2020 NFL Draft rules and virtual format explained

The 2020 NFL Draft kicks off Thursday night with an unprecedented virtual format after the coronavirus pandemic forced league officials to cancel a star-studded planned event in Las Vegas.

With NFL facilities shuttered, team executives and head coaches will coordinate their drafts from their homes in order to comply with shelter-in-place orders. The draft order and traditional seven-round structure will proceed just as they would have under normal circumstances.

Officials from all 32 teams will be connected through a video conference described as a modified version of the Microsoft Teams app, ESPN reported. Teams will digitally submit their picks to league officials, with multiple backup options, including a leaguewide phone conference call, available in the event of technical difficulties. Three executives from each team will have the authority to submit picks.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will announce first-round draft picks live from his basement. A total of 58 college prospects, including LSU star quarterback and presumptive No. 1 pick Joe Burrow, are set to participate in the NFL Draft broadcast via camera feeds from their homes.

Teams will be allowed to stop the draft clock if technical problems make it impossible to submit their picks within the time limit. In the first round, teams will have 10 minutes each to submit their picks.

The NFL conducted IT checks at the homes of essential team executives to make sure their internet connections and home offices were up to the technical challenge. The NFL also worked with Microsoft to ensure the event’s cybersecurity, according to ESPN.

The 2020 NFL Draft was originally scheduled to take place live from several locations on the Las Vegas Strip as part of an annual fan festival. The coronavirus pandemic prompted federal and state orders against mass gatherings that made that plan untenable.

Goodell said the league decided to move forward with the draft in a virtual format because there was no guarantee conditions would improve enough to reschedule a live event during the offseason.

“Everyone recognizes that public health conditions are highly uncertain and there is no assurance that we can select a different date and be confident that conditions will be significantly more favorable than they are today,” Goodell said in a leaguewide memo. “I also believe that the Draft can serve a very positive purpose for our clubs, our fans, and the country at large, and many of you have agreed.”

NFL executives conducted a trial run Monday to work out potential issues. Several team officials reported communication issues during the test.

Alongside the draft itself, the NFL is hosting a three-day “Draft-A-Thon” to raise money for various charities in the fight against COVID-19. Charities that will receive funds include the CDC Foundation, The Salvation Army, Feeding America, Meals on Wheels and the American Red Cross.

Several celebrities, including comedian Kevin Hart, are expected to make appearances. The Draft-A-Thon will be livestreamed across the NFL’s social media channels.

The 2020 NFL Draft will be simulcast on ESPN and NFL Network. The first round begins at 8 p.m. ET Thursday night. Rounds two and three will be held Friday night, followed by rounds four through seven Saturday night.