The NFL Draft has become synonymous with spectacle, drama and round-the-clock coverage. Since its humble beginnings, it has become about so much more than player recruitment alone, and is now an event that’s as eagerly awaited as some of NFL’s biggest games.

However, proceedings will look very different this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. As well as putting NFL’s September launch in doubt, social distancing measures mean the draft can’t go ahead as usual. So, rather than the flash, in-person ceremony we’ve become accustomed to, the NFL has announced that the 2020 edition will be a virtual affair, set to be one of the most unique drafts of all time. Why is it still happening and how exactly will it work?

Why is the draft still going ahead?

The decision to push forward with the 2020 draft has been a contentious one to say the least. Many general managers are openly against a virtual draft as they’ll miss out on pre-draft visits involving eligible players, and be prevented from conducting usual medical rechecks. On top of this, they can’t congregate for the event itself either. However, the NFL has decided that the draft will still go ahead for two main reasons.

Firstly, it’s unclear whether social distancing guidelines will uniformly change any time soon. League rules stipulate that all 22 states that are home to NFL teams must relax quarantine measures before team facilities can reopen. The second reason is that the NFL is eager to capture an audience yearning for a sense of sports normality. Talking about his desire to still play games in 2020, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell stated: “We can provide a distraction from the everyday issues and show people that there is a future out there and that we’re all going to be part of that.”

Where will everybody be?

Ordinarily, the top draft picks wait at a central location—this year’s draft was set to be in Las Vegas—with key figures from each team congregating at their respective team facilities. However, for the 2020 NFL Draft, starting April 23, everybody involved will be at home. Goodell will reveal each pick from his New York abode and the 58 players most likely to be drafted in the first two rounds will have cameras prepared to film their reactions. Each team’s decision-maker will also be accompanied by an IT specialist in case of any technical difficulties. But aside from this, the team’s top personnel will be separated instead of spending draft nights together like they usually would.

Mar 1, 2020; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes defensive back Jordan Fuller (DB48) runs the 40 yard dash during the 2020 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

How will the draft process work?

All 32 teams will be connected via one video conference through Microsoft’s Teams application. The NFL has been working directly with the software company to guarantee security amid fears of hacking. IT staff will also communicate with each team during the process.

To pick a player, general managers/front office collectives simply need to send their choice to league officials using the app. If they are unable to do so, each team can make their pick through phone or email. Decision-makers will be able to discuss and debate through private channels within the Teams app. The draft process will run to previous time schedules, meaning there will be 10 minutes between picks in the first round, seven in the second, five in rounds 3-6, and four minutes in round 7. As there have been no confirmed allowances for late submissions, it is assumed that the next team in line can jump ahead if another misses their turn

The NFL Draft will also double as a ‘Draft-A-Thon’ to raise funds for six charities helping to fight the spread of COVID-19. As well as encouraging supporters to donate to one central fund throughout the draft, live broadcasters will pay tribute to healthcare workers and other first responders during the coverage. 

How will the NFL draft be broadcast?

An ESPN and NFL Network combined broadcast will be shown live from ESPN’s studios in Bristol, Connecticut, where Trey Wingo will host all three nights. In addition, a separate ABC broadcast for the first two nights will focus on storytelling and the journey of draft picks to the NFL, before airing the ESPN/NFL Network coverage on the last night.

The full schedule will be:

Round 1 on Thursday, April 23, from 8-11:30 p.m. ET

Rounds 2-3 on Friday, April 24, from 7-11:30 p.m. ET

Rounds 4-7 on Saturday, April 25, from 12-7 p.m. ET