All-star games could play unprecedented role in 2021 NFL draft evaluation

Rob Rang

As interest in the NFL draft has exploded over the past 20 years, all-star games like the Senior Bowl, East-West Shrine Game, NFLPA Collegiate Bowl and others over the years have understandably also surged.

In the COVID-19 era, however, with the Big Ten, Pac-12 and other conferences delaying or outright canceling their seasons, the opportunities provided to players through these all-star games could play that much more crucial of a role in the evaluation process.

Players know that, of course, and given the disappointment so many are feeling with the season compromised, many will likely jump at the opportunity to compete. 

Further, an invitation-only all-star game does not have the same obligations to players that their university does. 

That is because unlike individual colleges, all-star games traditionally require players to sign an injury waiver just to participate.

As such, the liability concerns related to COVID-19 may not apply to these games, allowing them to potentially take place even if the rest of college football were to shut down.

Scouts, of course, would welcome the opportunity to evaluate the players in person – not just on the field but in meetings, as well. The background information that is so critical to teams determining a true profile for each player is being lost for many this year with most colleges across the country simply not allowing outsiders into their facilities.

And unlike in recent years – where many of the top prospects initially accept their invitation to attend the game, only to drop out a week or two before to avoid risking their lofty status – the lack of games of played this fall could have even elite talents latching onto whatever opportunities they can to show off their talents.

That was the case when I began attending the Senior Bowl way back at the beginning of the century when David Carr (Fresno State) and Carson Palmer (Southern Cal) earned their eventual No. 1 overall selections by enjoying spectacular weeks at the prestigious all-star game held every year in Mobile, Ala. 

Daniel Jeremiah of The NFL Network recently opined that given the COVID-19 fallout, the 2021 Scouting Combine could be more important than any in league history.

That may very well be the case.

As a former NFL scout, himself, he knows as well as anyone that for all measurements, medical testing and interviews which take place each year at the Combine, actual football is the most trusted evaluative tool. 

That is why the Senior Bowl and similar all-star games would correspondingly jump in value and interest this year - especially for those players unlikely to have any other opportunities to play this season. 

In fact, for many, players competing in this setting might be every bit as important or more than working out at the Combine or whatever Pro Day opportunities we may see prior to the 2021 draft. 

What goes without saying, of course, is the logistical difficulties in pulling off an all-star game in the midst of a pandemic. 

Forgive me for mixing my sports analogies but in the case of this year's all-star games...

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