The NFL is preparing to host its first-ever virtual draft amid the coronavirus pandemic

By Jason Duaine Hahn
April 22, 2020 11:41 AM
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Chase Young and cornerback Jeff Okudah
Credit: Paul Sancya/AP/Shutterstock

With the sports world currently at a standstill due to the coronavirus pandemic, all 32 NFL teams will be selecting the next generation of football stars at the 2020 NFL Draft this week. But this year’s event is going to be like no other before it.

Earlier this month, the league — citing coronavirus safety precautions — canceled plans to host the draft in Las Vegas and instead made the event “fully virtual.” That means teams and draftees won’t meet in person and will have to communicate with each other entirely over the phone or the internet.

Players will also be missing out on the tradition of walking to the stage after being selected to shake Commissioner Roger Goodell’s hand, like so many athletes before them.

“I was pretty upset, I would say, just at the fact that I couldn’t go to Vegas and get called on and stuff like that,” Chase Young, a 21-year-old defensive end from Ohio State who is expected to be a top pick in the draft, tells PEOPLE. “But I mean I’m one of those types who try not to worry and just let things flow themselves, and whatever happens, happens.”

“I’ve really been kind of intrigued with the whole virtual Draft,” says Jeff Okudah, Young’s former teammate on the Buckeyes who is also expected to be selected early in the draft.

“I want to see how it’s going to go,” the 21-year-old tells PEOPLE. “I’ve been just trying to see how everything’s going to unfold, really.”

Jeff Okudah
Cornerback Jeff Okudah
| Credit: Christian Petersen/Getty

The three-day event, taking place from April 23 to 25, will see team officials working from their separate homes and not from their facilities — they’re barred from any group gatherings.

These restrictions also extend to draftees. Players participating in the draft won’t be allowed to have more than 10 people in a room with them, and all will have to remain 6 feet apart, Tom Pelisseo of NFL.com reported.

But the players are trying to make the most of what little they’re able to do. Young says he still may sport the Gucci suit he was originally planning wear to the Las Vegas event.

“I’m still trying to feel out everything,” he says. “I’m going to see if Gucci can get my suit for the draft still. But just little stuff like that, trying to get everything together.”

With much of the country under lockdown because of coronavirus, the duo has had the unique experience of trying to remain NFL-ready without traditional access to gyms or sports facilities. Okudah has been training in his living room and on the top floor of his apartment building. It has helped to “keep him sane” through all this, he says.

Young has been going on runs with his trainer. “We just work best with what we have,” he says.

There’s no telling how long this period may last — as of now, the NFL has not announced plans to postpone its upcoming season in September, but if coronavirus continues to spread into the coming weeks, it remains a possibility.

Chase Young
Chase Young
| Credit: Joe Robbins/Getty

Even with the pomp and circumstance of the draft gone, Okudah and Young say what isn’t missing is their excitement of finally seeing their childhood dreams come true.

“The more I’ve thought about it, it’s just … I’m just really excited to get a chance to be in the NFL,” Okudah says. “It’s one of my dreams, so just to watch it come true, be around people that I love the most. I think you can just look at it like that, I can really see it as a blessing in disguise, for real.”

“I’m still jacked up because my name is going to get called, regardless of anything,” says Young. “So I’m still excited, I’ll be excited with my family and when my name gets called.”

“I remember, when I was young looking at just people getting drafted, the first picks, and I told my mom, ‘I want to be the first pick one day, a first-rounder,’ and now that’s coming to light,” he continues. “It’s just, it’s surreal, man. I can’t … Just like it’s hard to put it in words.”