In this most unique of drafts, filled with technological concerns and even uncertainty when real football might return, there was one constant Thursday night: Joe Burrow.
For months, the national champion quarterback from LSU was linked with the Bengals. Cincinnati began the draft by sending the name of the Heisman Trophy winner to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in the basement of his home.
This digital/remote/virtual draft — take your choice — was up and running.
No fireworks on the Las Vegas Strip. No bear hug between Goodell and Burrow; the commissioner said he would miss those, even if his body won't. The most basic of selection meetings, organized in this manner due to the coronavirus pandemic, has team personnel making picks from their homes. And players learning their future employers in their homes.
The NFL canceled all draft activities in Las Vegas when the national shutdown of large gatherings began. The league had gone full-bore into free agency last month and, now, seven rounds of the draft through Saturday.
“I do believe this draft is going to be the most memorable we have ever had,” said Goodell, noting that it is accompanied by a “Draft-A-Thon” to benefit six organizations on the front lines battling the pandemic.
“I just believe that our job is to continue on and operate within whatever guidelines are necessary to keep our personnel safe, whether it’s players or coaches or their executives or league personnel. We need to make sure that we’re doing things safely and put public safety No. 1, but we also need to carry on. We need to move toward the future. We need to make sure that we’re prepared when we come out of this to be in a position to start our season on time and play our season. That’s our role.”
Normalcy, at least among the picks, was the order of the early evening, though.
No surprise atop this NFL draft as the Cincinnati Bengals selected Burrow, quarterback of national champion LSU, as the centerpiece of yet another rebuilding job.
Burrow, the third straight Heisman Trophy winner taken with the first overall selection, joins a team that went 2-14 in 2019 under first-year head coach Zac Taylor. The Bengals scored 279 points last season, third worst in the league, and also ranked 30th in total offense.
The previous time Cincinnati grabbed a Heisman quarterback to open the draft, it was Southern California’s Carson Palmer in 2003. Palmer led the Bengals to the playoffs twice.
In his spectacular season, Burrow threw for 60 — yes, 60 — touchdowns with only six interceptions. The Tigers beat six top 10 teams on their way to the national title.
Leading up to the draft, Goodell and many team executives shared photos of their draft setups on Twitter.
This story was reported from Atlanta.