There will be blockbuster trades, surprising selections and all the other normal elements of an NFL draft.
There also will be clock stoppages to allow negotiating, IT-equipped vans parked outside the homes of worried general managers and hackers trying to ruin the whole television production.
The first-ever fully virtual draft will begin with the first round at 8 p.m. Thursday, continue at 7 p.m. Friday (second and third rounds) and conclude beginning at noon Saturday (fourth through seventh rounds). It is the biggest American sporting event since most professional and college games went dark March 12 due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The draft simultaneously will be a distraction from and a reminder of life under stay-at-home orders. The NFL decreed the show must go on — even in the new form of a draft-a-thon asking for contributions to a fund to benefit six non-profits working with health care professionals, first responders and those impacted by COVID-19.
Commissioner Roger Goodell will announce first-round picks from the basement of his Westchester County home instead of shaking hands (a major no-no right now!) with each new player on stage, or in the middle of spraying water fountains outside of the Bellagio in Las Vegas, as was originally planned.
In the absence of a green room, the league has cameras in the homes of 58 prospects to capture their can’t-be-replicated emotional reactions. Gone are the big entourages at draft parties, replaced by smaller crowds practicing social distancing.
Coaches and GMs will appear in front of strange backdrops — and it’s a sure bet at least one toddler or pet will wander into a shot.
Giants coach Joe Judge and Chargers GM Tom Telesco won’t be alone in asking their children to answer a phone line, remove names from the big board or perform other all-hands-on-deck tasks. A month of at-home scouting and FaceTime interviews should make the challenges familiar.
“I’ve got this amazing setup with all these screens, and [my wife] is vacuuming and hits the cord and every screen goes black,” Bears GM Ryan Pace said this week. “So, you’re dealing with the at-home conditions.”
All 32 teams ran a joint mock draft conference call this week to iron out technological glitches — there were a few — but the pressure will be infinitely larger in front of an audience sure to break last year’s record of 6.1 million viewers.
Some things never change, though. And quarterbacks once again will dictate the way the first round plays out.
Barring a stunner, the suspense really starts with the Lions at pick No. 3 and Giants at No. 4, after Joe Burrow (No. 1, Bengals) and Chase Young (No. 2, Redskins) are called.
The Lions and Giants are seeking partners in a trade market depressed by quarterback uncertainty.
Tua Tagovailoa’s tantalizing talent could prompt a team to trade into the top five. Injury history could cause him to slip into the hands of the quarterback-needy No. 5 Dolphins or No. 6 Chargers — unless both those teams are scared off.
Justin Herbert could do the once unthinkable and jump Tagovailoa as the No. 2 quarterback. Jordan Love — compared to 2018 NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes — could be a top-15 pick or fall out of the first round completely.
Are the shrewd Patriots waiting to pounce on one as Tom Brady’s successor at No. 23?
The Jaguars, Raiders and Vikings have two first-round picks apiece, while the Dolphins have a league-high three among a seven-round-draft record-tying 14 total.
Four offensive tackles are expected to be top-11 picks. Projected top-10 pick Isaiah Simmons says his position is “defense,” not the traditional linebacker or safety.
There seems to be no room for tradition this year. Well, except for one.
Bud Light will donate $1 per video of fans booing Goodell on social media, up to $500,000. The NFL is on board, if not orchestrating the jeers.
Nothing better sums up this draft.
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