Football fans trying not to die for a little live sports action will be pleased to know that the 2020 NFL Draft will take place as scheduled in just nine days, but our HDTV enthusiastic viewers might find the coverage, and experience, a little bit different this time.

The 720p HD resolution broadcasts (converted to 1080i HD for the NFL Network) of the three-day event will not be seen from a host city in front of a large enthusiastic audience this year.

Instead, the draft is scheduled to take place over three nights/days from April 23–25, 2020. For rabid NFL fans (especially those self-isolating at home for weeks) the event will be exhilerating, infuriating or utterly boring, depending on how competent each team’s personnel evalutators tend to be. For the rest of the world, this could be like watching paint dry, but hey, you get to see those pretty upconverted live studio shots on that brand new 4K TV while you dose off to sleep.

The NFL originally planned to hold the event live in Paradise, Nevada, but all public events related to it were canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, necessitating the change in venue and an unusual collaboration between competing sports networks. (For those of us old enough to remember: kind of like Super Bowl I when CBS and NBC both showed the game).

This year the three networks, two of which normally offer competing coverage of the event– ESPN (along with sister network ABC) and the league-owned NFL Network–are teaming up to present the show. The networks’ various groups of commentators will be shown on a singular broadcast that will be simulcast by each channel. The various coverage teams will take turns with the play-by-play, forecasts and expert analysis.

The combined ESPN and NFL Network telecast will be transmitted on both networks, while ABC will present a more specialized prime-time telecast for rounds 1-3, in addition to simulcasting the same ESPN and NFL Network simulcast for rounds 4-7, the NFL said.

Before we proceed further, for those sheltering-in-place under a rock, or perphaps, living outside of the U.S. where professional football is another game altogether, the National Football League (NFL) Draft is an annual activity in which the U.S. professional football league’s teams get to select the latest available, eligible talent coming out of the nation’s top NCAA colleges. Generally speaking, all 32 teams select round-robin style from the year’s pool of eligible juniors, seniors and others, who have annouced their intentions to leave college football to play professionally.

Eligible players not selected at the end of the process are open game (free agents) for teams to recruit to try out for available roster spots prior to the start of next season this fall (or whenever).

With some occasional variations (like trades or team draft round forfeitures), the order in which the teams select players is determined by won-loss performance from the prior season. Teams with the worst records (the Cincinnati Bengals) make their selection first in reverse ranking order (worst to best) down to the last pick in the first round (the Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs). The first round comprises the first night of the event, and the second night features rounds 2 and 3.

Then on the third day, the whole process repeats through the remaining rounds. The time between selections accelarates during days two and three.

TV viewers (most of us) will have the choice to watch the NFL Draft on one of three networks over the course of the exercise, though the whole thing will look much different from usual due to the COVID-19 situation.

Aside from moving the event from Las Vegas to a Bristol, CT TV studio, there now will be two broadcasts for the first two nights running in primetime on April 23rd and 24th. ESPN and NFL Network will team up with ESPN’s Trey Wingo, Mel Kiper Jr., Louis Riddick and Booger MacFarland joined by the NFL Network’s Rich Eisen, Daniel Jeremiah, Michael Irvin and Kurt Warner All presumably respecting the necessary distancing, of course.

A different slant on the coverage will air on ABC hosted by ESPN’s “College GameDay” crew that includes Rece Davis, Jesse Palmer, Maria Taylor, Kirk Herbstreit, Desmond Howard and Todd McShay.

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The latter alternative format was actually used for the first time last year and placed a different focus on player personalities and biographies, with less attention paid to the needs of each team and how each player fits it, as covered by the other networks. The three networks will share the same broadcast for the final day of the draft, covering rounds 4-7.

During the draft coverage, the NFL will do its part for the COVID-19 crisis by presenting a “Draft-A-Thon,” during which stories will be relayed about healthcare workers and first responders taking on the COVID-19 battle in the trenches. Viewers will be encouraged to call in donations of monetary support for several appropriate charities.

“By bringing the exceptional on-air talent and production staffs of both ESPN and NFL Network together, we hope to deliver a unified presentation of the draft that not only helps raise awareness and funds for the COVID-19 relief efforts, but also provides entertainment that millions of sports fans have been craving,” stated NFL Network Senior Vice President of Programming and Production Mark Quenzel in a press release.

A detailed schedule of events can be found here.

A word of warning from the HD Guru: prolonged exposure to NFL draft coverage may lead to thoughts of intentional exposure to COVID-19. Then again, if you made it all the way to the end of this, you probably lack any underlying conditions. Just sayin…

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By Greg Tarr

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