The 2020 NFL Draft proceeded with the annual occasion being conducted virtually this year, omitting the grand spectacle that viewers have seen in the past. Instead of the typical draft war room, general managers and coaches stayed at home with several computers and phones to communicate with others within their organization and across the NFL.
On Monday, the NFL ran a mock draft to test what a virtual draft would be like. But on the first pick of the test run, there was a technical glitch, demonstrating the issues teams could face on Thursday night. However, it did not seem like there were any issues when teams were on the clock during the actual draft.
Although not apparent, going fully virtual probably affected the draft in other ways. After the glitch in the mock draft on Monday, John Elway, the general manager of the Denver Broncos, believed there would not be as many trades in the first round this year because of time constraints. That may explains why there was not a trade for the first 12 picks of the draft.
The lack of trades early on made the draft feel less chaotic and surprising than usual. The first ten picks went the way a lot of mock drafts go. With the first pick, the Cincinnati Bengals unsurprisingly picked LSU quarterback Joe Burrow, who is coming off one of the best seasons ever for a college quarterback after winning the coveted Heisman trophy and the College Football Playoff National Championship. However, he will have his work cut out for him as part of a team that went 2-14 last year and has not won a playoff game in nearly 30 years.
Things continued as expected as the Washington Redskins and Detroit Lions picked defensive end Chase Young and cornerback Jeff Okudah, both from Ohio State. The first surprise of the draft was when the New York Giants picked offensive tackle Andrew Thomas from Georgia. Plenty of pundits expected them to take a tackle, just not that one.
The next two picks could change the NFL landscape for the next decade, as two teams picked their franchise quarterbacks. The Miami Dolphins picked Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. Despite coming off of a significant hip injury and other medical concerns, the Dolphins believe the left-handed thrower was still worth it. They may have remembered the last time they passed over a quarterback coming off a major injury: Drew Brees.
After letting Philip Rivers walk in free agency, the Los Angeles Chargers chose Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert. While Herbert has a high upside, his flaws have also become apparent. However, he will probably sit behind Tyrod Taylor and learn from the bench during his rookie season. This move also explains why the Chargers did not sign free agent and former MVP quarterback Cam Newton.
The draft’s first trade came with the 13th pick when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers moved up one spot to take the San Francisco 49ers’ pick. The Buccaneers used the pick to draft Iowa offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs to protect newly acquired quarterback Tom Brady.
Despite losing Brady, the New England Patriots traded out of the first round with the Chargers instead of drafting his replacement. The New Orleans Saints also passed on a successor for Drew Brees as they chose Michigan center Cesar Ruiz with the 24th pick.
The Green Bay Packers pulled the trigger and traded up four spots to draft quarterback Jordan Love from Utah State, setting him up to be the successor to Aaron Rodgers. This scenario should feel similar to Rodgers, as the Packers chose him in the first round of the 2005 draft as the successor to quarterback Brett Favre. However, Rodgers may be upset that his team drafted someone who will start his career on the bench instead of someone who could make an impact immediately, as Rodgers most likely wants help to win a Super Bowl in the last few years of his career.
That being said, this situation is ideal for Love. While he is physically talented and has a ton of potential, he is also raw and is not ready to start immediately. With the Packers, he will be able to sit on the bench and learn from a future hall-of-famer in Rodgers. When Love does get a chance to play, he will be on a talented team coming off of an NFC Championship appearance.
The first round ended the same way it began, with an LSU player being drafted. The defending Super Bowl champions Kansas City Chiefs selected running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, giving quarterback Patrick Mahomes another offensive weapon as he tries to lead the Chiefs to a repeat.
Due to the pandemic, Commissioner Roger Goodell made the pick announcements from his basement instead of in front of hundreds of fans in Las Vegas where he would have been booed, as is tradition. However, the NFL tried to continue this staple of the draft by having a group of fans tune in virtually to boo him.
Despite their efforts, this failed to recreate the typical atmosphere of the draft. Usually, the boos from the crowd are almost deafening, but this year, the boos on the television screen behind him felt less enthusiastic. Goodell also encountered some awkward pauses when the feed cut back to him from another person.
The most disappointing aspect of the night was something that the NFL could not fix because of the pandemic; players were not able to greet the commissioner and hold their jersey with him. The draft felt wrong, as viewers did not get to see players walk up as they put on their hats and embrace the commissioner. Players did not have a chance to be photographed with Goodell holding their jersey, something they would have to remember the momentous occasion for the rest of their lives.
Instead, players had to sit at home and put on a hat while surrounded by family. This did not have the same emotion as a typical draft when the camera cuts to the player and his family celebrating as they react to the announcement together in the draft’s green room.
Granted, there were still some emotional moments for viewers to see. Javon Kinlaw’s father fell off his couch after he found out his son was drafted by the 49ers. Viewers could see Ruiz crying after the Saints drafted him.
The unusual circumstances of the draft hurt viewers’ chances to see the emotions from these football players as they achieved their dreams. The draft also seemed to take out the chaos and surprises as the circumstances possibly limited the teams’ ability to make trades. However, viewers seeing who their team drafted and wondering how those picks would pan out should be satisfying enough for them as they wait for the pandemic to end and teams get back on the field.