Even though NFL draft will be different, Cardinals’ Justin Pugh suggests it might be better

Arizona Cardinals offensive guard Justin Pugh was at home with family and friends when he was drafted by the New York Giants. And he’s glad he was. (Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

PHOENIX – Arizona Cardinals offensive lineman Justin Pugh did not spend his draft day in the green room at Radio City Music Hall. He did not bro-hug the commissioner or have a jersey and hat presented to him on national television.

Despite being drafted 19th overall by the New York Giants in 2013, Pugh was not invited to the draft. Rather, he spent the day in his hometown surrounded by friends and family.

But Pugh knows from first-hand experience that it can be better this way.

“All these guys, if you hear this, get to enjoy that time with your family, the ones that got you there,” Pugh said during a recent Zoom press conference. “I know it’s not going to be a whole big party, but the ones who meant the most to you and knew you before you were that NFL-projected guy.”

The 2020 NFL Draft will begin on Thursday, but this year’s prospects will not experience the usual red-carpet extravaganza. Instead, their experience will resemble the one had by the former Syracuse star, who relishes the memory of being with family and friends.

“Spend that time with them in your house,” Pugh said. “Cherish that moment and get ready to go to work from there. That’s something I’ll never forget, being with my loved ones closest to me on that draft day.”

Saquon Barkley, selected second overall in the 2018 draft, echoed Pugh’s sentiments in an interview with Bleacher Report.

“If I could do it again, I probably wouldn’t have gone to the draft,” Barkley said. “That memory of walking on the stage and getting a jersey is something that you never forget and something like that’s always gonna stick with me.

“But a lot of people don’t know the behind the scenes. Like, I had to do two or three hours of media right after I got drafted. I missed my own draft party. Jim Brown came to my draft party, and like, I called him when he was leaving my draft party, so I didn’t really get to spend as much time as I would’ve liked to with my loved ones.”

Video by Sean Rice/Cronkite News

Players enjoying the draft from their homes is just one of the out-of-the-ordinary aspects of this year’s draft.

Roger Goodell will not come out to a smattering of boos. Instead, he is planning to announce picks from his basement. The NFL is also sending technology kits equipped with cameras to 58 prospects with the goal of creating a virtual green room.

Technology glitches are bound to happen, but setting up cameras in their living rooms will be far from the biggest challenge facing prospects in the lead-up to the draft.

Although the NFL Combine took place before league activities shut down, pro days have been canceled.

For first-round prospects, the pre-draft routine is somewhat of a formality. But for prospects who are projected to go in the later rounds, the pre-draft process is vital to where they wind up on draft day.

“I definitely empathize with them,” Cardinals linebacker Jordan Hicks said in a Zoom press conference. “I don’t necessarily know what advice I would give to somebody going through that situation because for a lot of guys pro-day is the only shot that they have to get in front of these scouts.”

Hicks, who was a third-round pick by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2015, had his college career at the University of Texas hindered by injuries, so for him the pre-draft process was vital in determining his draft position.

“That’s hard, man. I remember being a rookie, going through the process,” Hicks said. “All you want to do is impress, show us you can do it, and to have those opportunities taken away is tough.”

Teams will not be allowed to host prospects at their team facilities. Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury acknowledged that the pre-draft process will involve a lot of text messages, phone calls and webcam conversations. He added that a lot of players are more comfortable on a Facetime call than they would be in person.

Kingsbury said that teams are still going through most of the same prep work they normally do, despite the lack of pre-draft workouts.

“There will be adjustments to be made, but we’ll be able to call and text and for the most part, we’re at our houses watching film and doing the same draft prep we do in our office, just without the human interaction,” Kingsbury said during a Zoom press conference.

In fact, Kingsbury acknowledged the possibility that the change in setting could streamline the process of making a decision and “have us go with our first instinct more.”

Nonetheless, Kingsbury said that he still expects to overthink the decision because “we always tend to do that.”

Sports Reporter, Phoenix