“The Virtual NFL Draft”/by Elliot Reeder

On April 23, the first round of the 2020 NFL draft will take place. Thirty-two players will be selected to continue their football careers at the pro level. After that, 233 more players will be selected over the course of the two days following. There will be seven rounds and 255 total players selected. This will not be your normal NFL draft though. The coronavirus has forced everything to change. Almost everything has been affected, and the NFL draft is no different.

Usually the NFL draft takes place at a central location where hundreds of thousands of fans flock. There is a huge stage. Representatives from all 32 NFL teams are there. There are media members galore. The NFL Commissioner comes out to call the name of the players drafted (in the first round at least, usually former NFL greats, and other special people announce picks after that). A handful of players are at the draft. When they get selected, they will waltz up on stage and shake hands with the commissioner. It is a big party. Now, obviously ALL of that breaks almost every guideline that we have gotten over the last month from the experts and the governments at every level. The NFL was forced to cancel all of its festivities. They then had a decision to make. Do they postpone the draft, or do they try to still have it and just convert it to a virtual format?

The NFL elected to still have the NFL draft under the idea that they are trying to remain as “on schedule” as possible since the NFL is still operating under the intentions of beginning play at its normal time in September. The league then had to decide exactly how to take this huge festival and turn it completely virtual. 

They decided that instead of each team having a “war room” (a room at the team’s headquarters filled with the team’s general manager, owner, head coach plus tens of other scouts and high ranking personnel), the official decision maker would be in their own homes and would be in communication with the league executives in order to relay who they will pick. That decision maker then also has to sort how he will remain in communication with all of his scouts and coworkers, who will all be at their homes. The team must also figure out how they will stay in communication with other teams about potential trades as the draft goes along. They also have to figure out the simple task of who will call the respective player to tell him that they have decided to draft him and when each call will be made.

In regards to the commissioner announcing picks, information has been released that he will be announcing picks…from his basement. Yes, the NFL commissioner will be announcing the official picks on ESPN while in his basement.

In lieu of having players come onto the stage to shake the commissioner’s hand, some 50 or so players had a large camera and light set-up shipped to their house, which will relay feedback to ESPN, who will show us the reactions of these players and their families when they are selected.

Now, we do not know exactly how all of this will go. It is a completely unprecedented draft layout that has been caused by this virus. Your guess is just as good as mine on how all of this will look. It might look good enough to where the NFL implements some of it into its draft production full time after our return to normal. It might also be very bad. There will likely be a myriad of technical issues and glitches. It is bound to happen that communication with a team will be disrupted at some point in time (whether due to WiFi issues or a general manager’s child accidentally tripping over and unplugging wires). 

The draft itself has not been the only thing affected. The entire lead-up to this draft has been halted. The vast majority of players were unable to have Pro Days (an event where a university will invite scouts to see their players perform drills among other things). Teams have been unable to conduct in-person meetings with players. Also, and maybe most importantly, teams have been unable to have their team doctors perform medical evaluations of players coming off of injuries or with a vast injury history. That will likely affect those specific players more than it does anyone else because some teams very well might just decide to not draft them due to the uncertainty. All of these things getting scrapped has caused some general managers and team owners to push for the draft to be pushed back, but the NFL has decided that the draft will remain April 23-25 (and then told those managers and owners that they were not allowed to speak out publicly about not liking the draft remaining when it was). 

Some things in the draft will remain certain. LSU star QB Joe Burrow will almost assuredly be selected #1 overall by the Bengals. The teams that need QBs will still need QBs. This is still a very deep draft at Wide Receiver (with potentially seven or eight receivers being drafted in the first round alone). But this particular draft brings a ton of uncertainty, some of which stems from the draft always bringing uncertainty. Most people have no clue what teams will do. Trades will show up out of nowhere and blow up draft boards, players will inexplicably fall, a general manager will fall in love with a player’s tape and draft him way before anyone thinks he should. All of that will happen, but this virus will bring astronomically more uncertainty. So much that I will be glued to my telly for the entire seven rounds (nothing new).

Not all 255 players selected will become millionaires; most won’t. Some of them will never appear in an NFL game. Some will though. Some will get their dreams fulfilled. Some of them will get generational wealth. Some of them will become multiple time pro-bowlers. Some will turn into Hall of Famers. This is a draft unlike anything we have ever seen before, but the point remains. Players, 255 of them, all around our age, are going to see some form of fulfillment on something that they have put years of work into. Just for 3 days, we are going to be able to forget about everything and focus on something good, but even more importantly, 255 young adults are going to get the greatest phone call they have ever received.

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