Vegas provides ‘incredible canvas’ for a different NFL draft

Two men sit side by side holding a street sign reading "Draft Drive"
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, left, and Las Vegas Raiders owner Mark Davis hold a ceremonial Draft Drive street sign on Thursday in Las Vegas.
(Gregory Payan / Associated Press)

This is no ordinary NFL draft.

The league is getting into the full Vegas vibe and considers this a dry run for the Super Bowl here in early 2024.

What’s more, commissioner Roger Goodell sees this as the first major sporting event that represents a return to normalcy, even as vestiges of the COVID-19 pandemic linger.


“I think this is going to be the biggest coming-out party in sports,” Goodell told the Los Angeles Times. “I really believe people are going to come together in a way we haven’t seen in a while. You saw it at the Super Bowl, but I think this is going to be bigger as far as the total number of people over the three days.”

Peter O’Reilly, who oversees major events for the NFL, said Las Vegas provides “an incredible canvas” to make this draft different.

The NFL’s next generation of stars took the stage in Las Vegas on Thursday. Here’s a rundown of every pick from the first round of the 2022 NFL draft.

April 28, 2022

The NFL draft will feature 70-plus Vegas residency acts, including a performance by illusionist Criss Angel in a straitjacket during the second night.

“You want to get the core right, get the prospect experience right. But then this is an awesome oasis — weird to say in Vegas — in the offseason where you can create a chance for fans to come together and connect,” said O’Reilly, the league’s executive vice president of club business and league events.

The Las Vegas draft was originally scheduled for 2020 but was scrubbed because of the pandemic and replaced by a virtual version that was a surprising and huge success. It turned out that viewers loved getting a peek inside the homes of NFL coaches, executives and prospects — including the nerve center in Goodell’s basement. The league has kept elements of that format for this year’s in-person draft.

Reporters who cover their teams on a daily basis predict how the first round of the 2022 NFL draft will unfold in The Times’ beat writers’ mock draft.

April 25, 2022

For instance, in addition to the 20 prospects attending the draft, the league sent equipment to 21 more so they could stream their reactions from their homes.


“You may never, hopefully never, get that magic of GMs and coaches in their homes with, you know, kids and dogs again,” O’Reilly said of last year’s show. “But you take the humanity of that, the genuine moments, and you think about, how do you bring that to life?”

Special sauce

Defensive back Ahmad Gardner stands on the field wearing a large necklace featuring his nickname, Sauce
Defensive back Ahmad Gardner stands on the field during Cincinnati’s pro day on March 24.
(Aaron Doster / Associated Press)

One of the big personalities in this draft class is Cincinnati cornerback Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, who got his nickname from one of his coaches in youth sports. Upon watching Gardner in a game, the coach called him “A1 Sauce Sweet Feet Gardner,” which the player shortened to Sauce.

That moniker dangled from a necklace he wore during media availability this week, a glittering pendant as big as a Hershey bar. He talked about his friendship with, and admiration for, Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey.

“Jalen Ramsey, that’s the guy,” Gardner said. “We chop it up a lot. His relationship with God is very strong. That’s why we were able to connect fast. I can relate to him, he can relate to me.”

Gardner also said he can relate to Ramsey’s attitude on the field.

“He’s confident but humble, man,” he said. “A lot of people think he’s cocky, but playing cornerback you can’t be like, ‘He’s going to win some and I’m going to win some.’ You’ve got to go out there like, ‘I’m going to dominate this guy,’ even if that’s not the outcome. I feel like that’s where we click.”