Apr 23, 2020

Axios Sports

👋 Good morning! It's draft day.

Today's word count: 1,799 words, (7 minutes).

1 big thing: 🏈 The NFL draft goes virtual

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

For the past five years, the NFL draft has been a traveling circus, moving from its longtime home in New York to Chicago, Philadelphia, Dallas and Nashville.

  • This year's event was set to be the biggest spectacle yet, held on The Strip in Las Vegas, with players being transported by boat to the red-carpet stage in the middle of the Bellagio Hotel fountains.
  • Instead, the 85th NFL draft will — like most things in our lives these days — be held virtually, with commissioner Roger Goodell announcing selections from his basement and players being shown at home via remote cameras.

How to watch: The draft will be broadcast on ABC, ESPN, ESPN Deportes and the NFL Network, and can be streamed via the NFL app.

Mock draft:

  1. Bengals: QB Joe Burrow, LSU
  2. Redskins: DE Chase Young, Ohio State
  3. Lions: CB Jeff Okuda, Ohio State
  4. Giants: OT Tristan Wirfs, Iowa
  5. Dolphins: QB Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama
  6. Chargers: QB Justin Herbert, Oregon
  7. Panthers: LB Isaiah Simmons, Clemson
  8. Cardinals: OT Andrew Thomas, Georgia
  9. Jaguars: DT Derrick Brown, Auburn
  10. Browns: OT Jedrick Wills, Alabama

What to watch: The NFL plans to show small draft parties for 58 prospects and interview them when their names are called. To accomplish this, the prospects were mailed technology kits with thousands of dollars of video equipment.

  • "The result will be roughly 180 different video feeds, and a lot of technology complications. Dry runs this week have produced mixed results," writes Bloomberg's Eben Novy-Williams.
  • A story worth noting: In a recent draft, one team was eyeing a player and started watching the livestream of his draft party. When they saw a team tell him on the phone that they'd be taking him with their next pick, the first team traded up, ahead of the second team, to draft the player.

The bottom line: Without the ability to gather in one location with all the top prospects donning expensive suits and thousands of fans screaming their lungs out, this year's draft will lack some of its normal pageantry and energy.

  • But the broadcast will still accommodate plenty of spectacle and could draw more interest than ever before from sports-starved fans.

👀 Look: Normally, decision-makers assemble in "war rooms" at their team facilities on draft day. This year, they've had to build battle stations at home. Which setup best describes you?

Screenshot: @PatMcAfeeShow (Twitter)

Go deeper:

2. 🏈 The 2020 WR class is one for the ages
Data: ESPN, 247Sports, Sports Reference, NFL; Note(*): HS recruiting rank for Brandon Aiyuk is based on his rank transferring from junior college; Table: Naema Ahmed/Axios

This year's crop of wide receivers is one of the strongest ever, thanks not to an exceptionally talented top two or three, but a roster of elite athletes that goes at least 10 deep, writes Axios' Jeff Tracy.

1. Jerry Jeudy, Alabama

2. CeeDee Lamb, Oklahoma

  • Hometown: New Orleans
  • Pro comp: Slim DeAndre Hopkins
  • Key strength: Slippery route-runner with exceptional hands.
  • 🎥 Watch: 2019-20 season highlights

3. Justin Jefferson, LSU (strangely un-recruited out of HS)

4. Henry Ruggs III, Alabama

5. Brandon Aiyuk, Arizona State

6. Michael Pittman, USC

  • Hometown: Westlake Village, California
  • Pro comp: Allen Robinson
  • Key strength: Tall, physical pass-catcher who's equally comfortable lined up in the slot and out wide.
  • 🎥 Watch: 2019-20 season highlights

7. Tee Higgins, Clemson

  • Hometown: Oak Ridge, Tennessee
  • Pro comp: DeVante Parker, Kenny Golladay
  • Key strength: His long arms and strong hands give him a massive catch radius.
  • 🎥 Watch: TD in 2019 national championship

8. Denzel Mims, Baylor

9. Jalen Reagor, TCU

10. Van Jefferson, Florida

  • Hometown: Brentwood, Tennessee
  • Pro comp: Cooper Kupp
  • Key strength: Elite route-runner with versatility to line up in the slot or out wide.
  • 🎥 Watch: Career highlights

Go deeper:

3. ⚾️ MLB pins Red Sox sign-stealing on staffer

Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Jeff writes: MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has suspended Red Sox video replay system operator J.T. Watkins for the 2020 season and docked Boston a second-round pick, following an investigation into 2018 sign-stealing allegations,

  • Manfred also suspended former Red Sox manager Alex Cora through the 2020 postseason, though that was exclusively for his role as the Astros bench coach in 2017, The Athletic reports (subscription).

Why it matters: After months of speculation regarding the severity of Boston's wrongdoings and expected punishments, MLB found the Red Sox scheme far less devious than the Astros' scheme, holding just one low-level staffer responsible for the whole thing.

What they're saying: Red Sox president and CEO Sam Kennedy issued a statement, saying "MLB acknowledged the front office's extensive efforts to communicate and enforce the rules and concluded that Alex Cora, the coaching staff, and most of the players did not engage in, nor were they aware of, any violations."

  • According to Manfred, many players told investigators that "they were unaware that in-game sign decoding from the replay station had been prohibited in 2018 and 2019."
  • That's despite the now-famous Apple Watch incident of 2017, which Manfred used as the impetus to create guidelines regarding the legal use of technology during games.
  • In other words, those players either lied to investigators or kept their headphones on during the front office's aforementioned "extensive efforts to communicate and enforce the rules." Either way, not a great look.

The bottom line: With everyone's attention on COVID-19, MLB was glad to have the Astros scandal mostly in the rearview, but the shadow of an unfinished investigation into the Red Sox still hung over the league.

  • By releasing his findings on the eve of the NFL draft, Manfred effectively tried to bury what he hopes is the final chapter of the worst scandal to hit baseball since the steroid era.
4. 🏀 Muffett McGraw retires

Photo: Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Muffett McGraw retired yesterday, stepping aside after 33 years as the women's basketball coach at Notre Dame.

  • McGraw, 64, leaves behind a Hall of Fame legacy that includes nine Final Fours, two national titles and a 936-292 career record (.762), making her one of just five D-I basketball coaches with 930+ wins (Mike Krzyzewski, Geno Auriemma, Pat Summit, Tara VanDerveer).
  • Former Notre Dame player and assistant coach Niele Ivey will take over as McGraw's successor after spending this season as an assistant coach for the Memphis Grizzlies.

What they're saying: "McGraw was a living embodiment of what she hoped to see — powerful women leading young women," writes the Chicago-Tribune's Shannon Ryan. "Winning on the court is only part of her legacy. Unapologetically promoting other women will be her greatest victory."

What's next: McGraw will stay on at Notre Dame to work on special projects like teaching and mentoring young coaches, and she hopes to continue her work as an advocate for female leaders.

"I am excited about the opportunity to continue to promote women's equality ... and to use my platform in any way that I can. I'd like to get involved in community work. I find that I've turned into a real activist and I'm really enjoying that right now."
— McGraw, via WSJ
5. ⚡️ Catch up quick


  • ⛳️ Quite the foursome: Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady will form a star-studded foursome for "The Match: Champions for Charity" next month. The two-on-two event (Tiger and Peyton vs. Phil and Tom) will air live on TNT next month, possibly over Memorial Day weekend, and all proceeds will benefit those impacted by COVID-19.
  • 🏈 "I just don't see [football] happening": University of Arizona president Robert Robbins said he does not anticipate the Wildcats playing football this fall, even though the university plans to bring students and faculty back to campus for face-to-face instruction during the fall semester.
  • 🏒 NHL abandons neutral site idea: The NHL has turned its attention away from neutral sites and is focusing on restarting the 2019-20 season at league arenas, sources tell ESPN.
6. ⚾️ Tensions grow for minor league teams
Photo: Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images

Minor League Baseball has denied a report claiming they are prepared to agree to the contraction of 42 clubs, which would reduce the number of affiliated teams by 25%.

  • Yes, but: Given that the landscape has only gotten worse since MLB first proposed reducing the number of affiliated clubs six months ago, it's worth taking that denial with a grain of salt.

What to watch: Here are the 42 clubs that were reportedly part of MLB's original contraction plan. If any teams are on the chopping block, they’re likely listed here.

  • A-C: Auburn Doubledays (N.Y.), Batavia Muckdogs (N.Y.), Binghamton Rumble Ponies (N.Y.), Billings Mustangs (Mont.), Bluefield Blue Jays (W.Va.), Bristol Pirates (Va.), Burlington Bees (Iowa), Burlington Royals (N.C.), Chattanooga Lookouts (Tenn.), Clinton LumberKings (Iowa), Connecticut Tigers
  • D-I: Danville Braves (Va.), Daytona Tortugas (Fla.), Elizabethton Twins (Tenn.), Erie SeaWolves (Pa.), Florida Fire Frogs, Frederick Keys (Md.), Grand Junction Rockies (Colo.), Great Falls Voyagers (Mont.), Greeneville Reds (Tenn.), Hagerstown Suns (Md.), Idaho Falls Chukars (Idaho)
  • J-P: Jackson Generals (Tenn.), Johnson City Cardinals (Tenn.) Kingsport Mets (Tenn.), Lancaster Jethawks (Calif.), Lexington Legends (Ky.), Lowell Spinners (Mass.), Mahoning Valley Scrappers (Ohio), Missoula PaddleHeads (Mont.), Ogden Raptors (Utah), Orem Owlz (Utah), Princeton Rays (W.Va.)
  • Q-W: Quad Cities River Bandits (Iowa), Rocky Mountain Vibes (Colo.), Salem-Keizer Volcanoes (Ore.), State College Spikes (Pa.), Staten Island Yankees (N.Y.), Tri-City Dust Devils (Wash.), Vermont Lake Monsters, West Virginia Power, Williamsport Crosscutters (Pa.)
7. April 23, 1950: 🏒 Red Wings win fourth title
Pete Babando and Harry Lumley celebrate in the locker room. Photo: B Bennett/Getty Images

70 years ago today, the Detroit Red Wings beat the New York Rangers in double overtime of Game 7 to win their fourth Stanley Cup.

  • Fun fact: Red Wings LW Pete Babando was the first player ever to score a Game 7-winning goal in overtime of the Stanley Cup Finals. The only other such goal was scored four years later by Red Wings LW Tony Leswick ... who'd played for the losing-side Rangers in 1950!
  • Backdrop: The Rangers were displaced from Madison Square Garden with the circus in town, so they played their two "home" games at Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens.
  • Missing piece: The Red Wings won despite losing Hall of Famer Gordie Howe in the first game of the playoffs to a terrible injury that required life-saving emergency surgery.

Most Stanley Cups:

  • Montreal Canadiens (23)
  • Toronto Maple Leafs (13)
  • Detroit Red Wings (11)
  • Boston Bruins (6)
  • Chicago Blackhawks (6)

🎥 Watch: Series highlights (YouTube)

8. The Ocho: ⚽️ Header tennis


Header tennis is electric.

9. 🏈 NFL draft trivia

Matthew Stafford went No. 1 overall in 2009. Can you name all the No. 1 picks since then? Photo: Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

  • Question: Can you name all 10 No. 1 NFL draft picks from the 2010s?
  • Hint: 7 quarterbacks, 2 defensive ends, 1 offensive tackle.

Answer at the bottom.

10. ❤️ Why we love sports

Auburn fans at the 1997 Iron Bowl. Photo: Elsa Hasch/Allsport

Ben T. (Richmond, Virginia) writes:

"I was 11 years old and attending my first Iron Bowl (my first Auburn game for that matter) in 1997. We drove down from Richmond to meet a family friend who took us to the game. Our seats straddled the 50 yard line in the last row of the upper deck of Jordan-Hare Stadium. Might as well have been heaven.
"I don't remember much from the game itself, but I vividly recall the game-winning field goal and the ensuing celebration. It was complete chaos. My dad and I began running down the ramps inside the stadium, shaking our shakers, screaming, celebrating.
"Other people were running in all directions and just looking for anybody and everybody to hug (think Jimmy V after winning the Natty in '83). All of a sudden, a complete stranger picks me up and begins to run back up the ramp, jumping up and down and screaming in celebration.
"It didn't phase me, nor my dad, who had to chase after him to retrieve his 11-year-old son. Fast forward six years, and I applied to one school early admission.
"That's it. That's all I remember, and I'll never forget it as long as I live. I'll be on my death bed one day, not even knowing my own name, and I'll be able to tell you that story. Thank you for giving me the impetus to think of it again."

✍️ Submit your story: Do you have a fondest sports memory? Or an example of sports having a positive impact on your life? If you'd like to share, simply reply to this email. We'll be telling your stories all month.

Talk tomorrow,

Kendall "Booooooo" Baker

Trivia answer: QB Sam Bradford (2010), Cam Newton (2011), QB Andrew Luck (2012), OT Eric Fisher (2013), DE Jadeveon Clowney (2014), QB Jameis Winston (2015), QB Jared Goff (2016), DE Myles Garrett (2017), QB Baker Mayfield (2018), QB Kyler Murray (2019)