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Sources: NFL Scouting Combine to be Drastically Altered Due to COVID-19

The NFL is working toward finalizing a plan for the 2021 scouting combine, and it won’t look like any combine has before.

In fact, it likely won’t resemble the combine at all. Or even be centralized in Indy.

League officials—with medical people, team personnel and National Football Scouting president Jeff Foster on the line—held a call Friday to discuss again how to proceed with the run-up to the 2021 NFL draft. According to well-placed sources, the idea of having the combine in Indianapolis in any sort of traditional manner on time is dead, and the overwhelming likelihood is that the performance and medical components are split up.

Along those lines, a plan for replacing the traditional combine setup with a series of events to get teams the information they need on prospects began to come into focus this week. Among the ideas discussed:

• Concepts centered on regionalized medical checks, with teams allowed to send one or two people (either doctors or trainers) each to attend. Teams made clear to the NFL that the gathering of medical information was the one piece of the combine that was most vital and hardest for them to replicate independently. The likelihood now is the NFL will have the checks at hospitals in places where large numbers of players are doing combine prep—like Florida, California, Arizona and Texas (85 percent of prospects are working out in those four states)—to cut down on players’ travel. Also worth noting: many team docs traveling to those sites will have been vaccinated.

• The NFL Physicians Society and the Pro Football Athletic Trainers Society have been working on the safest format for performing the four phases of medical evaluation: Interview and history gathering; the internal medical exam; the orthopedic exam; and lab and x-ray work. The first two phases could be pulled off virtually via Teleheath.

• More formalized pro days to replace the lost workouts. This would mean either team or league officials conducting drills and testing on campus, with everything standardized and information dispersed as it would be at the combine.

• Zoom interviews. This shouldn’t be too much of an adjustment—starting in mid-March of last year and going all the way up to the 2020 NFL draft, this is how business was done. So much as teams might lose in face-to-face interactions, it’s not something that’s foreign to them.

The NFL has more calls planned for next week to tweak and finish the plan. None of this, to be clear, is set in stone yet. But with infection rates persisting across the country, the league has been firm this week in communicating that minimizing the athletes’ travel will be a priority as long as the COVID conditions in the U.S. remain what they are.

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Another contingency discussed has been just moving the combine to April (the NCAA tournament bubble takes much of March Madness off the table). But that would likely necessitate moving the draft back, and the league has shown no appetite for doing that.

NFL draft season really gets going a week from now, when teams begin to descend on Mobile, Ala. for the Senior Bowl. As we detailed in this week’s MAQB, that event will be scaled down—it’s limited to 10 officials attending per team—but figures to be much closer to what we’re used to seeing than the combine will be.