With the MLB, NBA and NHL already suspending play due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the NFL seemed like the only giant left standing. But with health concerns at an all-time high, the NFL will also have to deal with the fallout of the worldwide concern.
Unfortunately, the group most affected by the turmoil will be the prospects trying to make it to the NFL. With the 2020 NFL draft just a month away, the next few weeks represent a critical time for players to impress scouts, coaches and team executives. But with the sports world coming to a halt, the draft process will look a lot different this year.
2020 NFL draft still set for April despite coronavirus concerns
The NCAA officially cancelled March Madness on Thursday. And yet, the NFL still hasn’t made a formal announcement to make any changes to the 2020 NFL draft in Las Vegas. Raiders owner Mark Davis did provide some insight into the collaborative effort between the league, the players and the other entities involved. Still, no changes have been made as of Thursday afternoon.
The Vegas draft represented a stark departure from other venues. The NFL reportedly expected approximately 600,000 people to attend the weekend event that kicks off with the first round on April 23. Plans for the draft included a stage that would sit on the Fountains at Bellagio as well as players being brought to the stage in boats.
The draft is, at its core, is an essential business meeting to select college-level players. Although it would be a disappointment to the thousands of fans planning to attend the festivities in Las Vegas, as a purely operational matter, it can definitely be conducted without fans. By doing it at the NFL Network, it can still be a media event.
NFL teams have cancelled travel for scouts and coaches
March madness for NFL scouts doesn’t involve a basketball. Rather, it often means dozens of days on the road visiting college campuses to attend pro days and meet with prospects. However, those important face-to-face meetings won’t be possible this draft season due to the coronavirus travel restrictions.
Many NFL teams suspended travel for coaches and scouts during this critical juncture. This unprecedented action should open some eyes to just how serious the situation has become. Eliminating travel altogether could have serious trickle-down effects on the scouting process.
According to Dane Brugler of The Athletic, “With well over 100 pro days still on the schedule, I’m told that most of those upcoming workouts will be postponed or canceled while others will be videoed and sent to NFL teams, along with relevant testing numbers.”
That resolution certainly can happen thanks to technology, but old-school scouts and coaches may not be too pleased at not being able to meet with potential draftees ahead of April.
NFL draft prospects may not have chance to visit with teams
The NFL isn’t the only entity putting a stop to draft-related travel. In fact, NFL agent Mike McCartney advised his clients to refrain from traveling to make pre-draft visits with NFL teams.
Relying on years of film and testing numbers from the combine may work for more established prospects. However, small-school players or those who did not receive a combine invite may not be so lucky. With less data available and no opportunity to physically meet, that could have damaging effects during the draft.
According to Brugler, teams have already begun preparations to conduct interviews via Skype or FaceTime. As anyone who has tried online dating knows, talking through a screen differs greatly from meeting in person. How much can team executives glean from a Skype call or FaceTime session? Can they truly assess a player’s character or ability to think under pressure? And what about a player’s interest in touring the facilities and meeting potential teammates?
Scouting and drafting are the backbone of building a successful franchise. We will see just how much that team-building process changes as the league continues to weigh its options in dealing with the coronavirus and the 2020 NFL draft.