NEW YORK (Reuters) – It is a scene every would-be football player dreams of: You hear your name and the crowd goes wild, the cameras flash and the commissioner shakes your hand, welcoming you as the number-one overall pick in the NFL Draft.
For this year’s first selection the scene will be dramatically different. With players, coaches and fans staying in isolation at home, family living rooms across the country will serve as a stage for a virtual draft amid the coronavirus lockdown.
Former wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson said whoever is selected first this week should soak in the moment, no matter what.
“It’s a great experience, enjoy it, don’t take it for granted,” Johnson, who was the first pick in the 1996 NFL Draft when he was selected by the New York Jets, told Reuters.
“You only get a chance to do this one time.”
The three-time Pro Bowler turned ESPN analyst was the last wide receiver to be picked first overall in the NFL Draft.
“It was big time,” Johnson added. “It was a piano off my back – I felt that I had accomplished so much and now all of a sudden the fruits of labor are finally paying off.”
The spotlight nearly eluded Johnson, who said tricky pre-draft negotiations with the Jets left him unsure until the last moment whether the Gang Green would step up.
“I got the phone call and (former Jets owner) Mr. Hess was on the other end and Mr. Hess said to me, ‘I guess it’s time for me to go to the bank,’” said Johnson.
“I didn’t have to wait long. Soon as they were on the clock, they selected.”
While Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Joe Burrow is widely expected to go first to the Cincinnati Bengals this week, Johnson said nothing can be taken for granted.
“Do we really know that he’s going to be the first pick? Or are we assuming?” said Johnson. “Until I see it, I don’t know.”
While this year’s draft will barely resemble past ceremonies, Super Bowl winner Johnson said his advice for prospects sitting at home remains the same.
“This is different, it’s not like when we came out (in person in previous years)… embrace this moment at the house with your family. Take as many pictures as you can. Enjoy it,” he said.
Reporting By Amy Tennery, editing by Pritha Sarkar