NFL draft 2020: From Vegas to video calls – how will virtual draft play out?

NFL draft 2020: Osi Umenyiora and Jason Bell look ahead to unique occasion

This year’s NFL draft was supposed to be held in Las Vegas, on a stage built over water at the Bellagio hotel’s fountains.

Instead, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will be announcing each pick in his basement.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the second biggest event in the NFL calendar is going virtual.

More than 11m fans will be watching as, from 23-25 April, 255 college players will realise their dream of reaching the NFL.

It may look different but it will still be life-changing – and concerns over hacking and WiFi connections have added intrigue to what is already an unpredictable event.

So we caught up with BBC pundits Jason Bell and Osi Umenyiora – remotely of course – to discuss how this virtual draft might play out.

Who will be the first draft pick?

That, at least, seems clear. Having had last season’s worst record, the Cincinnati Bengals go first and want a new quarterback.

And it just so happens that Joe Burrow, 23, has had arguably the best ever season by a college QB, leading Louisiana State to the national championship and winning the Heisman Trophy (for best college player).

“He’s a proven winner,” said Umenyiora. “He’s a great leader with great charisma, and a great arm with great accuracy. I don’t think Andy Dalton was all that bad but Cincinnati need someone to reinvigorate their franchise and he’ll suit them just fine.”

Yet the guys both feel that Chase Young, 21, a defensive end from Ohio State, is actually the best player in this year’s draft.

“I heard all the hype so watched his tape and he’s a fantastic player,” added Umenyiora. “He’s dynamic, has good burst off the line and a good motor so he’s constantly hustling, constantly trying to get to the quarterback.

“He’s a big, physical, freaky athlete. Over the next 10 years I think this guy’s going to be a superstar. He’s the only one I can point at and say ‘this is a can’t-miss prospect’.”

Which team could move up the draft board?

Teams can use their picks to trade up or down the order and the Miami Dolphins look most likely to move up (from fifth) after three straight losing seasons.

“What if somebody like Miami, who has a lot of draft capital (three first-round picks), gives Cincinnati a deal they can’t refuse to take that first pick?” asked Bell. “That’s the only reason Burrow wouldn’t go to Cincinnati.”

“But who are Miami going to pick?” said Umenyiora. “They have so many needs on the team. I think Cincinnati will go for Burrow but after that, everyone’s up for grabs.”

The order in which wide receivers Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb and Henry Ruggs are selected is anyone’s guess, but cornerback Jeff Okudah is expected to go early.

“Detroit want a cornerback but they might move off that pick (third) for Miami or the Los Angeles Chargers to snatch the quarterback they want,” Bell added. “You need those quarterbacks, and if you see a guy you love, you go up there to get him.@

Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow is expected to be the number one pick

What makes players fall down or move up the board?

In a nutshell – your fitness, your skills, your character. Players are assessed during physical tests, interviews and medicals at the NFL Combine, pro days and team visits.

But this year’s pre-draft activities have been hampered by coronavirus restrictions so fitness concerns remain over players such as Tua Tagovailoa, who was tipped to win the Heisman Trophy before suffering a dislocated hip in November. Many mock drafts now have him below fellow quarterback Justin Herbert.

“Health is a big issue,” said Umenyiora. “You want a guy who’s durable because of the rigours of the NFL. Some people come in and may be jerks so they’d get downgraded, but some show a sense of leadership, which teams really value.

“It’s also down to your tape and how well you work out. Some guys look really good players but their draft stock goes down because they didn’t test as well.”

Will the Patriots draft a quarterback?

It must be the best draft pick ever. Seven quarterbacks had already been selected in 2000 when, deep in the sixth round, the New England Patriots chose Tom Brady with the 199th pick.

Twenty years and six Super Bowl wins later, Brady, 42, has joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers so the Pats go into the draft with Jarrett Stidham (last year’s 133th pick) and veteran Brian Hoyer as their only QBs.

“From everything I’ve heard, they have a lot of confidence in Stidham,” said Umenyiora. “I think they’re going to sit pretty and see what happens next year.”

“They’re not going to move up (from 23rd) to get a quarterback, that’s just not what they do,” Bell added. “If Jordan Love falls to them then maybe they’ll go for him but they’ve got other needs to fill.

“They might have their eye on someone we’ll never know about because the Patriots do not talk. Their scouts know the traits that (head coach) Bill Belichick is looking for and can identify people that would fit their needs and their organisation.

“That’s why the draft is so fascinating. These are the moves that teams can make. I remember a guy called Tom they drafted in the sixth round and he did all right!”

How will this draft be different?

For starters, the broadcast will be hosted by a small team in a studio in Connecticut, with draft prospects, commentators and team officials taking part remotely.

There will be no fans, no bear hugs on stage with commissioner Goodell and no war rooms, where team officials discuss their strategy throughout.

But we will see exactly what it means to the players and their families as 58 of the top prospects will have cameras in their own homes.

“The NFL’s never seen anything like this before so nobody really knows how it’s going to play out,” said Umenyiora. “But teams know who they want to pick. If one falls off the board, they know who they’re going to next.”

“They’ve had time to get ready, to figure out who makes the pick if something goes wrong digitally or somebody’s internet goes out,” Bell added.

“One thing that always happens is Roger Goodell gets booed by the fans. Well that’s not happening this year – unless somebody goes down to his basement!”

The BBC Sport website will run live text commentary on the 2020 NFL draft, from 23:30 BST on 23 April. The first round begins at 01:00 BST on 24 April.

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