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Gophers 2021 draft buzz: Rashod Bateman possible No. 1 overall pick?

The NFL draft is barely a week in the rearview mirror and is about the furthest thing away on annual sports calendars from happening again, so naturally we’re talking now about … the NFL draft?

Yes, I’ve largely ignored all the 2021 draft projections. But now more than ever, anything with a local angle and on-field focus tends to catch my eye.

So here’s something: The site Foxbet.com created a prop bet with odds on the most likely No. 1 overall pick in 2021. The clear favorite, of course, is Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence.

But 30 players are listed in all. And down toward the long shots, you’ll find a very familiar name: Gophers wide receiver Rashod Bateman, at 100 to 1 odds.

Wait, you might be thinking. Didn’t Tyler Johnson, the Gophers’ other star receiver in 2019, just get drafted in the fifth round? What gives?

Well, Bateman has the size (6-2, 200-plus pounds), hands and big-play ability to attract more NFL chatter (even though I think Johnson was a steal for Tampa Bay and will be a very good pro).

He’s been termed a “dark horse” to be the first receiver taken next year and has shown up as a possible first-round selection on some of those “way-too-early” 2021 mock drafts I’ve been trying to avoid.

Even so, having him in the mix as a No. 1 overall pick is pretty far-fetched. Only three WRs have been the No. 1 pick in NFL history, and the most recent was 1996 (Keyshawn Johnson).

In nine of the last 12 drafts, a quarterback has been the No. 1 overall pick. Lawrence could make it 10 out of 13. Or if you maybe want a different Gophers player who could, theoretically, edge into that top spot, consider QB Tanner Morgan.

He was dynamite in 2019 and he shows up at 33 to 1 odds (again per Foxbet) to be the first QB taken in the 2021 draft. Only nine other QBs have shorter odds.

Maybe the biggest takeaway in all of this: If Morgan and Bateman have excellent seasons — a big if, since there’s hardly a guarantee there will be a college football season — both of them could play their way into being first-round picks.

The last time the Gophers had one first-round pick? Laurence Maroney in 2006. The last time they had at least two first-round picks? 1950.

What if John Wooden had taken the Gophers basketball job in 1948?

Outside of the Herschel Walker trade, the most frequent reader request for further investigation off of our “great what-if moments in Minnesota sports history” series happened more than 70 years ago.

Talk about rewriting a lot of the past!

Writes reader Barry Y.: “Do you know the story of John Wooden and the Gophers?  Due to bad weather conditions, the phone lines went dead causing the Gophers to lose John Wooden as their head coach.  By far, the biggest ‘what if’ ever.”

Joe N. and Tim K., among other, had basically the same request.

So what might have happened if this particular bit of history was altered? Well, let’s examine the facts:

*First, as you might know (and as Barry suggested), there is a great back story to all this. Our own Sid Hartman has written about it multiple times – including nearly a decade ago, upon the death of Wooden at age 99.

As the story goes, Gophers athletic director Frank McCormick tried to hire Wooden as men’s basketball coach in 1948. The two sides had an agreement, pending McCormick getting approval from school president James Morrill to let Wooden hire his own assistant coaches – which was going to cost extra money.

McCormick obtained the approval, but bad weather knocked out phone lines – preventing McCormick from getting back in touch with Wooden to tell him. They were supposed to call at 6 p.m., Wooden said many years ago. By the time he reached him, it was too late: Wooden, thinking the Gophers had lost interest, had accepted an offer from UCLA, even though (as Sid wrote) it was the preference of Wooden and his wife to stay in the Midwest.

Wooden went on to win 10 national titles with UCLA. The Gophers … did not.

So would the Gophers have become a national power with Wooden? Would that have been their history? It’s possible. But there are other things to consider.

*When they failed to land Wooden, the Gophers had a pretty good consolation prize: Ozzie Cowles, a Minnesota native who was pried away after just two seasons as Michigan’s head coach – the second of which ended with a trip to the NCAA tournament (which had a field of just eight teams at the time).

Cowles actually had a really good run with the Gophers. In his first seven seasons after being hired in 1948, Cowles led the Gophers to a .686 winning percentage – pretty similar to Wooden’s .713 mark in his first seven years at UCLA after taking that job.

*Wooden was tempted in 1950 to take the vacant job at Purdue – his alma mater. But he decided to stay at UCLA to fulfill a three-year commitment and in reality stayed much longer of course. Maybe if he had taken the Minnesota job, it would have been easier for him to slide back over and take the Purdue job, depending on what the terms were here and how things were going. Then we might be talking about a different kind of regret.

*Wooden had strong seasons from the start with UCLA, but he didn’t win his first national championship until 15 years after taking the job – the 1963-64 season. Would Wooden have lasted that long, to realize ultimate success, in Minnesota considering no coach in Gophers history from 1948-present has lasted more than 11 seasons?

*All that said: It’s entirely possible that the stars might have aligned. Cowles had a lot of talent to work with on those Gophers teams – including Jim McIntyre, Whitey Skoog, Chuck Mencel and Bud Grant.

The Gophers never won a Big Ten title nor did they qualify for the hard-to-crack NCAA tournament field under Cowles, a defensive-minded coach. Perhaps the combination of their talent and Wooden’s coaching acumen would have put Minnesota on a path to greatness and multiple championships.

Let’s say Wooden would have coached the Gophers through the 1974-75 season, his final year at UCLA. The NCAA sanctions stemming from the Bill Musselman era in the early 1970s never would have happened.

Maybe the entire frustrating course of Gophers men’s basketball history, including the academic fraud scandal of the 1990s and the fits and starts ever since then, is altered? (Though, um, UCLA had an NCAA title game appearance vacated just a few years after Wooden left because of an eligibility issue).

This much is heartbreakingly true: Wooden won 10 championships with the Bruins. No other program in its entire history has won that many titles.

What if that was the Gophers’ history instead? Would there be a statue of Wooden outside Williams Arena right now?

It’s a valid question, and we’re left only to wonder.

What if the Vikings had never made the Herschel Walker trade …

Vikings fans have never watched their team win a Super Bowl. But they are champions of playing the “what if …?” game. So many moments in the franchise’s history leave fans wondering how things might have been different, if only one thing had changed.

If Drew Pearson hadn’t caught that Hail Mary … if Gary Anderson had made that kick … if they had scored points in the first half of just one Super Bowl … if, if, if.

As part of a series of stories examining some of the great “what-if” moments in Minnesota sports history, we asked readers to submit their own big questions for investigation. Among the most consistent responses was some variation of the same question:

From Michael M.: What if Mike Lynn had not traded the future of the Vikings for Herschel Walker?

From Dennis B.: What if the Vikings had not traded for Herschel Walker (and kept all their draft picks)?

Joe F. had a bunch of ideas, including this: Of course the Herschel Walker trade.

Another Michael M. (yes, a different one!): What would have happened if the Vikings did not trade for Herschel Walker?

Well … first, some history.

The Vikings went to the NFC title game after the 1987 season. In 1988 they went 11-5 and won a wild card round playoff game. In 1989, they were 3-2 in the middle of October when Lynn, the general manager, went all-in.

Thinking the Vikings were a running back short of a Super Bowl team, Lynn made a deal with the Cowboys – who used interest from other teams, including Cleveland, as leverage – for Walker.

This was the era of the workhorse running back dominating. Walker carried 361 times for 1,514 yards the previous season, a healthy 4.2 yards per carry, and caught 53 passes. Maybe it should have been a red flag that he was down to just 3 yards per carry through five games in 1989. Then again, the Cowboys were laughably bad – 0-5, en route to a 1-15 season.

So the swap was made on Oct. 12, 1989 (more on the particulars, which is the particularly regrettable part, in a moment). Fun fact: Walker’s final game with Dallas was Oct. 8 against Green Bay. His Vikings debut, three days after the trade on Oct. 15, was against Green Bay. I can’t imagine a lot of modern NFL players have faced the same team during consecutive weeks of the regular season.

Walker’s first game with the Vikings was his best, by far. He lost his shoe! He ran for 148 yards! The Vikings cruised to a 26-14 win. Super Bowl, baby (as that shirt pictured above, tweeted recently by Mill City Running’s Jeff Metzdorff, can attest).

But … he never topped 100 yards again in 1989 or 1990. The Vikings made the playoffs at 10-6 but were waxed by the 49ers. Walker was an enigma. His production dipped, and then he had things figured out. He wasn’t keeping his head up when he ran! Of course! Nope. They missed the playoffs in Walker’s final two seasons, and Jerry Burns retired after the 1991 season.

A new sheriff (Dennis Green) came to town in 1992. And he didn’t have a lot of young talent to work with. Because …

Ah, yes, the trade. Walker ran for 2,264 yards in 42 games with the Vikings. That’s decent production. But maybe it was not quite worth: three first-round picks, three second-round picks, a third-round pick and a sixth-round pick. And, um, four players.

Wow, just writing it out is painful.

The Vikings did get two third-round picks, a fifth-round pick and a 10th-round pick (hello, 1989!). But lets consult the handy draft pick value chart developed by … wait, Jimmy Johnson! The Cowboys’ first-year coach in 1989 who cooked up the Walker trade. Yep, he knew exactly what he was doing.

This isn’t quite an exact science since neither team knew at the time exactly where in the draft each pick would land (since it depended on future records), but based on the value assigned to each draft slot in 2020 and only taking into account picks in the first three rounds the Cowboys got:

800 points (First round pick, No. 21 overall, 1990)

430 points (Second round pick, No. 47 overall, 1990)

1,250 points (First round pick, No. 11 overall, 1991)

530 points (Second round pick, No. 37 overall, 1991)

1,150 points (First round pick, No. 13 overall, 1992)

500 points (Second round pick, No. 40 overall, 1992)

235 points (Third round pick, No. 71 overall, 1992)

Total: 4,895 points worth of draft capital

The Vikings got:

360 points (Third round pick, No. 54 overall, 1990)

250 points (Third round pick, No. 68 overall, 1991)

Total: 610 points worth of draft capital

Making matters worse: The Cowboys turned those picks into various swaps for other picks that netted them, among other drafted players: Hall of fame running back Emmitt Smith; standout defensive tackle Russell Maryland; elite safety Darren Woodson and solid cornerback Kevin Smith.

While it’s true the Vikings did get Jake Reed with that third-round pick from Dallas in 1991 … yikes. Those four Cowboys players became integral pieces of three Super Bowl champs (1992, 1993 and 1995).

The Vikings, as you might recall, did not win the Super Bowl during that time. Did not reach the Super Bowl. Have not ever won the Super Bowl. Have not made it to the Super Bowl since I was two months old (I am 43).

Would they have won it at some point in the late 1980s or 1990s if not for the Walker trade? That’s the crux of this what-if, but the unsatisfying answer is that we will never know.

But there is this: Green took the Vikings to the playoffs in 1992, 1993, 1994, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999 and 2000. At least in the earliest of those years, it would have been mighty nice to have a boatload of fresh talent, in the form of first- and second-round draft picks (three of each! Three!) to complement a roster that clearly had plenty of other talent.

Maybe if the Vikings had, say, drafted Smith in 1990 instead of Dallas the entire balance of that decade would have been different.

If anything, it makes you appreciate the job Green did in bolstering the roster and producing winning teams despite not having high-end talent from the three drafts immediately preceding the first game he coached with the Vikings.

It would have been fun to find out what might have happened if not for that fateful, colossal blunder of a trade 30 years ago.

Brett Favre, a sudden Aaron Rodgers expert, predicts exit from Packers

It’s hard to pick the best plot line from the Packers’ decision to move up and draft QB Jordan Love in the first round of last week’s NFL draft, but this one is up there: Brett Favre, the legend whose time in Green Bay was eventually cut short by a very similar scenario when the Packers drafted Rodgers, is suddenly the world’s foremost expert on what Rodgers is going through.

It would be interesting enough if Favre was using that position merely to guess at what Rodgers is going through as it relates to his own experience. It’s even better because, as the ol’ gunslinger said in an interview with “The Rich Eisen Show” on Wednesday, he has talked to Rodgers about it already.

And: “I’m not going to talk about all that we talked about,” Favre said, before pretty much telling us all we needed to know about what they talked about. “But he was, let’s just say, surprised that they went in that direction.”

Favre said his “gut” tells him Rodgers will play for another team at some point — and his gut was surely informed, at least in part, by both his own feelings in 2005 when the Packers drafted Rodgers and by his recent conversation with Rodgers.

“I think that (the Packers) burned a bridge that’s going to be hard to overcome,” Favre told Eisen. “At some point, I think it will rear its ugly head.”

Favre also told Sirius XM: “I think maybe two years from now they reassess what the future is and Aaron may be reassessing where he wants to play,” which is interesting since Rodgers has four years left on his contract. Favre got three more years in Green Bay before he was nudged out after the 2007 season to make way for Rodgers.

And if Rodgers is getting advice from Favre, the relationship between Rodgers and Love might be strained similarly to how it was between Favre and Rodgers.

“It’s not Aaron’s job to mentor Jordan Love,” Favre said on Wednesday.

Compare that to what Favre said 15 years ago about Rodgers: “There is no clause that says, ‘You groom the next guy who’s going to take your job, or else.’ It doesn’t work that way.”

It sure feels like Favre is acting as an unofficial spokesperson for Rodgers — an intermediary of sorts. And if that’s the case, this thing could, indeed, get ugly.

Another day, another MLB reopening plan. Will any of them work?

If you’ve lost track of where Major League Baseball stands in its quest to have some sort of season amid concerns about the coronavirus pandemic, I can’t blame you. It seems as though a new proposal comes out weekly — if not daily — and another just trickled out Tuesday with USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reporting on an optimistic plan that would allow teams to play in their own stadiums (albeit with no fans), and in a strange three-division alignment.

I imagine these things leak out for a variety of reasons — including the self-interest of those leaking the information — but none bigger than the desire of those involved to be optimistic about the future. It’s nice to think about baseball being played in some way, shape or form this summer.

Whether it’s realistic is another question. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in a New York Times interview Tuesday — a Q&A specifically about the possible resumption of sports — that “I would love to be able to have all sports back. But as a health official and a physician and a scientist, I have to say, right now, when you look at the country, we’re not ready for that yet. We might be ready, depending upon what the sport is. But right now, we’re not.”

But it seems pretty clear that no option too far-fetched to be considered by MLB decision-makers. Here is a rundown of what seem to be the most viable and/or discussed plans for an MLB season, along with the benefits, drawbacks and hurdles in each case.

*The home stadium option: Nightengale reports that the latest proposal being considered by MLB would keep teams in their home cities.

Major League Baseball officials have become cautiously optimistic this week that the season will start in late June, and no later than July 2, playing at least 100 regular-season games, according to three executives with knowledge of the talks. They requested anonymity because the plan is still under consideration. And not only would baseball be played, but it would be played in their own major-league ballparks, albeit with no fans.

That does sound … optimistic. There would be three divisions with 10 teams each, eradicating the traditional American and National Leagues. Teams would play each other within those divisions, with the Twins joined by the Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox, Milwaukee Brewers, St. Louis Cardinals, Kansas City Royals, Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Indians, Atlanta Braves and Detroit Tigers in the Central before an expanded playoff format.

The advantage of this is clear: Players wouldn’t need to be isolated away from their families, and games would at least retain a familiar look — even without fans — on television. That said, the health risk inherent in that advantage is a significant hurdle.

Speaking in general terms in that NYT Q&A, Fauci said: “I’m not saying this is the way to go, but you want to at least consider having players, if they’re going to play, play in front of a TV camera without people in the audience. And then test all the players and make sure they’re negative and keep them in a place where they don’t have contact with anybody on the outside who you don’t know whether they’re positive or negative. That’s going to be logistically difficult, but there’s at least the possibility of doing that. In other words, we said that for baseball, get the players in Major League Baseball, get a couple of cities and a couple of hotels, get them tested and keep them segregated. I know it’s going to be difficult for them not to be out in society, but that may be the price you pay if you want to play ball.”

*The Arizona option: That Fauci quote isn’t a specific endorsement of an idea first floated a few weeks ago to play all games in Arizona, with players and other essential staff sequestered. But it does make it sound like — at least at the moment — that would be the safest option if there are, indeed, games this year.

Under that plan, Arizona’s one MLB stadium (Chase Field) and several surrounding spring training facilities would be used to play all the games. Chase Field has an artificial surface and could host several games a day.

But several prominent players, including Mike Trout, sound less than enthusiastic about the prospect of being quarantined away from their families for months at a time.

When the Arizona plan leaked, the MLB commissioner’s office put out a statement that read: “MLB has been actively considering numerous contingency plans that would allow play to commence once the public health situation has improved to the point that it is safe to do so. While we have discussed the idea of staging games at one location as one potential option, we have not settled on that option or developed a detailed plan.”

*The hubs option: Last week, the flavor of the moment idea involved using Arizona, Florida and Texas as hubs to host 8-12 teams each. This is essentially a similar idea to the Arizona plan, but expanded to more locations.

Much like the divisions plan reported in USA Today, one imagines this plan would focus competition between teams in each location instead of against every other team in MLB. The Arizona plan is the only one that seems to make it feasible to keep the current division and schedule alignment intact by allowing all teams to compete against each other.

*Maybe just a World Cup-style tournament? Yeah, this one is pretty wacky. But it was mentioned in a Jeff Passan 20 Questions piece this week. What if they can’t get things rolling until much later in the summer or fall? What about a two-month tournament? Passan writes:

Everyone wants the closest thing to a 162-game schedule. The absence of that or anything resembling it, however, doesn’t necessarily preclude something truly imaginative from taking place.

“Give us 60 days,” one official said, “and we could run an amazing tournament.”

I thought about it and came up with this idea, which essentially would function as a baseball World Cup. The format: six hubs, five teams per hub. You could choose hub teams by division, which would be easy, or by geographic location with mixed leagues if you want to get really wild.

This might be kind of fun. But it’s hard to imagine getting ready for an entire year just to guarantee every team a small fraction of the regularly allotted games.

In all of this, two things are consistent:

One, MLB seems very determined to have a season. Passan asserts a season of some sort “will” happen and that “nearly everyone along the decision-making continuum … has grown increasingly optimistic that there will be baseball this year.”

Commissioner Rob Manfred has said similar things as well.

Two, every proposal on the table is nothing like a baseball season as we know it and would not involve fans in the stands.

They all are focused on the idea that something is better than nothing and on making the most of a bad situation. The next month or so will give us a lot of clarity as to what — if anything — is possible for MLB this season.

After terrible start, Twins are on upswing in bizarre simulated season

In a normal world, the Twins would be one month into a season filled with great anticipation after last year’s 101-win, 307-homer campaign.

But these times, of course, are anything but normal. That is illustrated most plainly by absence of the season so far. It also shows up, though, in the simulated Twins season being tracked by Baseball Reference and generated by Out Of The Park Baseball.

I’m not saying it’s a good thing that baseball hasn’t started. I am saying it’s maybe a good thing that the actual baseball season hasn’t played out the way the simulated season has (so far). Here are some of the truly bizarre and/or interesting things that have happened in the simulation:

*The Twins started the year 0-4 and dropped to 4-11 with a 17-4 loss at the White Sox. But … they turned their simulated season around the next game with a 20-8 win over Chicago — in 12 innings. Yep, the Twins scored 12 runs in the top of the 12th of that game, starting an 11-4 burst that has them sitting at 15-15 — trailing by a few games both the White Sox and Cleveland, who are off to hot starts.

*Luis Arraez (six games), Marwin Gonzalez (five games) and Eddie Rosario (nine games) have barely played, and I’m assuming it’s due to injury since at least Arraez and Gonzalez were off to hot starts. But four Twins players have started all 30 games: Byron Buxton, Ehire Adrianza, Josh Donaldson and Jorge Polanco. Those last two I might expect. Those first two? Not a chance.

*Hey, guess who is on the roster: Hanley Ramirez! Did the Twins sign him before things were shut down in March? Nope. But apparently they signed him on March 29 in this simulated season, presumably because of all the injuries.

*The Twins have ONLY hit 43 homers in 30 games, a pace for 232 this season. Unacceptable. Max Kepler leads the way with nine, while Nelson Cruz has eight. Buxton has six!

*The starting pitching beyond Jake Odorizzi and Jose Berrios has been shaky. Homer Bailey has lived up to his name, giving up a team-high 10 home runs (though he is 3-3 and has limited damage outside of the long balls). Randy Dobnak is 4-1 but his ERA is near 5. The real trouble has been with Kenta Maeda, who has an 8.28 ERA in his first year with the Twins since the big trade. As a staff, the Twins have allowed 49 home runs — including 32 by the starters. That’s the wrong type of Bomba Squad.

*It looks like Tyler Duffey was promoted to closer recently, even though Taylor Rogers (3.48 ERA) is still pitching decently and appears healthy. Duffey has been lights-out (1.54 ERA), but it’s hard to imagine Rogers being demoted. Tyler Clippard (10.61 ERA) has been a disaster, but Zack Littell (0.89 ERA) has been a revelation.

This is all very, very strange. I look forward to baseball resuming for real at some point — and hopefully, for Twins fans, not quite like this.

When it comes to NFL draft grades, Vikings are best (and Packers are worst)

NFL draft grades are like advance weather forecasts: Even if we concede they aren’t always accurate, we tend to pay attention to them more — and perhaps even believe them more — when they tell us something extreme.

So may I present to you: April 27, 2020 — a forecast high temperature in Minneapolis in the low 70s, about 10 degrees warmer than average.

And also: The collective grades from this past weekend’s NFL draft, in which the Vikings were deemed to be the very best — and the rival Packers were deemed to be the absolute worst.

This has been sorted in the most enjoyable way on Twitter by Rene Bugner: A collection of draft grades for all 32 teams from 13 prominent pundits and/or sites, aggregated to give each team a grade point average based on the 13 grades combined.

The Vikings were draft class valedictorians with a 3.92 GPA. Their 15-pick haul, led by No. 22 overall pick WR Justin Jefferson, received at least an A-minus grade from all but one pundit (who gave them a B+).

Perhaps most notably: Pro Football Focus gave the Vikings an A, and ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. — a notoriously tough grader — reserved one of only three grades of A-minus or better for Minnesota.

Looked at another way: Warren Sharp of Sharp Football notes that the Vikings added the most value via their series of swaps for the 2020 and 2021 drafts.

The Vikings had a ton of picks with which to work and seemed to have analytics in mind with a lot of them. Their preparation looked to be strong; whether these guys can actually play, of course, remains to be seen.

And on the other end of the spectrum: The Packers. They drafted like I often do when compiling a fantasy football roster: Forgetting to do any prep work whatsoever, cramming at the last minute, then accidentally picking too many guys at the same position. Wait! I already have a quarterback!

Their cumulative GPA was a dismal 1.31. if this was college, they wouldn’t even be able to stay eligible. That awful mark was compiled by way of a D+, six Ds and one F (from Rotoworld’s Thor Nystrom, who also gave the Vikings an A+).

PFF doled out one of those Ds — the worst grade on the site — and Seth Galina wrote of the first-round shocker pick of QB Jordan Love (whom the Packers traded UP to get): “For (Aaron) Rodgers and a team that went to a conference championship game mere months ago, it’s a total waste of impact in 2020.”

In Sharp’s analysis, the Packers were very low on the draft capital value scale. Only seven teams fared worse.

In truth with all of this, of course, is that two days after the draft ended the grade for every team is more realistically an incomplete. These grades are based on what everyone thinks they know, and if it turns out the consensus was wrong on enough players things will look quite different months and years from now. If Love, for instance, extends the run of QB dominance for the Packers in three years, they largely will be vindicated.

But for now, there is this certainty in these uncertain times: Those who follow these things closely say the Vikings did the best job and the Packers did the worst job in the draft.

Abnormal NFL draft felt normal — and then the Packers lost their minds

If the narrative leading up to the NFL draft was how different it would seem while being conducted remotely, the main takeaway from watching the first round unfold Thursday was just how normal everything actually felt.

Which — dramatic brand-focused voice-over … in these difficult times — feels quite good.

Here are some other thoughts from four hours, 32 picks and a whole lot of screens:

*Of the major United States pro sports leagues, the NFL has been the most dedicated to business as usual in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Whether that was as a result of the NFL’s head down, brand-over-everything-else mentality or more a function of the league being the furthest away in a calendar sense from returning to the field of any of the leagues is debatable.

But it made me wonder how much the league would delve into our shared reality during the draft broadcast. The answer: A lot more than I imagined it would. The first 10 minutes were devoted to a montage with the message of “hope,” narrated by Peyton Manning, as well as a scripted message from Commissioner Roger Goodell.

Images of health care workers and an abandoned-looking Las Vegas — where the draft was supposed to be — dominated the screen. A moment of silence was observed for the lives lost to the disease.

A little of the messaging was a bit overwrought for my tastes, but overall I thought the NFL and the broadcast handled the subject with good taste and with more depth than I would have imagined.

*Among the visual treats of the new format was a flurry of live shots from the homes not only of prospects but of NFL coaches and executives. The decor ran the full gamut, as one would expect.

Bengals coach Zac Taylor, one of the earliest live shots, looked like he was in a small apartment or extended stay hotel. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was on his yacht.

Titans coach Mike Vrabel had a house full of teenagers dressed in costumes. But was one of them inadvertently seen going to the bathroom while on camera? Nope, Vrabel said. He was just sitting on a stool. Yes, he actually addressed it.

Well, at least we can still make fun of Giants GM Dave Gettleman for putting on a mask shortly after New York made its pick, right? Nope, sorry. He explained that quite soberly as well, as a function of being a cancer survivor with a young IT worker in his house.

*For as unusual as those scenes were, though, about 80% of the broadcast felt pretty much normal. It was easy going in to focus on everything that would feel different — no stage, no players in person, no handshakes, no (real) booing of Goodell — but as we discussed on the post-first round Access Vikings podcast, much of a draft is pre-packaged clips, talking head analysis and live shots inside the homes of prospects.

Those were all still in play Thursday, even if the poor pundits had to take turns talking instead of having natural banter (and Louis Riddick seemed to be on an unfortunate 3-second delay).

*Indeed, everything felt quite normal and routine. There were no major discernible technical difficulties. Teams generally didn’t reach for players outside of first-round grades — perhaps a function of having less chances to overthink what they were doing. The Vikings, as they often do, traded down with the second of their two first-round picks. Through 25 slots it was, well, a little boring.

So, I think we need to say thanks to the Packers. On our live Zoom video, they were all we could talk about.

By pretty much losing their minds and trading UP to get QB Jordan Love at No. 26, Green Bay provided the highlight of the night. I don’t know, but if I was running a team coming off a 13-3 season and NFC title game appearance, and I was desperate to add offensive talent for my future Hall of Fame quarterback, I might have drafted a receiver or some other player who could help in 2020.

Sure, Green Bay followed a similar script with great success 15 years ago with Brett Favre and the drafting of Aaron Rodgers. But the chances of it working again are — sorry, holders of worthless stock certificates — not increased by the fact that it worked once. There’s a much better chance that Love will be mediocre.

It was a borderline criminally bad pick, and I say that as someone who wanted (and still wants) the Vikings to add a quarterback with a high-value pick (third round?) in this draft. Kirk Cousins is not Rodgers.

But for entertainment value? It was the best thing that happened all night.

We’re having a live, virtual Star Tribune NFL draft experience. Join us?

It’s doubtful (at best) that the New York-city based rappers from Wreckx-n-Effect could have known, at the time of the release of their seminal 1992 hit “Rump Shaker,” about a future that involved widespread video conferencing – let alone the global health pandemic that turbo-charged its use.

And yet somehow they had the foresight to open that song with this prescient line: “All I wanna do is zoom-a-zoom-zoom-zoom.”

Here in the Star Tribune sports department, we are taking that message to heart and hosting – via Zoom — our own virtual NFL draft live experience Thursday night. We’ll be broadcasting that video live on the Star Tribune Facebook page starting at 8:30 p.m. – around the middle of the first round – and carrying you through the expected Vikings picks at No. 22 and No. 25.

Several Star Tribune writers and editors, along with a handful of fans, will be on the video providing analysis – plus, we hope, a lot of humorous banter — as the NFL draft unfolds.

In other words, it should be a lot like the meetings many of you are in every day while you work from home – except, you know, really fun and good.

We’d love it if you would follow along with us and watch. Send us questions to answer. Rejoice or vent with us in real time as the Vikings make the picks that will either launch them on the road to the Super Bowl or send them spiraling into Les Steckel-esque putridity.

It’s going to be a strange and wonderful draft. Let’s experience it together.

ESPN analyst Todd McShay has coronavirus and will miss NFL draft

An NFL draft being conducted virtually because of the coronavirus pandemic already figured to have a much different look and feel compared to the same event in past years.

But that sentiment — and the impact of the pandemic — came even further into focus Thursday when ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay announced on social media that he has coronavirus and will not be working the draft this year.

“For now I just want to say I miss you all — my teammates at ESPN who have been incredibly supportive, my friends in the league and the fans who have made the draft what it is today,” McShay tweeted.

He added that he expects to recover and praised first responders along with health care workers for their role in treating the disease.

McShay, who has been with ESPN since 2006, was slated to be on the ABC draft broadcast. ESPN and NFL Network are running a simulcast of the same draft content while ABC has a different program. Both start at 7 p.m.