No NFL combine, no problems?

Quin Norris, Sports Editor

With the coronavirus pandemic continuing to rage on in the United States, the NFL combine this year will not be held as the outlook for this year is to have an extra-long list of pro-days on college campuses around the country. In a normal year pro days are structured as a way for players to prepare themselves for the combine for star players while being a sort of combine for those who were not invited. However, there are some serious issues with only having pro days for the upcoming NFL Draft. This will create a new interesting situation to the one the league had last year when they had to cancel all pro days while holding on to the combine. 

When asked about it general manager of the Cleveland Browns stated, “It presented us with a new challenge we were not used to. Having extra tape on a player from their own personal pro days often can help us with making decisions on players we are struggling to choose between after meeting them at the combine.”  

The largest question going into this is how do NFL general managers judge the numbers these athletes are putting up. To better explain my point, imagine this, you are being asked to pick which employee you want to hire. In a normal year you would invite a list of potential hires to an off-campus location to have them compete in a series of trials to get numbers on them while also having everyone in one spot to conduct interviews. However, now these potential employees will do the same trials but they will be conducted by friends and mentors of each individual. Now you tell me which situation you would be more comfortable in making the best decision for your company. The potential for fudged numbers is the largest concern for the managers of the NFL teams across the country. Going into the draft this can create a situation where players get drafted all over the board creating a lot of early round draft busts this season. 

Another potential issue from the lack of a combine is the communication between NFL offices and the players that they are looking to draft. Most of the face to face interviews that are done at the combine will now be pushed to online Zoom calls where you lose the presence of a player in a room. That could make it harder to find a player who fits the personality of a team’s locker room. 

The scariest potential downside to not having the combine is for players who did not play for a major FBS school such as Alabama, Ohio State, or Oklahoma. The guys like UNA’s own KJ Smith will not have the ability to show out at the combine alongside players from other well-known programs to build his own reputation. Now his numbers will have to be found in a pile of names from pro days around the country while not having access to the same facilities as a school like Georgia, Oregon, or Clemson. 

However, not every aspect of this change is a negative. First and foremost, this is arguably the best situation to handle the coronavirus. The benefits of keeping these players on their college campuses where they live and not traveling across country to go to the combine is easily the best way to keep them from spreading potential viruses all across the country. 

Not only is this the best situation for the coronavirus prevention but it is also arguably better for the players as they do not have to travel to a foreign location to perform but instead get to try and perform around friends and mentors at a location where they have been for three to five years in most cases. 

The final major positive for the new approach being used this season is that in some cases these players will have access to better equipment at their own campus than the equipment they would be able to use at the combine. It is no secret that players who go to large programs in college football often have better facilities than the facilities they get to use when they get to the NFL. 

Overall, the move to a pro day only model for the 2021 draft is the correct move for the NFL to make. I do not believe that this decision will be detrimental to the long-term quality of the league, especially given that this will only happen for this season. However, there is a large potential for missed prospects in the upcoming draft. 

My hope as a fan of the NFL is that the draft is hopefully a learning process for offices around the league to better develop their approach to drafting talent going forward because as we all know tough challenges breed success.