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Music City brings country flavor to NFL draft

NASHVILLE -- Walk in from the North, at 2nd Ave, and the Wildhorse Saloon is there to greet fans with daily, complimentary line-dancing lessons. Need a Stetson hat or some leather in your wardrobe? From jackets and purses to boots and belts, options are unlimited. Sneak up from the South, and a pair of cigar-store Indians stand guard outside Trail West, where feet of all sizes can find a comfortable pair of authentic cowboy boots. From the West end, where the five-block party begins at Broadway and 5th, country music blasts from Tootsie's Orchid Lounge, which claims country music legends Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Patsy Cline among its earliest customers.

Yes, after roving from New York to Chicago to Philadelphia to Dallas since 2014, the NFL draft has found a much different vibe for 2019 in Nashville. The first round of the draft is set to begin at 8 p.m. ET (7 p.m. local time). The second and third rounds will be held Friday beginning at 7 p.m. ET, and rounds 4-7 will commence Saturday at noon ET. Every selection will be broadcast on NFL Network.

Broadway's neon-lighted signs glow bright when the sun sets, drawing attention to live music erupting from tiny stages in every bar and restaurant on the strip -- the Bootlegger's Inn, the Redneck Riviera -- all befitting a town known as Music City. Tonight, however, all eyes will be on the biggest stage of all -- the massive, temporary stage erected at Broadway and 1st Ave., backed by the Cumberland River, where NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will welcome fans and open the draft by putting the Arizona Cardinals on the clock for the first of 254 picks over the three-day event.

Just South of the stage, fans can traverse the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge to the NFL Draft Experience, a draft-immersive entertainment district all around Nissan Stadium. Presented by Oikos Triple Zero, the free festival will, for the first time, include a concert series featuring local musicians. It will be headlined by Grammy winner Tim McGraw. Other activities at the NFL Draft Experience include autograph sessions with current and former NFL stars, interactive games and clinics, and local food vendors.

Nashville officials expect around 100,000 people per day, with an economic impact similar to the $125 million imprint the draft left on Dallas a year ago. They might get to cheer one of their own as a first-round draft selection, as well. Cornerback Joejuan Williams, a Nashville native, played college ball for his hometown school, Vanderbilt, just two miles up Broadway from the draft stage. NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah's final mock draft projects Williams to the San Diego Chargers with the No. 28 overall pick.

The Arizona Cardinals hold the first selection, and draft experts have the club pairing Oklahoma QB Kyler Murray with an innovative offensive mind in new coach Kliff Kingsbury. Complicating the Kingsbury-Murray narrative is the presence of QB Josh Rosen, who Arizona chose in the first round last year. If speculation that Rosen could be traded before the draft doesn't come to fruition, the Cardinals might go in another direction with the first pick and leave Murray to any number of quarterback-needy clubs awaiting a franchise-changing signal caller.

Late Thursday night, presuming the club doesn't trade out of its slot, the Tennessee Titans will bring local interest in the draft to a fever pitch with the No. 19 overall pick. Coach Mike Vrabel's team has needs on the defensive line, primarily, and could net a special talent in what is considered a bountifully rich draft at that position. NFL Network draft analyst Charles Davis has pegged the Titans for Mississippi State DT Jeffery Simmons. The feeling on Broadway seems to lean toward the defensive line, as well. Over at the Tequila Cowboy, a pack of Titans fans clamored for FSU edge rusher Brian Burns. Across the street at the Whiskey Bent Saloon, they wanted Clemson defensive end Clelin Ferrell.

Whomever the Titans choose, the roar from Broadway after Goodell announces the name might be just loud enough to overtake the decibels pumping from live music venues up and down the street. It's a unique scene for the NFL draft, to be sure.

But with Las Vegas on tap for the 2020, the draft might as well start getting used to something different.

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