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Tom Oates: Predicting how NFL draft's first round could play out proves challenging as event moves online
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Tom Oates: Predicting how NFL draft's first round could play out proves challenging as event moves online

From the Everything you need to know for the 2020 NFL Draft series
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Welcome to the NFL's first virtual draft.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the annual draft will be conducted in cyberspace. General managers will be in their homes, surrounded not by scouts and coaches but by laptops. Commissioner Roger Goodell will be calling out picks not from Las Vegas but from his den.

The social measures adopted to limit the pandemic have already affected the draft. Everything shut down shortly after the scouting combine in late February, cutting off teams from bringing in prospective draftees for interviews or sending their scouts on fact-finding missions to college pro days.

No one knows what will happen, but the shortage of information and lack of face-to-face communication might make the draft more interesting and volatile than ever. That's because scouts, among the world's biggest gossips, meet at pro days throughout March and April and compare notes, leading to a groupthink that spreads throughout the league. More than usual, teams will be on their own this year.

The Green Bay Packers enter the draft with 10 picks and more pressing needs than a 13-3 team that reached the NFC title game should have. General manager Brian Gutekunst needs immediate help at wide receiver, offensive line, defensive line and inside linebacker, with running back, tight end, cornerback and quarterback also potential targets.

Fortunately for Gutekunst, the draft is strong in areas — wide receiver and offensive tackle — where the Packers have the greatest need. Gutekunst likes to trade around and work the draft board, so it'll be interesting to see how the Packers handle the virtual draft and the communication issues it presents.

Without further ado, here is one prediction for the first round:

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Tom Oates has been part of the Wisconsin State Journal sports department since 1980 and became its editorial voice in 1996, traversing the state and country to bring readers a Madison perspective on the biggest sports stories of the day.

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