The next class of NFL prospects will begin their professional careers starting Thursday.
The NFL has kept the 2020 draft on schedule, but there was a very good chance of postponement amid Covid-19 coronavirus stay-at-home orders.
Troy Vincent, the NFL’s Executive Vice President of Football Operations, admits pushing the draft back was considered. The league has been cautious about not putting anyone at risk and making sure it adheres to the advice from medical professionals and government restrictions.
Once the lockdown started, according to Vincent, the NFL immediately began looking for ways to conduct a virtual draft. Countless meetings later - and with a certain amount of creativity - it was decided that was possible.
“As we got closer and closer, it was like, we can do this,” Vincent said. “We can do this in a responsible and reasonable way and do some good in it with a Draft-a-Thon.”
The three-day event will raise funds for healthcare workers and first responders of Covid-19.
With the panademic halting all plans for the on-site draft in Las Vegas, everything had to come together in one month. The virtual draft is now ready to take place. But there were big questions.
“Everyone is under the same quarantine, so how do we produce this on-line, this streaming, this virtual version of what we would say was the throw-back draft,” Vincent said.
“Throw back” in this case means good ‘ol phones and computers, but also incredibly modern with apps and streaming communication. The challenge lay in getting 32 teams equally equipped and 58 potential draftees all prepared from their homes with a phone and a camera set up.
The first round usually sees 20-to-24 players in attendance. This year none will have the lasting memory of walking across the stage and shaking the Commissioner Roger Goodell’s hand.
It is something Vincent says they have accepted. The NFL’s newest crop of rookies can roll with that change. After all, they live on social media.
Vincent knows. The former NFL cornerback sees it first hand. Both of his sons play football - Taron at Ohio State and Troy Jr at Towson.
“The TikTok, the Instagram live, they love this stuff,” Vincent said. “This is where they live. So we’re meeting them right where they spend most of their time.”
While sitting at home does not require the same approach or attire of a typical draft, Vincent asked players if they still plan to dress up? He says many are opting to keep it causal with their families. No matter the setting he wants them to know it is a celebration of their hard work paying off.
The 15-year NFL veteran draws upon his own experience to help navigate the players’ emotions leading into the night. Drafted No. 7 overall in 1992 by the Miami Dolphins, Vincent and Goodell hold a “Huddle Up” meeting to answer questions. Typically, this would be done on site before the draft. This year it was held last Friday through Zoom.
“It’s a special moment, a private moment,” Vincent recalled.
Just himself, Goodell and potential first-round draftees. While unprecedented, Vincent described it as fantastic, too.
“Looking at all the backgrounds,” Vincent described. “You got to see everybody’s faces and some are sitting on their front porch, some sitting in their library, and being able to communicate and still ask questions to the Commissioner and their expectations.”
Vincent says players are excited and still happy, but how the draft will logistically be carried out is an entirely different obstacle. Each team was given a camera set up - one for general managers and one for head coaches and, in some cases, another for the team owner.
“There is one live feed, that from a security and competitive stand point we can monitor,” Vincent said. “The other is for the broadcast and communication with the team.”
A mock draft was held on Monday with all 32 teams to ensure a smooth production. While it started slow, many teams said it went well. Each team was asked to make a trade, and reports back were positive. Vincent says it was another exercise to bring draft night to life.
“We feel very confident about our redundancy plan, so from WebEx to Microsoft Teams, to phones to conference calls, we feel very confident that we will have a productive and efficient draft,” Vincent said.
It won’t be flawless, but in our current reality it does offer hope and perhaps an escape — even if for just a moment. America is in pain. This is a night that can do some good.”
"The reality us people are looking for hope," Vincent said. "America is in a place we have not seen in a few decades. We just hope our sport, for those that are avid fans, that maybe this gives you an alternative that day to get your minds off the alternative that we’re faced with every time we turn on the television, every time we pick up the paper."
So Thursday is not just about the new superstars. It’s about your community, the men and women around the country supporting those that need us the most. It’s a chance to raise money for those folks while seeing what your favorite teams’ new rookie class looks like. It’s about what sports always does best: Bringing people together even when we are apart.
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