How The Coronavirus Will Affect the NFL Draft

Will Ragatz

With COVID-19 unfortunately showing no signs of slowing down in the United States, everything in the sports world will continue to be affected for the foreseeable future. The one major event that's proceeding on time is the NFL Draft, but this won't be a draft like any we've ever seen.

Sports Illustrated is providing constant coverage of this pandemic and what it means for sports. In his MMQB column from Monday, SI's Albert Breer covered just about every aspect of what the coronavirus will do to this year's draft process, based on his conversations with numerous teams around the league.

One of the biggest things that's impacted is the "war room." Whereas teams usually have all of their front office personnel, scouts, and coaches in one room both on draft day and leading up to the draft, everything has to be done over video conference this year. Teams are going to have to rely more heavily than usual on their scouts who were on the road last fall, watching players up close and building relationships.

“Now, everyone will be there on video conference,” said one AFC GM. “We can’t sit in my draft room, me and my scouts, and watch Joe Burrow together. We may have some debate, and someone might say, ‘Hey, go watch this kid against Clemson and tell me he can’t do X or Y or Z. Or debate a guy, find a common opponent and settle it. Or with Senior Bowl guys, say, ‘Well, let’s watch them against same opponents’ and watch that right tackle against these two D-ends.

“It’s all going to have be independent film work, then discussing it.”

That, of course, is less efficient (though some believe it’ll make the opinions of scouts less biased), and may make it harder to get through as many guys as a team normally would with this sort of discussion. And that’s why teams are working through solutions, like projecting game tape into video conference, or having smaller breakout video conferences incorporating tape with individual area scouts and position coaches.

Teams are no longer bringing in players for draft visits, so those meetings are happening over Zoom, which isn't quite the same.

The early returns? Well, a team can get a pretty good idea of a player’s mental aptitude and ability to learn over the technology. What’s harder is reading body language and presence. As one veteran scout said, “There’s an instinct you have ... you’re gonna miss that now.”

The most important issue created by this is that teams don't have the same idea of a player's medical situation as they otherwise would. They can't bring players in for physicals, so they have to rely on the best information they can get.

“If you want to know how an ACL repair is going, you want your own doctors to put hands on him,” said the second NFC exec. “And we’re still working through that, to be honest, how to truly approach that. Maybe there’s enough information where your doctor can make his best estimate. And maybe if it’s a guy that has had multiple surgeries, you might shy away.”

As for the draft itself, the inability to have all of the key personnel together in one place could have a tangible effect on the way things play out. There's so much communication happening on draft day, and that's going to become much more difficult. As a result, it's possible trades will be less frequent.

For Breer's full story, which includes a list of some notable prospects hurt most by the current situation, notes on how a few NFL players are handling things, and so much more, click here.

SI's Jenny Vrentas also has some important notes about the draft and the upcoming season in her latest story.

The NFL had multiple conference calls on Monday and Tuesday that replaced its usual league meetings, which were supposed to take place in Florida this week. Throughout those calls, the NFL has remained steadfast in its belief that it will have a normal season this fall.

The league has also made clear some of its plans for the draft, which will take place virtually from April 23rd through 25th instead of in Las Vegas as planned.

The NFL plans to have a hub from where commissioner Roger Goodell will make the pick announcements, and video connections to all 32 clubs as well as the homes of about 50 top prospects. Each group must have 10 people or fewer, each spaced six feet apart, observing rules such as hand-washing and keeping away anyone with a fever or coronavirus symptoms. Vincent said they are also exploring giving clubs a one- or two-minute extension on the clock to make trades.

To read Vrentas's full story, click here.

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