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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / LSU wide receiver Justin Jefferson (2) makes a move to get past Georgia defensive back Eric Stokes during the SEC championship game on Dec. 7, 2019, at Atlanta's Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Jefferson is one of five former LSU players both CBS and NBC have projected as first-round draft picks.

Buddy Nix laughed this week when asked what has filled his viewing void during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Gunsmoke!" he exclaimed.

The 80-year-old former University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football coach is about to take a break from the classic Western drama series to fixate on an NFL draft that starts Thursday night and runs through Saturday afternoon. Nix guided the Mocs to the Division I-AA (now Football Championship Subdivision) playoffs during his first season in 1984 and to a win at Boise State in his final season in 1992 before spending the next quarter-century consumed by the NFL draft, serving as the general manager of the Buffalo Bills and the assistant GM of the San Diego Chargers.

This year's draft was supposed to be overflowing with the glitz and glamour of the Las Vegas strip, but the coronavirus outbreak has relegated it to the ESPN studios in Bristol, Connecticut, and with league commissioner Roger Goodell announcing the selections from the basement of his residence in Bronxville, New York.

It's a draft expected to have a throwback feel, and Nix is fine with that.

"It's gotten to be a dog and pony show," Nix said. "Everything is hyped and all about the fans and all about the bucks, but our livelihood depends on making the right choices, so you need to get down to business. That's the way it will be in this draft, which I think is good."

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AP photo by David Duprey / Buddy Nix speaks during a news conference at the Buffalo Bills' headquarters in January 2012 in Orchard Park, N.Y. Nix, a former UTC head coach who worked as the Bills' general manager from 2009 to 2013 after being assistant GM of the San Diego Chagers, still keeps a close eye on football and will be paying attention to the NFL draft that starts Thursday night.

ABC, ESPN and NFL Network are televising this year's draft, with the opening round set for Thursday night at 8, the second and third rounds on Friday night starting at 7, and the fourth through seventh rounds on Saturday starting at noon. ESPN and NFL Network are combining resources to provide a shared telecast.

The 2020 draft comes on the heels of most college football programs having their pro days canceled by the coronavirus outbreak. Arkansas and Auburn were the only Southeastern Conference schools to conduct pro days, and UTC was forced to scrap its showcase for scouts as well.

With so few pro days actually occurring, could that mean even more players from powers such as Alabama, Clemson and LSU — known commodities on national television — get drafted during the next three days?

"I think, when in doubt, teams do that for the most part anyway, but I do see your point," Nix said. "This does hurt the smaller schools, but you have to go to the tape and watch a guy playing the game, because 80% of your decision comes from that."

The SEC has a chance to shatter the record for first-round selections by one league, which was set at 12 by the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2006 and matched by the SEC in 2013 and 2017. The latest CBS mock draft projects 16 first-round selections from the SEC, with the latest NBC mock draft projecting 14.

Both the CBS and NBC projections have five LSU players taken in the first round — quarterback Joe Burrow, edge rusher K'Lavon Chaisson, receiver Justin Jefferson, cornerback Kristian Fulton and linebacker Patrick Queen — and they agree on at least five Alabama players going early — quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, receivers Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs, tackle Jedrick Wills and safety Xavier McKinney. CBS actually projects six Crimson Tide players in the first round, adding cornerback Trevon Diggs.

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AP photo by David Duprey / Cornerback Stephen Gilmore, center, holds up a Buffalo Bills jersey on April 27, 2012, after being selected 10th overall in the NFL draft. He is flanked by Bills general manager Buddy Nix, left, and coach Chan Gailey.

No SEC team ever has produced more than four first-round selections, with Alabama having performed the feat on four occasions in the Nick Saban era, most recently in the 2018 draft with defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick, defensive tackle Da'Ron Payne, linebacker Rashaan Evans and receiver Calvin Ridley. Auburn was the first SEC program to produce four first-round picks, delivering running backs Ronnie Brown and Carnell Williams, cornerback Carlos Rogers and quarterback Jason Campbell in the 2005 draft.

Georgia has produced six first-round picks in the past five drafts and should add to that total with Andrew Thomas and possibly fellow offensive tackle Isaiah Wilson and running back D'Andre Swift. The Tennessee Volunteers have just one first-round pick during the past five drafts — defensive end Derek Barnett went 14th overall to Philadelphia in 2017 — and are not likely to have another this year.

Outside linebacker Darrell Taylor is expected to be the top Vol taken, with his selection likely occurring Friday night.

"I see an explosive edge rusher who has the ability to convert speed to power who can be a finisher," NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah said. "He's someone who can bend at the top of his rush, and he's somebody with tremendous upside at the position. I believe Darrell Taylor has a chance to go in the second round."

Nix experienced his share of high and low draft moments as an NFL executive. He helped the Chargers build a roster that resulted in four AFC West titles in a five-year stretch (2004-08), but his desire to rebuild the Bills as GM in 2010 was not as productive, as a 4-12 first season was followed by consecutive 6-10 records.

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Photo by Patrick Murphy-Racey / Auburn defensive lineman Derrick Brown puts a hand in Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Guarantano's face as he passes during their teams' SEC matchup on Oct. 13, 2018, in Auburn, Ala.

Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown is Nix's favorite player in this draft — "I never saw him take a play off," he said — and it's a draft he believes is filled with risks, beginning with the foregone conclusion of Burrow as the top pick.

"We called players like him one-year wonders, and one of the scouting rules is to be careful of the one-year wonder," Nix said. "You worry about a guy whose senior year was the perfect storm. He had great receivers and a great offensive line and a guy (assistant coach Joe Brady) who knew the passing game. Now, Joe was the bus driver who made it work, but it still makes you have reservations.

"That said, if I'm Cincinnati, I'm still taking him."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.

 

NFL DRAFT

April 23-25

Thursday’s picks order; rounds 2-3 Friday; rounds 4-7 Saturday

1. Cincinnati Bengals

2. Washington Redskins

3. Detroit Lions

4. New York Giants

5. Miami Dolphins

6. Los Angeles Chargers

7. Carolina Panthers

8. Arizona Cardinals

9. Jacksonville Jaguars

10. Cleveland Browns

11. New York Jets

12. Las Vegas Raiders

13. San Francisco 49ers (from Indianapolis Colts)

14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

15. Denver Broncos

16. Atlanta Falcons

17. Dallas Cowboys

18. Miami Dolphins (from Pittsburgh Steelers)

19. Las Vegas Raiders (from Chicago Bears)

20. Jacksonville Jaguars (from Los Angeles Rams)

21. Philadelphia Eagles

22. Minnesota Vikings (from Buffalo Bills)

23. New England Patriots

24. New Orleans Saints

25. Minnesota Vikings

26. Miami Dolphins (from Houston Texans)

27. Seattle Seahawks

28. Baltimore Ravens

29. Tennessee Titans

30. Green Bay Packers

31. San Francisco 49ers

32. Kansas City Chiefs

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