The first round of the NFL Draft happened on Thursday night, smack dab in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. A few observations from a production unlike anything we’ve ever seen.
It was, of course, done virtually. Originally scheduled in Las Vegas, the draft underwent big changes due to coronavirus – as did the TV production. Team officials stayed in their homes instead of convening in one place to make the picks. The COVID-19 pandemic hung over everything, overwhelming the production.
The biggest questions going into the draft were:
- How would the remote draft work from a technical standpoint?
- The draft itself had lots of questions, with several potential trades among the first six picks.
- How would the remote draft work as a television production?
Jim Geraghty summed it up from the beginning:
Between the draft pre-event ceremonial tributes and the endless "in these uncertain times" commercials, this is not the psychological vacation from the pandemic I was hoping for.
— Jim Geraghty (@jimgeraghty) April 24, 2020
That mood carried over into the draft itself. Before it began, ESPN showed a shot of the originally scheduled location of the draft. It was surreal to see the Las Vegas Strip completely, utterly empty. Just weird.
The first pick — LSU QB Joe Burrow to the Bengals — took 26 minutes. Viewers had to endure an over-scripted, over-produced, maudlin presentation that sapped all the drama from the event itself. Right now, we’re all in this together apart leaning on me together in the new normal. The media coverage of the pandemic doesn’t exactly invoke the memory of Winston Churchill. There’s not a stiff upper lip to be found anywhere.
The over-scripted overproduction of NFL programming has been my complaint as a football fan for many years now. The game itself is the drama. The game itself breeds its own excitement. The draft carries a lot of intrigue, with the fan bases of every team hoping against hope that the team doesn’t screw up their pick (I’m looking at you, Jets and Browns). But instead of focusing on the product itself, too often the NFL and its media partners put their focus on off-the-field stories. I’m not even talking about Colin Kaepernick, although the NFL didn’t mind all that talk at all. I’m talking about stories that are firmly on the periphery of the NFL, far from the central concern of football fans. I get it, the NFL wants to open more revenue streams by drawing in more casual fans. What are they ultimately selling, when the focus is away from the central product?
The draft has had a tradition for decades where the fans boo the commissioner after he announces their team’s pick. With no fans in Roger Goodell’s basement, they pumped in a video of fans of each team booing him. It was forced and awkward, and the gag dragged on for each pick.
So that’s how the production went. Surprisingly, technical issues didn’t emerge, and the production stayed smooth. Reports earlier in the week indicated that a dry run conducted among the teams had several glitches.
Now to the draft itself. The surprise was that there were few surprises. After Burrow to the Bengals and DE Chase Young to the Redskins at Pick Two, many thought the Lions at three or the Giants at four would trade down with a team looking to draft a quarterback. Those trades didn’t materialize. The Lions took highly-regarded CB Jeff Okudah at three, and the Giants took an offensive tackle at four. Of course, many panned the Giants’ pick because they took Andrew Thomas out of Georgia. There are several elite OTs in this draft, and Thomas is a good pick, but more elite talent was available at that position. Then the other two elite QB prospects went at five and six – Tua Tagovailoa of Alabama to Miami, and Oregon’s Justin Herbert to the LA Chargers.
After that, the draft settled down and moved along at a good clip. We won’t know which picks are home runs and which picks bust for a few years, but it was nice to have a little bit of football back while we’re still under quarantine.
Jeff Reynolds is the author of the book, “Behind the Curtain: Inside the Network of Progressive Billionaires and Their Campaign to Undermine Democracy,” available now at www.WhoOwnsTheDems.com. Jeff hosts a podcast at anchor.fm/BehindTheCurtain. You can follow him on Twitter @ChargerJeff.
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