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The NFL Draft will be a must-watch disaster

On Thursday night, the NFL will move forward with its remote draft. It’ll be unchanged in a lot of ways, with a hilariously strict line-item dress code, fans booing Roger Goodell (for charity this time,) and unvarnished brand worshipping.

In response to the broader changes, NFL GMs are having an extremely normal one, tearing down walls and installing Pentagon-grade command centers in their homes. This will probably be invisible to most viewers, but the other dystopian wrinkles will persist, against all of the league’s better efforts. ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay made an 11th-hour announcement today that he won’t be on the broadcast since he tested positive for COVID-19 and will be recovering at home. By the sound of it, the home draft will also incorporate the maudlin touches of a post-disaster telethon, with performances set from Kevin Hart, Kane Brown, and Harry Connick Jr. for the national anthem.

No matter how much of the original broadcasting crew is on deck or how closely the results pair up with mock drafts, this is not how things were expected to go. The draft was originally set to take place in Las Vegas to welcome the Raiders’ new home for the 2020 season. Perhaps against the mayor’s wishes, the city won’t be a control group for the 50,000 attendees who would’ve been swarming the Bellagio over the weekend.

It’s the first draft where the results are likely to take a backseat to the surreal presentation of it all. The Bengals are moving on from the Andy Dalton era by almost certainly taking Joe Burrow at the first overall pick, with Washington following close behind if they don’t trade down with Chase Thomas second, an edge rusher who looks the closest to a safe pick. A lot of trades will ensue, and personally, I can’t wait to see how the home bunkers fail the GMs. The NFL has already prepared for such difficulties, allowing the clock to extend if a team runs into any issues at home — sure to be abused at least once throughout the night.

It’s hard to imagine this setting any precedent for other major live events going forward — save for something like American Idol filming the rest of its top 20 from their bedrooms, there aren’t any televised gatherings on this scale that theoretically need to happen before an industry can go about its business. While it’s not inconceivable that the Emmys or Oscars might go forward with some kind of remote awards show, it’s easier to see them canceling outright or just condensing two years into one show at the end of this. Only the NFL could charge forward with its draft and season against all precedent. The NFL will stubbornly be the last of anything to get canceled this year — if empty stadiums or abandoned XFL arenas fall through — and that’s when you’ll know the year is unequivocally lost.