The most unusual draft in NFL history avoided technical glitches in its early stages, as the streaming and broadcast teams of ESPN and ABC-TV managed to seamlessly integrate the numerous remote locations. These ranged from the top picks’ living rooms, to Commissioner Roger Goodell’s basement, to collages of various teams’ fans giving their reactions, and back to the studio.
While there were a few moments of stray people wandering into camera range and a couple instances of separated analysts stepping on each other, this remote version of the NFL draft was as compelling to watch as any any single-location format.
The original NFL draft plan was to have a live event in Las Vegas, with a red carpet stage on a floating platform in front of the Bellagio resort, with players being transported by boat to the stage. A main stage was going to be held near the Caesars Forum convention center, with 100,000 attendees expected to watch. Those plans were scrapped as of March 16 because of the pandemic.
For this version of the pandemic draft, videoconferencing was deployed, with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell making the announcements from his home in Bronxville, New York, and ESPN reporters checking in remotely from their homes.
Corporations ranging from Verizon to Microsoft joined in the unusual draft, providing technical services and backups so that all of the choices could be delivered in real-time and accurately. Under the NFL draft rules, teams are “on the clock” for 10 minutes to make their pick in the first round. That makes any technical problem a major disaster, but teams this year instituted multiple backups in communication plans to avoid snafus.
In normal times, a team that doesn’t make its pick in the allotted time would be bypassed. The NFL said it would be more lenient in this draft, particularly if trades are being concocted for draft picks.
The streamed broadcast closely resembled a televised format. Goodell kicked things off with a speech and asked those at home to join him a moment of silence in observance of COVID-19 victims. That was followed by Harry Connick Jr. doing the national anthem. In an unusual spot, Goodell acknowledge the annual booing he receives at the live events in a spot for Bud Light. He later reprised the moment just before the start of the draft, telling the fans, “I can’t hear you, so keep it coming!”
As expected, LSU quarterback Joe Burrow was the No. 1 pick by the Cincinnati Bengals. The selection of Ohio native Burrow, who led LSU to the national championship and threw six TDs in that game, was widely expected.
The draft basically aligned as experts expected for the next picks: Defensive end Chase Young of Ohio State went to the Washington Redskins, and cornerback Jeff Okudah was tabbed by the Detroit Lions. A mild surprise came at pick No. 4, where the New York Giants selected Georgia tackle. Andrew Thomas. The Giants were expected to take a lineman, but Thomas’s name was rarely mentioned in the New York press, which expected Jedrick Wills of Alabama.
The major drama of the draft – who would take Alabama quarterback Tua Tagavailoa, who suffered a serious hip injury last season – was answered at pick No. 5, when the Miami Dolphins scooped him up.
The first Los Angeles area team on the board, the Los Angeles Chargers, made Justin Herbert of the Oregon Ducks their pick. After parting ways with veteran QB Philip Rivers, the Charges were looking for their quarterback of the future.