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What will the ‘fully virtual’ 2020 NFL Draft look like?

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The NFL was forced to change its draft plans due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

NFL Draft Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

The 2020 NFL Draft was set to be held in Las Vegas, but there’s been a change of plans.

Due to the coronavirus outbreak, the NFL is unable to hold the event in a public setting. The 2020 NFL Draft will still happen April 23-25 and be televised in primetime, though. It’s just going to look much different.

Instead, the NFL is set to hold a “fully virtual” draft with every general manager and coach operating from their own home.

How is the 2020 NFL Draft going to work?

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a memo issued April 6 that all club personnel will need to work separately during the draft.

“Clubs have been advised to prepare to conduct the 2020 draft entirely outside of their facilities and in a fully virtual format, with club personnel in separate locations and able to communicate with one another and Draft headquarters by phone or internet.”

On March 24, Goodell mandated that club facilities be closed to everyone with the exception of medical, security, and technological personnel. That will remain in place at least through draft weekend, forcing the NFL to get even creative about how it announces picks.

All that means no “war room” with a giant conference room filled with scouts, coaches, and executives. Instead it’ll be Goodell announcing picks from his home and teams working together on video conferences.

It remains to be seen how the trade market will be affected, although the NFL is doing its best to provide an avenue for deals to be negotiated.

What will the draft day TV broadcast look like?

The details will be sorted out, but the likely scenario is that this year’s entire draft will pretty much look like it usually does during Day 3. By that point, there are no more players waiting in a green room to shake Goodell’s hand and hold up a brand new jersey. It’s mostly just a studio panel discussing the picks as they happen with cut-ins to announce selections.

The NFL is going to do its best to make things as close to normal as possible, though. There will still be a sea of fans (virtually) booing Goodell and there will be players reacting from their homes, albeit without the usual mob of family and friends surrounding them.

According to the NFL, 58 prospects — including presumptive top two picks Joe Burrow and Chase Young — are set to be involved in the production.

Expect to hear ESPN’s Mel Kiper and Todd McShay debating the value of draft picks, even if they’re doing it from the comfort of their own homes instead of a desk surrounded by fans. They’ll be joined by NFL Network personalities too.

“ESPN and NFL Network will combine to offer a singular presentation across both networks,” the league announced. “ABC will present its own distinctive, prime-time telecasts for rounds 1-3, in addition to simulcasting the ESPN and NFL Network telecast of rounds 4-7.

The NFL announced earlier in April that the broadcast will be “Draft-A-Thon.”

“The Draft-A-Thon will deliver much-needed funding to many who are suffering as well as those on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Goodell said in a statement. “Conducting this event virtually, and taking all necessary precautions while doing so, underscores the importance of staying home and staying strong during this unprecedented moment in our history.”

The fundraising efforts will benefit the American Red Cross, Salvation Army, and four other national nonprofits.

Does the NFL Draft even need to be a big spectacle?

Well ... no.

The whole thing has always been something that could happen over a conference call, if necessary. Even in a typical year, each team makes its draft decisions from its own facility anyway. Goodell announcing the picks on a giant stage in front of a large crowd is just a way of commercializing the event.

Once upon a time, the draft was held in a small meeting room with names written on a blackboard.

The much more extravagant version of the draft has been working out great for the NFL, though. More than 600,000 people showed up in Nashville for the 2019 NFL Draft and over 47.5 million watched from home. It’s a hugely popular event and the NFL is going to do its best to still make it entertaining to watch — especially considering there’s hardly any other sports happening right now.

So the actual draft picks will be mostly unaffected by Covid-19?

Not exactly.

While the vast majority of the sports world has come to a grinding halt due to the outbreak, the NFL kept much of its offseason on schedule. The NFL and NFL Players Association ratified a new collective bargaining agreement, and the league year started on time, free agency and all.

However, the pre-draft process has been a little different. After the NFL Combine went off without a hitch, most pro days were cancelled or held without NFL scouts in attendance. Teams are almost entirely unable to bring in players for visits or private workouts, and scouts from most teams have been kept from traveling around the country.

How that’ll affect the draft remains to be seen. It could make it difficult for small-school prospects to get noticed, even if their agents are trying hard to provide NFL teams with videos of mock pro days. It may be even tougher for players who have character or injury red flags and are unable to convince teams they’re worth a shot.

For those prospects who do get drafted, they will have to stay at home until a later date instead of hopping on a plane to tour the facility.

What are we missing out on?

In recent years, the NFL has made the draft a traveling circus. It was held in Chicago, Philadelphia, Dallas, and Nashville in the last four offseasons, but the Las Vegas draft was set to be arguably the most outlandish spectacle yet. After all, the red carpet was going to be in the freakin’ Bellagio fountain.

Fortunately, we probably won’t have to wait too long before we get to see what Las Vegas had in store. The 2021 NFL Draft is already set to be held in Cleveland and Kansas City has dibs on 2023. That leaves 2022 open as a potential — if not probable — year for Las Vegas to get another shot at hosting.

For now, we’ll have to settle for a video conference version of the 2020 NFL Draft instead.