As the sporting world is halted because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the NFL has been the lone active league.
The offseason has mostly gone on as planned, with the only delays coming to the franchise tag period as the owners and NFLPA negotiated a new collective bargaining agreement. Free agency is underway despite the challenges related to players getting physical examinations with team facilities shut down across the league.
On Thursday, Roger Goodell announced that the 2020 NFL draft will proceed as planned from April 23-25 despite pushback from the league’s general manager subcommittee. That group reportedly voted to recommend that Goodell delay the event.
The issue that general managers are grappling with is the lack of verifiable information on many draft prospects. The changes to the pre-draft process due to public health concerns over the coronavirus have left a gap in typical pre-draft information for many teams.
Pro days, workouts and top-30 visits have been canceled, and those are big pieces in the draft puzzle. Over 500 players are eligible for the 2020 NFL draft, but only 337 of those players were invited to the Scouting Combine. That means teams won’t have verified measurements on about a third of draft-eligible players. You know the guy who is listed at 6 feet 1 by his team and measured in at 5-11? Unless that player was at the combine, any team that picked him likely wouldn’t know about that discrepancy until he shows up at the team facilities.
For players with a prior medical history, many of them won’t have pre-draft examinations with team doctors. That means teams could draft a player, get him in the building and find out that he needs surgery or has an underlying medical condition that would have dropped him from their draft boards.
Before you get too concerned about the Kansas City Chiefs, they might be the one team impacted the least. The natural response to the issues at hand will be that teams prioritize players who attended the combine — the players that teams have the most verified information on. Right now, the Chiefs are tied among the teams with the fewest picks in the draft. Brett Veach and his staff only have five draft picks, and the last one is No. 177 in the fifth round. They won’t have to worry about a lack of information regarding the prospects they select, because they don’t have any late Day 3 picks. That is where most of the players who didn’t get invited to the combine end up being selected.
This still could impact the undrafted free agents that sign with the team, but it likely won’t hurt Kansas City in the draft. You might even say that their lack of draft capital, specifically in the late rounds, gives them an advantage. Really, this gives the scouts who work under Brett Veach a chance to shine. The information that they gather throughout the year will be valued more than in past years. It could be a make-or-break moment for some of them.
In the end, the commissioner might be doing a disservice to both the teams and many players who have a dream of reaching the NFL, but he must make the decision amid the uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus pandemic. In his letter announcing that the draft would continue as planned, Goodell explained that “there is no assurance that we can select a different date and be confident that conditions will be significantly more favorable than they are today.”
For better or worse, the show will go on, and NFL teams will be forced to adjust their strategies accordingly.