GREEN BAY, Wis. – It won’t show up with Thursday’s first round. Nor will it be apparent with the second and third rounds on Friday. But this is an incredibly thin draft class.
As noted by The Defector’s Kalyn Kahler, “With the NCAA granting athletes an extra year of eligibility after a COVID-warped season, a large number of players are returning to school, and the pool of prospects attempting to go pro is significantly smaller than in standard years.” The number of prospects who signed with an agent, Kahler reported, went from 1,839 last year to 657 this year.
Opinion is divided on the real-world implications of conducting a seven-round draft.
As one scout told Packer Central: “Your 1 through 259 is going to be normal. I don’t see any difference than what you’d normally have. What you do have is a small group of free agents that teams are going to be battling over, so that part will change. But, 1 through 259, I don’t see any difference.”
Added another: “I think Day 3 is where it drops off bad. By Round 5, it will start to really drop and Round 6-7 will be depleted. Free agents are going to be the worst. More rejects will get a shot than ever.”
For Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst’s part, he said the draft class is fine but undrafted free agency will be short on numbers. He’s been proactive in that regard with 72 players on the roster. With 10 draft picks, they could be at 82 by Saturday evening. The offseason maximum is 90, so he'd have room to add only eight players after the draft.
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“It will be interesting going into next year to see how that changes next year’s draft and if that’s significantly larger,” he said.
In theory, the 2022 draft class should be overflowing with talent. That could affect strategy on Saturday.
"I could see some people trying to acquire 2022 picks just because they feel like maybe their board isn’t as strong, but I don’t think that will be us," Gutekunst said. "I think the way we look right now, with the numbers, we kind of feel like our board is significant strong at the top as well through the bottom, so we feel pretty good about it."
In an unrelated note revolving around COVID, the NFL canceled this year’s Scouting Combine. The initial goal for the Combine was to get the top prospects in one place for medical checks. Without the Combine, the league invited about 150 players to Indianapolis for medical checks. According to the Boston Globe, that group was split between the top prospects and those with medical concerns.
With the draft days away, and then hours away, that information was still trickling into teams.
“We’re still getting the same quality of information but we’re just getting it later,” one executive said. “With the medical, we’re still getting updates now. I got a couple this morning, got a couple last night. The whole thing is just really slow. Even when they sent out the draft room protocol, basically, the day they sent it out would have been the last day for you to get your first shot so you’d get your second shot in time to be approved. It’s crazy. It was like, thanks for giving us the lead time. Appreciate that. So, we don’t expect anything on time when it comes to the NFL.”