Drafting from home, a lack of information and more trades before Draft day – everything is up for debate as the NFL prepares for a very unique, very different type of Draft this year.
It was meant to be the biggest and certainly the most glamorous Draft week the NFL had ever seen, the backdrop of Las Vegas had everybody wondering just how big the show could be.
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Last year in Nashville had delivered, but in the desert, in Sin City, where money is no object and lavish opulence is commonplace, plans were afoot for the best players in college football to be presented with their new shirts and baseball hats in front of the Bellagio Hotel having been whisked to the stage by boat.
The stage for the 2020 NFL Draft in Las Vegas will be on the water at the Fountains of Bellagio. The players will be transported to the stage by boat. pic.twitter.com/8sVl8p2ZBx
Not anymore. The coronavirus pandemic has shut down the world as governments battle to stop the spread of the disease and the NFL is no different.
Free Agency went ahead as planned, and other than visits and medicals there wasn’t a huge change. The Draft will go ahead, and the same restrictions carry greater weight as things look likely to be very different during an occasion that is always key to hopes for not just next season but the years to come.
Bringing in players through the draft is crucial to roster building and salary caps, hours, weeks, months and possibly years of tape-watching and information gathering will have gone into getting ready for Draft night and picks that can change not only a talented player’s future but also a franchise’s fortunes.
“It is unique for everyone but most importantly NFL teams. There has been an unbelievable amount of scrambling over the last month,” NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero told Sky Sports’ Richard Graves.
“The scouts, the high ranking executives and the general managers who would usually, right now, be focused 100 per cent on evaluation in draft meetings – instead they are dealing with all of these logistical challenges.
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Instead of sitting around tables and screens inside an information-loaded draft room at their training facility with scouts, coaches will have a hotline to the other teams and the league to phone in the pick, so general managers face a very different prospect. Conference calls, FaceTime and email will take on a more important role than ever before.
“They will have to find a way. Everyone is on a relatively level playing field with the GM on his own, in his basement doing different chats with his scouts, his coaches, finding a way to get the picks in,” Pelissero added.
“There are a lot of nerves because of the evolving public health rules. Teams had already set up their outside facilities. They had moved their boards, their video, their whole operation to another place only to be told they are off to their basement.”
Pelissero’s assessment relates to confirmation from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell last week who announced all teams would be drafting from home, not taking over conference suites in hotel rooms as some had been planning.
Instead, one of sport’s richest governing bodies are testing their bandwidth and their IT systems to make sure it can cope with what is always a tension-packed evening, but one that will now be conducted virtually and has never been done before.
“That has been an annoyance, there is no question,” Pelissero said.
“Teams were initially told set up an outside place, somewhere other than your facility where you could get a small group to do the Draft. Then it was ‘No, we are not going to do that, you are all going to draft from your homes’.
“The NFL is even testing things right now as far as technology is concerned and will do a 32-team mock draft with made-up names so everyone is on the system, making picks.
“Effectively they will be going through the whole process to make sure once everyone is logged in that there is enough bandwidth to make sure the entire system doesn’t crash on live TV.”
On draft night, franchises moving up and down the board via trades is usually commonplace as general managers look to maximise their positions, seek value picks, plug their roster gaps and take heed of their coaches’ needs.
Another GM is just a phone call away and they will be again next Thursday but the difference this year is that both general managers may need to have four or five other conference calls ongoing at the same time as they weigh up what to do and who to pick, all while on the clock for 10 minutes.
“Different things have been discussed by the competition committee level – the possibility of a ‘Time-Out’ where a team may get an extra minute or two to finalise a trade.
“But they ultimately decided no and that means everyone will be on the same clock they have always been and will have to manage it the same way.
“Whether it means we see more trades in the before the Draft, will it be more difficult in the real-time flow – nobody really knows how it plays out.”
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As well as the logistics there is the human side of the draft. Hundreds of college players await their fate but for those who may not play for the elite colleges and may not have been given an invite to the Combine, Pro Days are all-important.
It is effectively their own Scouting Combine but those opportunities have vanished and it’s not just costing the players a chance to impress, it’s costing the teams and staff valuable assessment on possible sleeper picks – players that not everyone will be aware of….or have done their homework on.
“Teams have less information than they normally do. They haven’t had the Pro Days they would usually have, private workouts and 30 visits to the team facilities for a prospective pick,” said Pelissero.
“Usually there are rumours of guys rising or falling, but how can that happen when you haven’t spent time with the teams. For example in the past a guy might run a great 40 [yard dash] and you want to look a little more – but that opportunity has not happened [without a Pro Day].
“It means we are potentially going to see more teams draft off the tape than they have in the past because they don’t have the extra information and we will see if that ends up being a good thing for some teams.
“There would usually be certain players that you would gather more information on – players that you might have character concerns over, players who might have had off-field issues in the past.
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