The 2020 NFL Draft will look a little different than what football fans are used to seeing.
OK, a lot different.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to alter lives around the world, it’s also taking its toll on professional sports as leagues across the globe have been force to delay, suspend, and altogether cancel games and events.
The NFL is in a unique position, as its off-season was just beginning when all other leagues were halting play. In an effort to keep a little normalcy and provide football fans with some much-needed live sports-related content (and with the hopes of disrupting league operations as little as possible), the NFL moved all off-season activities online. Which means, for the first time ever, we’re going to see an entirely virtual NFL draft this Thursday night.
So, how is this all going to work? Here’s a list of questions and answers to help you know what to expect on draft night.
When and where can I watch?
Round 1 begins at 8 p.m. ET this Thursday, with Rounds 2 and 3 going Friday night and Rounds 4-7 on Saturday.
ESPN and NFL Network are collaborating on one broadcast, which will air across both networks. Instead of going live from Las Vegas, where the draft was supposed to take place this year, a handful hosts and draft experts will be in-studio at ESPN’s Bristol, Conn., headquarters. Most analysts and reporters will chime in remotely via home studios. ABC is also broadcasting its own show.
There’s another component to this year’s joint broadcast, too. The league announced earlier this month it will be holding a “Draft-A-Thon” fundraiser aimed at providing aid to healthcare workers and first responders on the front lines of our fight against COVID-19. Fans can donate throughout all three days of the draft as well as in the days leading up to it, starting now.
NFL UNVEILS PLANS FOR DRAFT-A-THON LIVE STREAM
For more information: https://t.co/VwcLl8Plfo
— NFL345 (@NFL345) April 17, 2020
Where will teams be drafting from?
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to keep people home-bound, the NFL is insisting those same rules must be applied as teams conduct their drafts. All team personnel will therefore be at their own homes, working and communicating remotely.
In many ways, the draft process will be similar to what teams are used to. The biggest difference for teams on draft night is that they won’t be able to have all their staff together in the “war room” at the team’s facility, making communication a little more difficult among colleagues. (Anyone currently working from a home office will understand those hurdles.)
Similar to the camera that gives fans a glimpse in each teams’ war rooms on a typical draft night, the league is setting up cameras that will let us keep an eye on all 32 general managers and coaches at home. This means we’ll be able to see who’s working the phones — hello, draft night entertainment — and it’ll also ensure everyone’s following the strict stay-at-home orders.
How will teams be connected to the rest of the league?
Teams will be connected to one another and to league personnel in a few different ways — via a video conference on a private and encrypted channel using the Microsoft Teams app, as well as on a league-wide conference call that will be ongoing for the duration of draft night. (All clubs will be muted until any announcements need to be made… you know, to avoid spilling all the secrets…) Each club will also have a direct line to league officials.
How will teams submit their picks?
Each team will have one designated drafter, who will be responsible for submitting the team’s pick on behalf of the organization — most likely, the general manager. Once on the clock, the designated drafter will make the pick by sending a message to VP of player personnel Ken Fiore via the Microsoft Teams draft channel.
From this perspective, the drafting process won’t actually be much different from a typical draft night. Organizations’ braintrusts are never onsite at the draft but rather in their “war room” at their respective team’s facilities, so must always rely on secure technology and remote communications to submit their selections to Fiore. (Fiore, responsible for overseeing, accepting, and confirming all picks before passing it along to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to announce, is typically onsite at the draft but like everyone else will be working from home this time.)
Once Fiore receives a team’s pick, he will inform all clubs via the league-wide video conference or conference call that the pick is in, and the next team is on the clock.
Of course, there are other ways teams can communicate their pick, should any technical difficulties occur. The designated drafter may simply call or email Fiore with the pick or unmute themselves on the conference call and announce it there for all teams to hear.
With so many different lines of communication, the league set up a practice run on Monday to make sure things are set up to run smoothly. While there were a few minor glitches that caused delays early on, as well as several unmuted phone lines making for a chaotic conference call, the general takeaway after the trial run appeared to be positive.
“It had its glitches, but to call it messy would be inaccurate,” one person involved told The Associated Press. “There were some sound issues and technical stuff that seemed to get solved to the satisfaction of the teams.”
Any glitches or broadband issues simply proved the importance of doing a trial run, to enable teams and the league to fine-tune the process ahead of the real thing.
It’s worth noting here that the NFL is allowing each team to have one I.T. person on site at the home of each club’s draft rep, in the event of any technical difficulties. There will also be a security personnel onsite.
“The heroes in all this are the IT guys,” Denver Broncos GM John Elway said.
Who will announce each pick?
Just as he has done in the first round of previous years’ drafts, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will announce each pick this Thursday night. Only, instead of being under the bright lights at the draft podium on stage in Vegas, Goodell will announce all 32 first-round selections live from the comfort of his home in Westchester County, N.Y.
OK… but who will boo him?
As is tradition, a chorus of boos rains down on Goodell each time he takes to the podium on draft night. While it feels likely that Football Twitter will do its part in that department, it sounds like fans will actually be able to get in on the experience via submitted videos, too.
From NFL insider Peter King:
During each pick, a virtual montage of 15 fans of the team on the clock will be the backdrop behind Goodell, with those fans reacting (booing?) to the commissioner and to whoever their team picks. – Peter King
At a time when nothing feels normal, football fans will be ready to rally as one. (Who knew booing could feel sentimental?)
How much time will each team have between picks?
Ten minutes per pick in Round 1, which is no different from past years.
Let’s talk trades… how?
Things could get messy here. It’s tough enough conducting a trade when a team’s staffers are all in the same room. Add a tangle of phone calls, messages and video chats, and things could get messy.
Peter King wrote about a template one GM was trying out, which… doesn’t exactly make it seem much simpler:
One GM told me he’s likely to divide the 31 potential trade partners into four groups. Each one of those groups, with seven or eight teams in it, will be told before the draft if he/she has a trade to discuss during the draft to call the contact person, who will then tell the GM that Team X wants to talk trade. If the GM can pick up right then, he will, and he’ll engage that team. But it won’t be as smooth as having everyone in the same room. As Chargers GM Tom Telesco told me: “If there’s multiple teams involved, that’s where it gets a little tricky. That’s what we have to work through. We’re going to have some people who’d usually be at our draft-room table who will probably be connected by video-conferencing. So I can talk to them while I’m on the phone. If there’s a couple of phones going off, I may have one of my kids pick up the phone. It’s all hands on deck. Could have both of my sons with jobs—keeping track of who’s been picked, the board. It’ll be fun.” – Peter King
Where will draftees be?
You guessed it: At home. They won’t get to walk across the draft stage, but 2020’s top prospects will still get their moment in the spotlight, as the league decided to send cameras to 58 top prospects so fans can watch the moment these young stars get drafted. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, New Era also sent 32 caps to each prospect so they can sport the lid of their new team upon selection. The league has told draftees to follow strict stay-at-home regulations, and to have no more than six people with them on camera.
So, what about Las Vegas?
Las Vegas, now home to the Raiders, was supposed to host this year’s event. Will they get another shot? Cleveland is set to host in 2021, and 2023 is also spoken for with Kansas City set to hold the event. That leaves 2022…