Apr 24, 2020 - Sports

The NFL's virtual draft experiment goes smoothly

Kendall Baker, author of Sports

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced the picks from his basement in Bronxville, N.Y. Photo: NFL via Getty Images

The virtual NFL draft went off without any major hitches (hats off to the ESPN production team), and while it was certainly low-energy at times, it was the closest thing we've had to live sports in over a month and a welcome distraction.

How it went down: Highlight packages and player analysis filled much of the airtime, and ESPN was ready with plenty of human-interest sidebars (childhood photographs, heartbreaking and heartwarming stories).

  • It was cool to see prospects react to being picked, though most reactions were delayed and there is simply no substitute for the classic "camera pans to player answering his phone, player smiles and potentially cries, hugs family, wipes away tears, fist bumps agent, walks to stage, shakes Goodell's hand and poses with new uniform" routine.
  • Personally, my favorite part of the night was getting a glimpse into the homes of coaches, general managers and prospects, alike. At the end of the day, the NFL draft is a reality show, and this was the first time we got to see the characters in their natural habitats.

By the numbers: The night belonged to the SEC, which produced 15 of the 32 first-round picks, breaking the previous common draft era record of 12 (ACC in 2006; SEC in 2013 and 2017).

  • LSU accounted for five of those first-rounders, one shy of the common draft era record, held by the 2004 Miami Hurricanes.
  • And get this: With QB Tua Tagovailoa going No. 5 overall to the Dolphins, Nick Saban has now coached a first-round NFL pick at all 12 non-specialist positions.
Joe Burrow after being selected No. 1 overall by the Bengals. Photo: NFL via Getty Images

1. Bengals → QB Joe Burrow, LSU: No surprise here. Coming off his historic season at LSU, Burrow was considered a potential franchise-altering QB. Considering the Bengals scored 21+ points just four time last year, he'll have to be.

  • 2. Redskins: DE Chase Young, Ohio State
  • 3. Lions: CB Jeff Okuda, Ohio State
  • 4. Giants: OT Andrew Thomas, Georgia
Tua Tagovailoa after being selected No. 5 overall by the Dolphins. Photo: NFL via Getty Images

5. Dolphins → QB Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama: After starting last season 0-7 and trading away several top players, it was widely assumed that the Dolphins were "tanking for Tua." When the team finished the season at 5-11, it looked like the plan had fallen apart, but one hip injury later, everything worked out.

  • 6. Chargers: QB Justin Herbert, Oregon
  • 7. Panthers: DT Derrick Brown, Auburn
  • 8. Cardinals: LB Isaiah Simmons, Clemson
  • 9. Jaguars: CB C.J. Henderson, Florida
  • 10. Browns: OT Jedrick Wills Jr., Alabama
  • 11. Jets: OT Mekhi Becton, Louisville
  • 12. Raiders: WR Henry Ruggs III, Alabama
  • 13. Buccaneers: OT Tristan Wirfs, Iowa
  • 14. 49ers: DT Javon Kinlaw, South Carolina
  • 15. Broncos: WR Jerry Jeudy, Alabama
  • 16. Falcons: CB A.J. Terrell, Clemson
Jerry Jones in his Bond villain lair. Photo: NFL via Getty Images

17. Cowboys → WR CeeDee Lamb, Oklahoma: Drafting from his $250 million mega-yacht, Jerry Jones pulled the trigger on Lamb, a slippery route-runner with elite body control who will compete for targets with Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup. Suddenly, last season's top offense just got even scarier.

  • 18. Dolphins: OT Austin Jackson, USC
  • 19. Raiders: CB Damon Arnette, Ohio State
  • 20. Jaguars: DE K'Lavon Chaisson, LSU
  • 21. Eagles: WR Jalen Reagor, TCU
  • 22. Vikings: WR Justin Jefferson, LSU
  • 23. Chargers: LB Kenneth Murray, Oklahoma
  • 24. Saints: C Cesar Ruiz, Michigan
  • 25. 49ers: WR Brandon Aiyuk, Arizona State
Jordan Love after being selected No. 26 overall by the Packers. Photo: NFL via Getty Images

26. Packers → QB Jordan Love, Utah State: 15 years after Green Bay drafted Aaron Rodgers to eventually replace Brett Favre, they drafted Love to eventually replace Rodgers. The Utah State product was already a gamble. With the Packers, that gamble has even higher stakes given the awkwardness this will inevitably cause.

  • 27. Seahawks: LB Jordyn Brooks, Texas Tech
  • 28. Ravens: LB Patrick Queen, LSU
  • 29. Titans: OT Isaiah Wilson, Georgia
  • 30. Dolphins: CB Noah Igbinoghene, Auburn
  • 31. Vikings: CB Jeff Gladney, TCU
  • 32. Chiefs: RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire, LSU

What's next: The vast majority of NFL players aren't first-round picks, so the next two days are even more important to a team's long-term success than the moves they made in Round 1.

  • Tonight (Rounds 2-3): After trading out of the first round, the Patriots have the most Day 2 selections (one second-round pick, four third-round picks).
  • Saturday (Rounds 4-7): Take a look at the full draft order to see where your team picks in the later rounds.

Go deeper: Football's underclassmen problem

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