EAGAN, Minn. – The 2020 NFL Draft will look much different than in years past.
The three-day event, which will kick off at 7 p.m. (CT) Thursday will take place as scheduled; but due to COVID-19 restrictions, the entire draft will happen remotely.
In anticipation of the new-look process, NFL officials and all 32 teams on Monday held a "mock draft" to ready for the real deal.
Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman spoke to media members via video conference call Tuesday afternoon and said with the exception of "one minor hiccup in the beginning," he was pleased with the overall operation.
"Working with the NFL and [its technology] and the technology from all 32 teams feeding into their basements and homes, I thought yesterday was extremely smooth except for the one hiccup," Spielman said. "This evening we're finalizing the draft board, we're doing a lot of things from a rehearsal standpoint, so on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, when it actually counts, we want to make sure we're as fluid as we are when we're in that draft room."
Spielman tipped his hat to members of the organization that are proving essential to this pre-draft, including Vikings Director of IT Cheryl Nygaard.
"I want to give a big shout-out to our IT department – Cheryl Nygaard, [Director of Football Information Systems] Paul Nelson, [Manager of Football Information Systems] Luke Burson and all the people in there as we've been through a month of virtual draft meetings," Spielman said.
He explained that the Vikings have been able to replicate "exactly" what Spielman, scouts and coaches would do if they were together at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center.
"We haven't missed a beat on how we operate," he said.
That includes the Vikings custom-built, electronic draft board, introduced as a key feature when TCO Performance Center opened in March 2018.
Spielman explained that Nelson designed a scaled-down replica of the draft board for his at-home draft room.
"I almost called [Scott Studwell] to come out and start doing magnets and try to spread them all over my basement floor," he quipped. "But … this board you see behind me is the exact board we have in our draft room, and I'm able to click names and manipulate the names … to pull over groupings, to restack it. Everything I was able to do in the draft room, I can do right now from my home."
Spielman also emphasized connecting virtually for breakdowns of prospective players, as well as the ability to access film of various players and stream it to coaches and scouts while controlling the video feed from his Eden Prairie home.
"And if there is a little hiccup here or there, they are unbelievable in getting it fixed as quickly as they can," he said. "I can say from our preparation, it's been almost identical except that we're doing it virtually now.
"Because it has run so smoothly, because our ownership has given us the resources to get the technology that we needed in order to function like we normally would during this time of year, it's been outstanding," Spielman added.
Asked what the biggest hurdle of an entirely virtual NFL Draft likely will be, Spielman emphasized a level of confidence while acknowledging the elephant in the room:
Technology is great until it malfunctions.
"Internally, everybody is very comfortable because we've been doing this for a month. [And] we had one run with the league yesterday, on the technology," Spielman said. "Probably the only concern I would say, and it's [out of our control], is if there are technical issues and you're on the clock, then all of a sudden, something happens where a thunderstorm comes rolling through one of the cities and you're trying to call. You have to have another team call and confirm the trade before it flips over to you on the clock.
"That's probably a little bit of a concern right now, [if] there are some technical glitches," Spielman continued. "I do believe that the NFL will stop the clock or hold it until the transaction can happen."
The NFL has done a good job, Spielman said, of anticipating possible problems and implementing backup plans.
For instance, general managers will be able to connect through a hard phone line, as well. Teams are designating three staff members who are allowed to submit picks to league officials.
"If the first person goes down, the second person will have a name and so will the third person," Spielman said. "If there's a communication gap between us and the NFL, there are hard lines there that we'll be able to call, as well.
"I think everybody at the NFL office and all of the IT staffs have really thought through this and all of the possible scenarios," he added. "From a security standpoint of someone trying to hack into the system, I think they thought through that as well, so I anticipate it going smoothly – but I also feel very confident in some of the backup plans in place or ways to communicate. Everybody's cell phones do work."