If the narrative leading up to the NFL draft was how different it would seem while being conducted remotely, the main takeaway from watching the first round unfold Thursday was just how normal everything actually felt.
Which — dramatic brand-focused voice-over … in these difficult times — feels quite good.
Here are some other thoughts from four hours, 32 picks and a whole lot of screens:
*Of the major United States pro sports leagues, the NFL has been the most dedicated to business as usual in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Whether that was as a result of the NFL’s head down, brand-over-everything-else mentality or more a function of the league being the furthest away in a calendar sense from returning to the field of any of the leagues is debatable.
But it made me wonder how much the league would delve into our shared reality during the draft broadcast. The answer: A lot more than I imagined it would. The first 10 minutes were devoted to a montage with the message of “hope,” narrated by Peyton Manning, as well as a scripted message from Commissioner Roger Goodell.
Images of health care workers and an abandoned-looking Las Vegas — where the draft was supposed to be — dominated the screen. A moment of silence was observed for the lives lost to the disease.
A little of the messaging was a bit overwrought for my tastes, but overall I thought the NFL and the broadcast handled the subject with good taste and with more depth than I would have imagined.
*Among the visual treats of the new format was a flurry of live shots from the homes not only of prospects but of NFL coaches and executives. The decor ran the full gamut, as one would expect.
Bengals coach Zac Taylor, one of the earliest live shots, looked like he was in a small apartment or extended stay hotel. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was on his yacht.
Titans coach Mike Vrabel had a house full of teenagers dressed in costumes. But was one of them inadvertently seen going to the bathroom while on camera? Nope, Vrabel said. He was just sitting on a stool. Yes, he actually addressed it.
Well, at least we can still make fun of Giants GM Dave Gettleman for putting on a mask shortly after New York made its pick, right? Nope, sorry. He explained that quite soberly as well, as a function of being a cancer survivor with a young IT worker in his house.
*For as unusual as those scenes were, though, about 80% of the broadcast felt pretty much normal. It was easy going in to focus on everything that would feel different — no stage, no players in person, no handshakes, no (real) booing of Goodell — but as we discussed on the post-first round Access Vikings podcast, much of a draft is pre-packaged clips, talking head analysis and live shots inside the homes of prospects.
Those were all still in play Thursday, even if the poor pundits had to take turns talking instead of having natural banter (and Louis Riddick seemed to be on an unfortunate 3-second delay).
*Indeed, everything felt quite normal and routine. There were no major discernible technical difficulties. Teams generally didn’t reach for players outside of first-round grades — perhaps a function of having less chances to overthink what they were doing. The Vikings, as they often do, traded down with the second of their two first-round picks. Through 25 slots it was, well, a little boring.
So, I think we need to say thanks to the Packers. On our live Zoom video, they were all we could talk about.
By pretty much losing their minds and trading UP to get QB Jordan Love at No. 26, Green Bay provided the highlight of the night. I don’t know, but if I was running a team coming off a 13-3 season and NFC title game appearance, and I was desperate to add offensive talent for my future Hall of Fame quarterback, I might have drafted a receiver or some other player who could help in 2020.
Sure, Green Bay followed a similar script with great success 15 years ago with Brett Favre and the drafting of Aaron Rodgers. But the chances of it working again are — sorry, holders of worthless stock certificates — not increased by the fact that it worked once. There’s a much better chance that Love will be mediocre.
It was a borderline criminally bad pick, and I say that as someone who wanted (and still wants) the Vikings to add a quarterback with a high-value pick (third round?) in this draft. Kirk Cousins is not Rodgers.
But for entertainment value? It was the best thing that happened all night.