every day. What's that like?
It's phenomenal. I remember when we first started NFL Insiders [in 2013], and Louis was one of the first guys we hired. I watched him a couple of times on the show, and I was like, "That guy is really, really good, and really smart at what he's talking about."
He's a great guy, not only taking someone and transitioning them from the game to the pro game, but he takes you through the machinations of what it's like being in that room, and the evaluating process that goes with it. How sometimes guys have to lobby for their guys, and it's what the general manager is thinking and what the coach is thinking, and how you pull it together.
If there's a controversial pick, how are we going to present this to our fan base and our local media [in order to] understand the way we've done this. He has brought a lot of different factors into the equation in conversations about players that we really hadn't had before then. He has been terrific. And he's such a great talent evaluator, and he's so great in helping explain the process, that I think it's really been helpful to a lot of our viewers.
As for the draft itself, how good is the talent pool this year?
The way I always look at this is we can discuss this in three years. Because the great thing about the draft is nobody's wrong on draft day, and nobody's right. These are all opinion-based evaluations, and nobody wins or loses anything on draft day. You find out three years from now whether you win or lose on draft day.
You can go back to the 2011 draft, where you had Cam Newton as the No. 1 overall quarterback. There were three other quarterbacks taken in the first round: Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder and Jake Locker. And in hindsight, probably none of those guys should have been taken in the first round. We can say that with great definitiveness now. So you have to give it a few years to let it play out.
The way this draft is setting up, it looks really deep at cornerback and safety and defensive end, and not so good on the offensive line, if you're looking for a big tackle or a really strong guard. There's a couple of guys out there. But three years from now, some of those guys that we think might not have been so great could be really great.
I mean, look at last year. Nobody thought that Dak Prescott was going to save the Cowboys' season. He was a fourth-round pick. That's what makes this fun for me, and it should be fun for anybody who's a draftnik or is into the whole thing. We all have our opinions, but it doesn't really get validated one way or the other until it plays out for a few years and you see what these guys become.
Do you think there is pressure on the Eagles to make a splash in the first round since the draft is on their home turf?
I think they made their huge splash last year, when they made the trade [up in the draft to get Carson Wentz], and then recouped a first-round pick later on that year in the Sam Bradford trade. So maybe, but to me, the splash that the Eagles made was last year. I think this year is about building around the splash that they made last year and they're able to do that because of the great deal that Howie [Roseman] was able to cut with the Vikings.
A great line when they were trying to trade Bradford was, I think the Vikings said, "Hey, you're not being fair here," and Howie's like, "I don't care. I have something you want, and if you want to take it from me, it's going to cost you." So I really believe the Eagles' splash was last year, and this year they're trying to build around the splash and give it a better foundation.
There have been a lot of conversations about conventional wisdom being against drafting a running back in the first round. I see that Louisiana State's Leonard Fournette and Stanford's Christian McCaffrey are pretty high up a lot of draft boards. Is this a year when that old rule gets thrown out the window because those guys are just too good?
Could be. And I certainly think that what we saw from [Dallas'] Ezekiel Elliott helps that case. Even a couple years ago with Todd Gurley. He had a bad year last year, but let's be honest, everybody on the Rams' offense had a bad year last year. That's how you get to be the 32nd-ranked offense. Gurley turned out to be worthy of a pick in the first round, and Zeke clearly turned out to be worthy of a pick in the first round.
If you have guys who are difference-makers - Fournette is a brick house coming at you, McCaffery can do a bunch of different things, and even Dalvin Cook, the kid out of Florida State who has been a very productive back for a long time for the Seminoles - it goes down to every team's strength of their convictions. What do you really believe about this player? And if you believe it, it doesn't matter whether you should take him where you take him.
A couple of years ago, nobody had a first-round grade on Travis Frederick, a center out of Wisconsin. He "should have" been a second- or third-round pick. Well, the Cowboys took him late in the first round [in 2013], and he's been the linchpin of the greatest offensive line in football.
You have to believe what you believe, and don't listen to everybody else. And if you have that conviction about a player, it doesn't matter what the conventional wisdom says. Just freaking take him.
How much tape have you watched of Temple linebacker Haason Reddick, who seems to be very high on a lot of draft boards?
Quite a bit, actually. Look, the kid can play, there's no question about that. The question is where is he going to play, depending on what team takes him. He's relentless, he put up great film, he put up great numbers, and outside of the one issue that was resolved at Temple, there's been no real problems with him off the field.
So I think that a lot of people are very comfortable with Haason Reddick. The question then becomes what kind of defense are you going to play him in, and where are you going to play him. Let me put it this way: If somebody is looking for an impact defensive player and they take Haason Reddick, nobody's going to say, "Oh, I don't know about that." That's not something you're going to hear from Mel or Todd or Louis when a team picks Haason Reddick.
What does that say about the caliber of player that Temple can develop and send to the NFL? As with most years, almost all the top prospects are from power conference schools.
Matt Rhule did a great job there before he left to go to Baylor. The first back-to-back 10-win seasons in program history. I think it speaks well to the way things have turned around. Believe me, I can't get Kevin Negandhi to stop talking about it. He's bursting with pride at what's happened the last couple of years, and that's a really great thing to see.
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