ESPN and NFL Network catch high ratings with Round 1 of draft

ESPN and NFL Network catch high viewer ratings with Round 1 of draft

The NFL draft: it's not just a sorting of incoming pro football players, it's a TV event.

ESPN and NFL Network drew big ratings again Thursday night with their telecast of the first round of the NFL draft. According to Nielsen, an average of 7 million viewers tuned in to ESPN alone.

That was down sharply from last year, when it snagged 9.9 million viewers. But Thursday nevertheless gave ESPN its third-biggest audience for the opening day of the draft in the 36 years it has carried the event.

This year's telecast peaked between 5:30 to 6 p.m. Pacific time, when 8.4 million people were watching.

Toss in the numbers from NFL Network, and the total rises to 8.8 million viewers. That makes the opening round of the 2015 draft No. 2 in overall audience, behind only last year.

The first selection was Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, whose off-field antics and bravado have made him anathema to many fans. But the Tampa Bay Buccaneers grabbed the controversial quarterback in hopes he can turn around the long-suffering team.

Ratings for the NFL draft have grown along with Americans' football obsession in the last decade. Last year, Nielsen estimated that a record total of 32 million watched at least one minute of the first round of the draft on either ESPN or NFL Network.

What did you think of Round 1 and the picks?

Twitter: @scottcollinsLAT

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