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NFL Kicks Off Its First 'Fully Virtual' Draft Tonight

An NFL logo is displayed at the opening of "NFL Experience" in New York's Times Square. The NFL draft begins Thursday at 8 p.m. ET.
Seth Wenig
An NFL logo is displayed at the opening of "NFL Experience" in New York's Times Square. The NFL draft begins Thursday at 8 p.m. ET.

The NFL draft starts Thursday night, giving most sports fans their first glimpse of live action, sort of, in more than a month because of the coronavirus pandemic.

No glitzy affair in Las Vegas as originally planned.

But the 2020 draft will be historic — just without fans in attendance cheering or booing their beloved team's picks. No newly-minted NFL player holding up a jersey of the team that just selected them. No draftees shaking hands with Commissioner Roger Goodell on stage.

This draft will be "fully virtual" as a memo from the NFL outlined earlier this month. And Goodell, who typically emcees the event from behind a podium, will do so this year from the confines of his "man cave" as he called it on ABC's Good Morning America.

"We've turned it into sort of a mini studio. There will be three people in here with me," Goodell said. "It worked pretty well last night; we were testing some of the technology. So think we're ready to go."

He later tweeted a video of him narrating a tour of his basement, including the area where an NFL staffer will receive the name of the player selected by each NFL team, and the bar table Goodell will be seated to announce the selection.

"Draft day 2020, much different than we ever imagined, but it's going to be fun," he said.

The Logistics

While the draft may be virtual to ensure proper social distancing, how the draft has traditionally unfolded will remain the same.

It will take place over three days with the first round Thursday at 8 p.m. ET. Rounds 2 and 3 are on Friday and the final three rounds Saturday.

Each team will have 10 minutes to make their picks in the first round. The allotted time to make a selection drops to seven minutes in round two, five minutes for rounds 3-6 and then four minutes for the final round.

To adhere to social distancing guidelines, but to ensure it puts on programming that will be carried live on three networks — ABC, ESPN, and NFL Network — the league sent out loads of equipment to nearly 60 top prospects to ensure reactions are captured.

"One of the 58 prospects selected will appear on screen to exchange a few words with the league commissioner. The NFL has dispatched iPhones, cameras, lights and microphones to each player to ensure their reactions to being drafted will be broadcast on TV," Newsweek reports.

Newsweek also reports league official Michelle McKenna said the NFL will be using "150 remote feeds at once," instead of the 10 feeds it would typically use.

Team set ups

During conventional drafts, team personnel, including coaches and general managers, would be together in a "war room" keeping track of all draft selections and perhaps working out deals for trades.

Now all that has to be done virtually as well.

San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan gave fans a tour of his home office and said team officials "completely pimped it out" with additional monitors and tablets and desk phones.

He said through his set up he can be in touch with "probably about 30 people."

Baltimore Ravens General Manager Eric DeCosta gave a similar tour of his home office that included at least eight devices, like laptops, phones and tablets for the draft.

At one point in his video tour he reflected on the extraordinary circumstances that brought the league, the nation and the world to this point. He thanked the first responders for their help battling the virus while the league provides an escape for fans.

"We're lucky. We're so fortunate to be in this position that we can actually focus on something like this during this period," DeCosta said.

"Hopefully," DeCosta said, "we can provide you with a little bit of enjoyment during this really, really tough time."

The start of the season unclear

The NFL draft is the only sure thing for the season.

League offices have been closed since March 13. The NFL ordered all club facilities shuttered on March 26 out of concern about to the spread of the virus.

That however did not prevent at least three active NFL personnel, New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton and two current players, Los Angeles Rams center Brian Allen and linebacker Von Miller of the Denver Broncos from contracting COVID-19.

During his interview on ABC on Thursday, Goodell, the commissioner, couldn't give a direct answer when asked if the season would start on time in the fall.

"All our work is to continue to plan for the season and be ready for the season. The draft is a great example of that," Goodell said.

"One thing I've learned about what we're going through as a country is you can't tell a week from now, much less three months from now. So our job is to be ready."

The season is scheduled to start Sept. 10.

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Brakkton Booker
Brakkton Booker is a National Desk reporter based in Washington, DC.
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