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NFL ready to focus first-ever 'virtual' draft on the Detroit Lions

Flickr User Parker Anderson

The NFL is preparing for its most unique annual draft of college players in the league’s history. 

While normally the draft is a large celebration, this year, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the event will be held virtually with members of all 32 teams and hundreds of players, teleconferencing in from basements, living rooms, and kitchen tables across the country.

The NFL draft gives teams who lost big the previous season, like the Detroit Lions, the chance to find a college star who’ll turn the franchise around.

But the official in charge of the NFL Network’s draft coverage, Charlie Yook, says this year the event offers a lifeline to a country wounded by the COVID-19 virus.

“I think people want this. I think we all could use a little bit of escape. Maybe it can provide a little bit of bonding and unification that sports often has,” Yook said.

From Live Event to Live Stream

Under normal circumstances, crowds of fans usually pack the venue where its held, to watch the players shake hands with the commissioner and show-off their new team’s jersey.

In the age of COVID-19, that’s not really an option. 

Organizers made the decision to pivot to a virtual event a little over a month ago, giving them very limited time to prepare for an event that normally takes around a year to plan.

In order to create the broadcast, officials say almost 200 feeds will come and go from the network’s control room. That includes texts, teleconferencing and cell phone video from team representatives, players and even fans sheltering in basements and living rooms.

The league has been conducting “rehearsals,” but Yook acknowledges that no matter how smoothly rehearsals go, the broadcast is ultimately at the mercy of individuals’ cable providers and internet connections.

Detroit Lions Take Center Stage

Yook says the first two picks are pretty well set, so the network was focusing on Detroit even before the pandemic erupted.

“The draft practically starts at number three with the Lions,” he said. “It’s really incumbent upon them. Do they stay there? Do they make the pick? That’s what we had our guys preparing for.”

Detroit has several holes it could fill on its roster and could trade down to acquire a number of additional picks. The Lions have reportedly had a number of suitors interested in trying to move up to the third overall selection.

“Lions fans should be very interested this year. The focal point will be at the third overall pick and we’ll see if they keep it.”