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Need a one-stop shop to catch up on the top sports stories big and small? Time Out For Sports airs Mondays on WFAE's "All Things Considered" and has what you need to know about everything from Charlotte-area high school football highlights to the latest updates on the Carolina Panthers.

Time Out For Sports: The NFL Draft Is Upon Us

Football, Alabama
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It’s the NFL’s draft week, when an elite group of college football players will be selected by one of the league’s 32 teams. Locally, folks will be looking to see how if the Carolina Panthers can beef up the team’s defense as they have said they want to do. People are also wondering about the fate of three UNC Charlotte 49ers who are among the prospects, and how this year’s draft will be different in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

Langston Wertz Jr., a longtime sportswriter for the Charlotte Observer, joins us to talk about these and other sports questions.

Gwendolyn Glenn: Hi, Langston.

Langston Wertz: Hi, Gwen. How are you?

Glenn: I’m fine. It’s a big week for the NFL, and fans are really excited, I’m sure?

Wertz: Absolutely. You have the NFL draft this week and in a time when there’s no live sports on television, it’s going to do bigger numbers than it normally does, and it normally does quite huge numbers. 

Langston Wertz Jr, a longtime sportswriter for the Charlotte Observer.
Credit Langston Wertz
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Langston Wertz Jr, a longtime sportswriter for the Charlotte Observer.

Glenn: And I’m hearing that the Carolina Panthers are expected to trade down in the draft as one part of their strategy. Explain that. And is that a good or bad thing?

Wertz: It could be good. The Panthers have so many needs on defense, so if you trade down, theoretically you’re going to get more draft picks, but right now nobody really knows. 

Glenn: What else is in their strategy for the draft, and what key positions are they looking to fill? And who do you think they will take? 

Wertz: Their entire defensive line is gone. Luke Kuechly, linebacker, retired. Thomas Davis, their other star linebacker, is gone. Who will the Panthers take this year? Right now they’re being tied to Auburn defensive lineman Derek Brown. He's a 6’6, 315 pounder. He's rated high as the third-best overall talent in the draft, so if the Panthers were to trade down, they might look at trying to go back, you know, two or three picks maybe, and grabbing a guy like Isaiah Simmons out of Clemson. More of a Thomas Davis, kind of a hybrid type of player who can play multiple positions. 

Glenn: Now, there are some UNC Charlotte 49ers people have been talking about hoping to get picked in the draft. Tell us about them.

Wertz: Well, there are three of them that people think have a shot. There's running back Benny LeMay, there’s defensive end Alex Highsmith and offensive lineman Cameron Clark. I can tell you, Gwen, ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr., he really likes Highsmith. He likes Clark, the offensive lineman. He thinks he can earn a spot. He’ll probably be a guy who gets drafted on Saturday. If I was guessing, I would say Highsmith goes maybe even in the second round. And I think Clark goes and maybe LeMay gets into free agency. 

Glenn: And this is all going to be so different where we're used to seeing them there with their families. And this is all going to be virtual?

Wertz: Yeah, it’s all virtual. They'll have a host, I guess, somewhere, and then they'll go to some of the guys' homes and maybe in all the rounds, actually. It’s definitely going to be different. But I think, you know, more kids in the later rounds may get featured than what we normally see. 

Glenn: Moving on to the NBA. They’re trying something new that may allow high schoolers to skip college and get paid six figures? What’s that about?

Wertz: It's called the G-League Developmental Program, similar to the European Developmental League that has produced so many great European pros. There's a kid named Jalen Green out of California at 18 years old being compared to Kobe Bryant at the same age. And Green was signed to a reported $500,000 deal to play in this G-League developmental program. He'll be training with pros and against pros, learning how to get used to the pro-environment. There's another kid out of Raleigh named Isaiah Todd who also signed a contract with that G-League development program. Isaiah Todd turned down a Michigan scholarship offer to do so. And for kids who’s only going to go to college for a semester and a half? This is probably not a bad thing.

Glenn: Langston, The Michael Jordan series on ESPN, "The Last Dance," is finally out there. It was highly anticipated, especially with the lack of live sports due to the pandemic, and you were looking forward to it as well. Is it living up to the hype?

Wertz: I was reading people saying like how can you make 10 hours of programing off of one season of basketball? You know, the general consensus on social media last night was 10 hours wasn't enough. I think America, at least the people that are interested in this thing, got what they wanted. It was well done. There was a lot of controversy about how they were jumping around on the timeline. It didn't bother me at all. It had some dramatic effect. And we learned some things that we didn't know. At least I didn't know. Like when Jordan broke his foot in his second year in the league, he actually went back to Chapel Hill and was playing three-on-three or five-on-five basketball way before he was supposed to be doing it. At a time when he could have reinjured his foot, maybe end his career. And the Bulls didn’t even know it.

Glenn: Well, let’s shift gears. Some states may begin loosening stay-at-home orders. How do you think this will affect sports or will it?

Wertz: In Charlotte, they're actually talking about trying to hold the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in May with no fans. I think if sports come back that's what you're going to see in our state, South Carolina and many other states. They may allow sports to come back just with low or few fans. I think there's definitely a push to bring sports back. So hopefully in South Carolina and North Carolina, everywhere else, we have some form of sports back within the next two or three months.