Draftees just part of the TV drama

The three unchosen players attending NFL draft festivities here spent Friday afternoon atop the Empire State Building.

Fortunately, none jumped.

Like the other 14 prospects who accepted invitations, University of Arizona tight end Rob Gronkowski, Texas defensive tackle Lamarr Houston and Wake Forest cornerback Brandon Ghee knew what they were getting into. They would serve as props in the NFL's television coverage.

When the league spread its draft over three days this year, the petri dish expanded as well. The league needed more specimens to place under the microscope. Players not expected to get chosen during Thursday night's first round were courted by NFL officials for Friday night's second- and third-round spectacle at Radio City Music Hall.

That's where Gronkowski, Houston and Ghee come in.

The NFL wants emotion -- tears, smiles, anger, relief -- to further color what is a drab process at its core. Those responses play better in person when followed by a hug from commissioner Roger Goodell.

Gronkowski provided that desired magic moment Friday night after becoming a second-round choice. In a scene that will undoubtedly get him skewered by veterans in a salty New England locker room, a suit-wearing Gronkoswki ended a wild, chest-bump-filled celebration with friends and family by donning a Patriots helmet.

"It was a great experience from the day I got here," said Gronkowski, whose selection was followed closely by Houston's heading to the Oakland Raiders. "I know I didn't go in the first round or anything, but I didn't expect (to). If I went first, I would have been extremely more excited."

Join the club.

Jimmy Clausen and Colt McCoy also had first-round aspirations. Those hopes were legitimate judging by pre-draft media buzz. Both quarterbacks were courted to come to the Big Apple.

Wisely, neither took a bite.

They would have sat idly in Radio City's "green room" watching millions of dollars slip away. Clausen wasn't taken until the No. 48 overall pick by Carolina; McCoy lasted until Cleveland ended his misery well into the third round.

Minutes earlier, the NFL's own network spent time debating why McCoy was falling. This is par for the course.

Pre-draft coverage builds players up to tear them down. Team "grades" are then given before a player has ever set foot on an NFL practice field. The analysis reaches such ridiculous overkill that many fans are brainwashed about players they have never even watched in college, let alone dissected through game film or private workouts and interviews.

Yet a football-crazed public can't get enough of this gaga.

Shifting the draft to prime time was a savvy tactic, like most NFL business moves. The combined average audience of the two simultaneous Thursday night draft telecasts was 8.3 million, a 30 percent increase from last year's record-setting coverage. The overall draft viewership record of 39 million should also get smashed.

This inevitably means making the draft bigger and inviting even more players willing to let this "drama" unfold on a national stage. After what happened with Clausen and McCoy, I believe the league may struggle to draw high-profile prospects with any doubt about their first-round standing. Why subject yourself to potential embarrassment when you don't have to?

The draft's heavy commercialization was further illustrated Friday during a non-televised interview with Jim Brown. Asked whether he was in the building during the 1957 selection process, the revered running back deadpanned, "There was no building. It was just a phone call."

"This is show business," the 74-year-old Brown said as he looked out from the Radio City stage. "This is Hollywood. This is fantastic."

Unless you're Brandon Ghee. Not even a Goodell embrace and polite applause from the scarce fans still around could make a humiliated young man smile when introduced as pick No. 96.