(CBS Local)- While most professional sports in the United States have had their seasons drastically affected by the coronavirus pandemic, the NFL has remained largely unscathed. The league, while having to make some changes in the way it conducts business with free agency, has not had to postpone or cancel any activities outside of making next month’s draft closed to the public.
But, just because the Draft will go on as scheduled on the weekend of April 23rd-25th, it doesn’t mean that the event or the participants in it haven’t been changed by the coronavirus pandemic.
“At this point, it is seismically different not being able to have players go visit teams, have teams come in to work guys out everything like that,” said Kyle Dolan, a Certified Contract Advisor for Priority Sports and Entertainment. “One of the major things that I have been noticing is teams having a lot of questions about medical. Whether they can get access to medical records earlier for some of the non-Combine guys. Because they were unable to get a physical for them down at Indy at the Combine.”
With the league listening to CDC recommendations and closing down team facilities, very few, if any, draft prospects got the chance this season to work out in person for teams. Going one step further, the league’s physicians announced Monday that they would not be conducting any more physicals while the nation is continuing to battle the coronavirus pandemic.
So, as Dolan points out, those medical reports from colleges or medical histories become one of the only sources of information for teams that weren’t able to see a prospect at the Combine. Dolan says that teams are still interviewing players via FaceTime or Skype and everybody is trying to figure out the value of video workouts. But, one thing he believes has come out of this in a potentially positive light is that players who may not have gotten a call from scouts or coaches previously may now be getting calls as the league tries to do their best scouting from afar.
“One thing that maybe is a good thing from this frankly is maybe with coaches and scouts being on the road a little bit less, more guys, some guys who, maybe wouldn’t have spoken to as many coaches throughout the process, are speaking to more people at this point because everyone has a little bit more time than usual,” said Dolan.
Jonathan Herbst, an NFLPA Certified Contract advisor and General Counsel for PFS Agency, says he doesn’t know if that’s the case. He believes the lack of pro days and individual workouts will hurt one group of players in particular, small school guys.
“I think what it does in general is it hurts the small school guys who are going to lose their pro days and an opportunity to showcase their skills,” said Herbst. “I have a kid who is a small school guy who didn’t get a Combine invite but he’s a phenomenal athlete and would have done really well at his pro day and would have helped his draft stock. They can rely on the tape but there are always going to be questions when it comes to small school kids and the level of competition. That’s where pro days can really help those kinds of prospects.”
On the flip side, players who were highly productive at Power 5 schools but may not be the best athletic testers are likely, in Herbst’s opinion to be helped by the current situation. Teams will instead rely on their tape which will show high productivity and won’t see any of the potential deficiencies posed by athletic testing.
While video workouts are an available option, both Herbst and Dolan acknowledge that those are really only useful on a case by case basis.
Though workouts and testing numbers and college productivity are a large part of the draft process, the interviews and conversations with teams are equally important. In an environment where teams can conduct interviews over FaceTime, Skype or Zoom, it’s still possible to get some semblance of the same experience.
Football players, largely, are able to compartmentalize things into what they can and can’t control. Dolan and Herbst both say that their guys realize that there is a much bigger picture at play here. The Draft is just a small part in the grand scheme of issues facing the country at the moment. But, for players going through what is a wildly unusual process in a completely different way this season, frustration can set in.
“In other ways, I think it is really frustrating to be feeling like you’re kind of sitting on your hands waiting for people to call instead of being a little more proactive, more in control of what you’re putting out there,” said Dolan.
Frustration isn’t the sole dominion of players going through the process either. NFL teams and GMs have expressed similar feelings as the league pushes forward with the Draft as scheduled.