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NFL Finally Got it Right With the Virtual Draft This Weekend

Bob George
Bob George on Twitter
April 26, 2020 at 9:11 pm ET

NFL Finally Got it Right With the Virtual Draft This Weekend(PHOTO: Jerry Lai - USA TODAY Sports)

🕑 Read Time: 5 minutes

SOCIAL DISTANCING AT HOME – Honk if you thought the 2020 NFL Draft was the best presentation of this event you have ever seen.

It began as a nondescript event at some New York City hotel.  Eventually the affair moved to Radio City Music Hall, and it turned into a major ESPN event.  Then the NFL Network provided competition, and turned the event into Super Bowl Junior.  It was astounding, to say the least.  Eventually the NBA and NHL followed suit, and their drafts are now major events held at various indoor arenas across the nation.

But the NFL took it further.  It began at Grant Park in Chicago, with an outdoor bash that really did resemble the Super Bowl.  Last year, in the small yet up and coming city of Nashville, they estimated 600,000 people jammed into that city’s main drag (which up to that point was must-see only for Grand Ole Opry fans).  For this year’s event in Las Vegas, the new home of the Raiders, they estimated 750,000 to cram the much-more-famous-than-Nashville Las Vegas Strip.  The idea of this mega-event in the entertainment capital of the desert southwest, and the gambling mecca of the world, was certainly thought provoking.  After what the Vegas Golden Knights did to revolutionize player introductions in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final (which the GKs made in their first year of existence), you had to think that you would see the greatest show this side of the Opening Ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games.

Oops.  This flu bug broke out in Wuhan, some 655 miles south of Beijing, and the entire planet has been turned upside down.

Three-quarters of a million people on the Vegas Strip was no longer a possibility.  Three people on the Strip is pushing it, assuming they stay six feet apart.  Positive tests go up, the global death toll mounts, and even though some people think they are being held hostage by the stay at home orders, you really can’t be too careful.  Life in general remains on hold most everywhere on the planet, as we wait and wait for this pandemic to abate and life to return to normal.

The NFL was forced to scrap its plans for Las Vegas and hold a virtual draft.  Next year they will be in Cleveland, but will return to Vegas in 2022.  So while Vegas now delays its grand plans 2 years, it’s now time for computers, communication systems and the Internet to run the draft.  Everyone stays at home.  We are all at the mercy of webcams, computers, cell phones, and some very important thing called bandwidth.

What resulted was the most enjoyable draft in terms of watching in recent memory, perhaps of all time.

You name it, it was endearing.  John Harbaugh celebrating a third-round draft pick in his mancave.  Mike Vrabel and his controversial setup on Thursday night.  All these children of the principals hanging out with their dads while the draft was ongoing.  Former Patriot backup QB Kliff Kingsbury, now the HC at Arizona, rocking out that incredible casa of his.  Washington QB Jacob Eason’s girlfriend looking disgusted on the sofa as he languished into the third day before finally being taken by the Colts.  And my favorite, a dog sitting at the dinner table in the seat normally occupied by Bill Belichick, at his Nantucket compound.  Perhaps that dog is from Hickory, North Carolina, and advised the coach on who to trade down to get in Round 2.

Even loathsome NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was tolerable, coming from his basement mancave at his home in Bronxville, NY.  He had 15 fans for each team on a flatscreen TV with orders to boo him when their team’s pick was being announced.  He looked more human without that corporate suit on.  Yet he was getting a bit fatigued as the third round neared conclusion, as he normally does only the first round.

Of course, the main commentary in New England is not who they took in the draft, but rather, who they didn’t.

Everyone expected the Patriots to take a quarterback, and possibly trade up to take one.  Maybe they make a deal with Detroit to move up to three and take Tua Tagovailoa.  Or Justin Herbert.  Maybe they trade up to take Jalen Hurts or Jordan Love.

Nope.  The Patriots did draft for need versus value, but none of them were quarterbacks.

They traded out of the first round on Thursday night and picked first at #37 on Friday.  Their selection was Kyle Dugger, a safety from Division 2 Lenoir-Rhyne College in the aforementioned Hickory, NC.  You have heard of him only if you have no life.  Seriously, he projects to be the next Patrick Chung, did terrific at the combine and the Senior Bowl, and has freakish talent.  But against Division 2 opponents, one has to be careful about gauging his ability in the NFL.

Lenoir-Rhyne’s record in 2019 was 13-1.  Their only loss was the last game of the season, 43-38 to eventual champ West Florida in the Division 2 quarterfinal round.  Dugger will fit in just fine here in Foxborough.

With glaring needs at linebacker, tight end and kicker, Belichick addressed each need.  He landed Michigan linebacker Josh Uche in the second round with pick #60, then snagged another linebacker with the 87th pick in the third round, Anfernee Jennings of Alabama.  Both players look to help offset the losses of Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins to free agency.  Uche is reunited with Michigan teammate Chase Winovich, while Jennings has a Bama buddy in Dont’a Hightower.

The next two picks went to tight end.  He took both in the third round, Devin Asiasi of UCLA (pick #91) and Dalton Keene of Virginia Tech (pick # 101).  This was the first time since 2010 that Belichick took 2 tight ends in the first four rounds, and it’s also coincidental that Asiasi’s skill set resembles Rob Gronkowski (good size, great blocker), while Keene’s resembles the late Aaron Hernandez (can play H-back, great versatility).  Another oddity is that Asiasi knew Uche from his days at Michigan before transferring to UCLA, and knew Keene from a camp they attended.

Without a fourth-round pick, Belichick had to wait until the fifth round to fill his next area of need.  He took a kicker, Marshall’s Justin Rohrwasser with pick #159.  He now becomes the only kicker on the Patriot roster, with Belichick waiving Stephen Gostkowski earlier this year.  The rest of the draft was mostly offensive line depth and another linebacker, with Michigan G Michael Onwenu (pick #182), Wake Forest T Justin Herron (pick #195) in the sixth round, and Memphis C Dustin Woodard (pick # 230) in the seventh round.  Wyoming LB Cassh Maluia (pick #204) was taken in the sixth round.  Onwenu provides possible insurance if the team cannot keep Joe Thuney beyond 2020, while Herron projects as a guard in the NFL.

Now, whither the quarterback position?  Nick Caserio, director of player personnel (and also in the Patriot selection process, along with Bob and Jonathan Kraft), told reporters that he expects the Patriots to get a third quarterback at some point.  He did not mention how or where or when they would get that third quarterback.  Right now, one may consider that the Patriots have a lot of faith in Jarrett Stidham at the top of the depth chart with Brian Hoyer right behind him.

Who knows.  Maybe Belichick’s pooch has the answer.  This could end up with the defense playing tough, and Stidham just managing the game without trying to win it.  Hey, it worked for Peyton Manning in Super Bowl 50.  In any case, the Patriots did not address the quarterback position in the draft, and some draft graders knocked the Patriot grade down for just that reason.

Otherwise, not much to complain about.  There were no technical glitches in the draft that we heard of.  Patriot fans hate it when Belichick trades down, and he only traded down once while trading up four times.  Tight end, linebacker and kicker are no longer areas of great concern.

Sorry, Cleveland, but this writer votes for another virtual draft next year, with no pandemic making it mandatory.  This was fun television.  Ratings were high, but everyone was home, so that’s nothing amazing.  Let’s have more mancaves, more families, more creative usage of all this wonderful technology that wasn’t there when the first combined draft took place in 1967.  This draft was fun.

Then again, you never know.  Maybe it won’t be safe for a million people to head for Cleveland even with the pandemic hopefully declared over.  You folks at Amazon, Verizon and Microsoft, stay ready.  You might be in for it again next year.

Patriots UDFAs Coe, Thomas, Are Intriguing Prospects

About Bob George

Covering Boston Sports since 1997. Native of Worcester, Mass. Attended UMass and Univ of Michigan. Lives in California. Just recently retired after 40 years of public school teaching. Podcasts on YouTube at @thepic4139

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