The 2021 NFL Combine invitees have officially been announced. Although the league invited 323 draft prospects to the annual event, this year’s iteration will not be the same televised spectacle that fans have come to expect. In fact, one of the most anticipated events of the pre-draft process has been drastically altered in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
No change will impact the fan experience more than the cancellation of in-person workouts. In other words, this year’s combine will not feature on-field drills or athletic testing. Instead, prospects will perform at third-party pro days hosted by either individual schools or training centers like EXOS. The league has stated that it intends to coordinate with universities to ensure that the athletic testing is as uniform as possible. While prospects are normally able to use their pro days to better times they record at the NFL Combine, this unorthodox offseason does not present the same opportunities.
Although the features of the event have largely been canceled, the 2021 NFL Combine will still offer various behind-the-scenes opportunities for teams to gain crucial information about individual prospects. For example, organizations will be able to conduct remote interviews with the athletes. The NFL hopefuls will also have psychological testing done virtually.
Arguably the most important piece of the annual event in Indianapolis is the medical testing that occurs on-site. The NFL is working with teams’ physicians and trainers to iron out a plan to acquire medical checks on each prospect invited to the 2021 Combine. This will consist of both limited in-person medical evaluations in Indianapolis for a certain number of players and of tests recorded at designated third-party locations for the remaining athletes. The medical check is necessary for a team to feel comfortable drafting any prospect.
This limited version of the NFL Combine will also reduce publicity and general fan attention surrounding the draft. While prospects usually participate in numerous interviews at the annual event, they will not have that chance to promote themselves this year. Instead, schools will be asked to independently arrange media availability for the athletes.
Beyond the absence of on-field testing and media availability, the virtual combine may lead to a reduced number of rumors reported by the media in the weeks before the draft. The Indianapolis event is an opportunity for team officials to meet with their counterparts from other franchises. Naturally, conversations arise which spread news about, for example, a given team’s opinion on a certain player. Similarly, organizations will have less knowledge of which teams are interested in specific players and, consequently, may struggle strategically with trading up and down in the draft order.
The NFL Combine has grown into a fan-centric spectacle. That said, the lesser-appreciated aspects of the event are arguably the most important ones. The league will still allow players to interview with teams and will still arrange for psychological testing. It will even work to organize and consolidate medical evaluations and athletic testing around the country. From a viewer’s perspective, the 2021 NFL Combine has been canceled; however, the restructured event will provide teams with valuable information.
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