NFL Draft = American TV Juggernaut; Maye Among UNC’s All-Time Prospects

By David Glenn


When North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye walks on stage Thursday night, soon after hearing his name called in the first round of the National Football League draft, he immediately will step into a much larger television spotlight than anything he encountered as a UNC player.

(AP Photo/Chris Seward)

Some 2024 mock drafts predict that Maye will be chosen by the Washington Commanders with the #2 overall selection. If that occurs, Maye would tie (among others; see full list below) two of the greatest all-time Tar Heels, Julius Peppers and Lawrence Taylor, as UNC’s highest-ever picks in the NFL draft, which started in 1936.

Other mock drafts project Maye to end up with the New England Patriots, as the #3 overall pick, or perhaps with a team (e.g., the Minnesota Vikings) that needs a quarterback and trades up to the #5 selection, currently held by the Los Angeles Chargers, if Maye is still available then.

However the drama unfolds Thursday, many millions will be watching.

In recent years, coverage of the NFL draft’s first round has attracted an average TV/streaming audience of more than 10 million American viewers. Even Maye’s three postseason appearances for the Tar Heels — in the 2022 Holiday Bowl (4 million), the 2023 Duke’s Mayo Bowl (3.8 million) and the 2022 ACC championship game (3.5 million) — fell well short of TV/streaming audiences even half that size.

Decades ago, the NFL passed Major League Baseball as the most lucrative sports organization in the world. The NFL draft, the 2024 edition of which begins Thursday (8 pm, ABC/ESPN/ESPN Deportes/NFL Network) in Detroit with the first round and runs through Saturday, offers another major reminder why.

Millions of Americans care, and they care a lot, even when games aren’t being played.

As a television product, the NFL draft — and the highly publicized first round, in particular — now draws a larger TV/streaming audience than all but a handful of the most prominent GAMES offered by America’s other favorite sports.

For example, in 2023, the NFL draft’s first round drew an average audience of approximately 11.3 million viewers across the four above-mentioned broadcast channels and their corresponding digital platforms. The 2023 National Basketball Association draft’s first round, another much-publicized event televised on ABC and ESPN, averaged about 4.9 million viewers.

For additional perspective on the magnitude of that 2023 first-round NFL audience, consider that the 2023 NBA championship series between the Denver Nuggets and the Miami Heat averaged approximately 11.6 million viewers per game, the 2023 World Series between the Texas Rangers and the Arizona Diamondbacks averaged approximately 9.1 million viewers per game, and the 2023 Stanley Cup finals between the Vegas Golden Knights and the Florida Panthers averaged approximately 2.6 million viewers per game.

Yes, you read that correctly. An offseason NFL event, in which not a pass was thrown nor a tackle made, once again came very close to attracting a larger first-night audience than ALL of those most important ACTUAL GAMES in the CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES of America’s other most popular professional team sports.

Besides NFL games, the only regularly scheduled annual sporting events that routinely have attracted larger audiences than those of the NFL draft’s first round in recent years are the College Football Playoff (the three-game average can surpass 20 million per game), the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament (the three-game average has been in the 14-19 million per game range lately) and the one-hour-long “race segment” of Kentucky Derby horse racing coverage (14-17 million with occasional anomalies). Again, all of those involve actual games/races.

Thanks to recently signed multimedia contracts worth approximately $10 billion per year all the way through the 2033 season, the NFL is expected to become — within the next few years — the first sports organization ever whose annual revenues routinely surpass $20 billion per year.

The Super Bowl often draws an American TV/streaming audience of more than 100 million viewers, and in recent years, NFL games — including many of the regular-season variety — have produced a large majority of the most-watched TV events in America, and that includes cable or network broadcasts, sports or non-sports programming.

The powerful draw of the NFL can be similarly impressive during its offseason, and there’s no sign of that interest slowing down.

Each of the last five NFL drafts ranked among the nine most watched in history, led by the all-time record 8.4 million average viewers (over the full three-day event and about 15 hours of coverage) in 2020, 6.2 million in 2019, 6.1 million in 2021, and 6 million in 2023.

UNC’s Top-Rated 2024 NFL Prospects

Player (Height, Weight), Class, Draft Projection

  • QB Drake Maye (6-4, 223), r-So., 1st Round
  • WR Tez Walker (6-2, 193), r-Jr., 2nd-5th Round
  • LB Cedric Gray (6-2, 234), Sr., 3rd-6th Round
  • DT Myles Murphy (6-4, 309), Sr., 4th-7th Round or Free Agent

UNC’s All-Time Top-10 NFL Draft Picks

Player, Position, Overall Pick, NFL Team, Year

  • Julius Peppers, DE, 2nd, Carolina Panthers, 2002
  • Lawrence Taylor, LB, 2nd, New York Giants, 1981
  • Mitch Trubisky, QB, 2nd, Chicago Bears, 2017
  • Ken Willard, RB, 2nd, San Francisco 49ers, 1965
  • Ken Huff, OG, 3rd, Baltimore Colts, 1975
  • Ryan Sims, DT, 6th, Kansas City Chiefs, 2002
  • Jonathan Cooper, OG, 7th, Arizona Cardinals, 2013
  • Greg Ellis, DE, 8th, Dallas Cowboys, 1998
  • Eric Ebron, TE, 10th, Detroit Lions, 2014


David Glenn ( is an award-winning author, broadcaster, editor, entrepreneur, publisher, speaker, writer and university lecturer (now at UNC Wilmington) who has covered sports in North Carolina since 1987. does not charge subscription fees, and you can directly support our efforts in local journalism here. Want more of what you see on Chapelboro? Let us bring free local news and community information to you by signing up for our newsletter.