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The NFL’s virtual mock draft was a mess. The real one should be fun

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This is going to go so, so wrong. Isn’t it?

NFL: Cleveland Browns-2021 NFL Draft Press Conference Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The first virtual NFL Draft kicks off this week and things ... aren’t going well. A dry run in the form of a mock draft already fell apart when the Cincinnati Bengals’ pick was met with technical difficulties.

Yes, that’s the first pick of the draft. Yes, this is going exceptionally poorly. And, yes, this is probably going to result in at least one glorious disaster. Sources inside the NFL told ESPN’s Dianna Russini they were having “many communication problems,” with bandwidth issues being cited as the primary challenge.

The issue isn’t that the system can’t support the NFL’s needs. However, relying on video conferencing software during high-pressure, time-enforced scenarios like the NFL Draft isn’t exactly ideal. A poor connection while checking in with coworkers is no big deal. But in situations with an expiring clock and potential for big trades, who knows whether the system will hold up?

Monday’s mock draft was supposed to help the NFL anticipate and correct these issues, but signs are already pointing to it being a mess. The NFL is using Microsoft Teams to officially register picks, according to Reuters — with front offices using Zoom separately to conduct direct calls with teams, presumably to discuss trades.

At this stage, we’ve all made some jokes about what could happen during the NFL Draft, but what are the very real scenarios we might see on Thursday night?

  • A team loses connection and doesn’t get its pick in on time.
    This would typically result in the team being skipped with the ability to file their pick at a future time. An unlikely scenario, but it did happen to the Vikings in 2003 when they were set to pick at No. 7 and spent too long trying to work a trade when the clock ran out. They were jumped by the Jaguars and Panthers, before finally getting their pick in at No. 9. It’s unclear whether the league has a provision for picks being missed in 2020 due to technical difficulty.
  • The draft is disrupted by hackers.
    There isn’t much financial incentive in disrupting the NFL Draft, but it’s possible a group targets the league for publicity or to make a statement. Security vulnerabilities have been discovered in a wide variety of teleconferencing software, and that could become a major problem.
  • Information is accidentally sent to the wrong team.
    Let’s be real: Even with entire IT departments behind them, NFL general managers aren’t known for being the most technologically savvy individuals. With 32 teams involved, there’s always a chance a direct message or call is made to the wrong team while trying to pursue a trade and another team gets information that isn’t intended for them.
  • Everything just falls apart.
    There could be a breaking point where so many teams struggle to effectively run the NFL Draft that the whole thing will have to be postponed. This seems like an unlikely scenario, but right now there’s no official word what the backup plan will be if technical issues cause major disruption.

This whole scenario is a double-edged sword. Obviously, there’s potential for disappointment among players who’ve waited for this moment all their lives, but there’s also something inherently fun about seeing an organization as monolithic as the NFL struggle to make a webinar work.

Time will tell how this all pans out.