The NFL draft has become a global TV extravaganza and if you follow me on Twitter, you’ll understand it is one of the biggest events of my year.
As an avid College Football fan, I love seeing a player progress through the College ranks to achieve their dream of making the NFL. What I love more though, is getting the leg up in my fantasy drafts by knowing that the running back my beloved New England Patriots took in the fourth round is going to be a superstar.
Australian sports have consistently copied ideas from American leagues with additions like live draft trading being the most recent example. However, with everything going on in the world, the NFL Draft looked a little different this year.
Let us dive into what was different, why it worked, how we can use these changes in our league and finish with some of my favourite moments from three days of drafting.
The Virtual Draft
Due to the Coronavirus Pandemic, the NFL was forced to hold its draft virtually. This meant the Commissioner, Roger Goodell, announced the picks from his basement, instead of on stage in front of thousands of booing fans.
Along with this, the players, coaches and general managers had cameras set-up in their homes to capture them celebrating with their families, while a group of analysts dissected each pick. Although there was initial scepticism about the draft and how it might work, it surprised everyone by becoming a ratings bonanza with an average of 15.6 million viewers tuning in, up 37 per cent from the previous year. While this drastic spike may be attributed to it being the first live sporting event since America went into lockdown, the consensus was that it was the most entertaining draft in history.
So, why the mass approval?
Firstly, there were the attention-grabbing homes of the NFL coaches and General Managers.
From Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury’s spacious bachelor oasis in Arizona, to Bears coach Matt Nagy’s game plan wall in Chicago or the scenes of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones drafting from a multi-million dollar yacht, Twitter was brimming with excitement from these insights alone.
Secondly, NFL Network presenter Rich Eisen hosted what was aptly named the NFL Draft-A-Thon to raise awareness and much-needed funds for COVID-19 relief.
Featuring a range of characters from DJ Khaled, to Kevin Hart and the GOAT, Tom Brady, this star-studded Zoom chat brought eyes and donations to the draft from people who would not have otherwise checked in. In an incredible achievement, the NFL raised more than 100 million dollars for COVID-19 relief.
Fingers crossed in Australia we are past this pandemic and can instead, raise money for a different and equally important cause.
The addition of a second viewing platform of experts and guests talking about the Draft, reflecting on life and sharing many laughs could be one way of increasing the audience for the AFL’s Draft.
The human element
As much as the fans and the player themselves love the moment a new draftee gets to hug the Commissioner (or their coach, in the AFL) on stage and get his picture taken holding his new team’s jersey, this year’s format revealed an emotional, more human aspect to the draft.
Players smiled and cheered or were brought to tears with looks of disbelief at the confirmation that their lifelong dream had become a reality.
The most touching aspect of this year’s draft, however, came from the families who were present with players, coaches and general managers. Images of supportive parents, who had witnessed their son’s sacrifices and commitment; to loving partners who understood the toll that elite sports had taken on a family; to the kids who were just excited to be on TV doing handshakes, smiling and dancing. This draft gave us an insight into the human side of the NFL.
So, whilst the players missed the opportunity to have their moment on stage in front of thousands of fans, was this such a bad thing?
My fondest memories of being drafted were the immediate (albeit surprised) tears and hugs from my parents and partner followed by the rush of friends and family rolling through our front door bringing love and congratulations with them.
I did not envy my peers having to sit formally around a table in slacks and a polo, getting nervous about going up on stage and then doing an abundance of media work.
I had achieved my goal and now got to celebrate it with everyone who helped me get there and that feeling can never be replicated.
So while I hope we might have a normal draft this year because the Coronavirus is no longer in our lives, maybe it’s worth looking into different ways to make this event more special for these young men and women whose lives are about to change.
Granting them a greater allowance of people on their table (or a second table for friends/family), ensuring they spend more time with their loved ones before getting thrown into a media frenzy and setting up home cameras for those not at the draft could help create different content … and change the draft for the better.
Quick Hit Favourite moments
Ruggs’ Robe – biggest moment of your life. Getting drafted by the Las Vegas Raiders at pick No. 12 overall. Surrounded by friends and family and watched by millions on TV … and you wear a robe. Phenomenal stuff. Respect to Henry Ruggs.
Puppy Picks – viral content was born when the cameras cut to Belichick’s home expecting him to be making the Patriots pick. Instead they found his dog, Nike, sitting in front of the laptop looking in control. He made a smart pick in Kyle Dugger from Lenoir-Rhyne and got a treat for it. Good boy.
— Tom Doedee (@TDoedee31) April 24, 2020
Big Guy, Bigger Heart – I’ve touched on the human side of the draft but just watch how much it meant to the Michigan Centre, Cesar Ruiz, to be picked by the New Orleans Saints. Heart-warming content in tough times.
J-Lo joins A-Rod – I’m with the majority in not liking the Green Bay Packers trading up to pick Jordan Love (or their second round choice for that matter) to backup Rodgers for at least two years. You’re one win away from a Super Bowl with Aaron Rodgers getting older, get him weapons! But you can’t help but appreciate the creativity of the Twitter community in projecting how Rodgers would’ve reacted to the pick.
Chiefs Get Better – the defending Super Bowl champions added a whole new dimension to their offence in running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Shifty, compact, elite route runner, hard to tackle and works well in space. Mahomes will love his new weapon.
Tua Time in Miami – if you’ve made it this far in the article you’re either a fan of NFL or wanting to get into it (or I’ve written a good article, in which case, thank you), so do yourself a favour and watch Tua’s ‘Bama highlights. Accuracy, touch, anticipation, mobility. The only skepticism of this pick comes from Tua’s dislocated hip which appears fully healed.
Queen of the (Ravens) Board – great value and fills a big need. Typical of the Baltimore Ravens to sit and wait and have a future star fall to their pick. Patrick Queen is explosive and physical and is an outstanding leader. Credit to Eric DeCosta for remaining patient.
DJ Dominates – hat tip to NFL.com analyst Daniel Jeremiah. I’ve followed him since he first started his Move the Sticks podcast and he is now the best draft analyst on TV, by far. I feel a sense of pride watching him analyse a sixth-round pick from Georgia Southern. Must be like what seeing your child get drafted feels like…
my favourite tradition
Finally, my favourite draft tradition is picking out the best names to pop up throughout the three days. Here are 15 in alphabetical order for your perusal. Enjoy and thanks for reading.
Laviska Shenault Jr.