Pro Day cancellations force changes to NFL draft process

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Bill Polian simplified the NFL writing process years ago.

He studied cinema, relied on medical experts, checked the numbers and interviewed the players.

With the wave of professional days canceled due to the new coronavirus, the director of the Hall of Fame who has built several Super Bowl teams during his 32-year career believes that it is time to return to his approach of turning back .

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“Really everything you need, and this is especially true in times like today, you need the game film, the physical exam, which can be hard to get right now, and the settings measurable, “he told The Associated Press. the player has been on the combine, that’s all you really need. If a player has not been to the combine or comes from a small school, then you only have to go to the game movie and you would be slightly less specific.

“And the people who haven’t done it as long as I have are probably a little confused about it right now. “

Young Scouts, front office executives and even coaches are facing a whole new writing process with Americans crouching down and doctors overwhelmed by the growing number of COVID-19 cases.

Most of the time this year, access to face-to-face interviews, on-campus training sessions and visits to team headquarters has disappeared. Some of the figures collected during professional days have also disappeared, because decision-makers like to focus, because they are increasingly dependent on advanced measures.

This combination has forced everyone to rethink their way of doing business.

– Zoom and Skype meetings have become commonplace.

– Prospective applicants offer to send training and coaching videos to NFL teams.

– Some college coaches are making a more concerted effort to sell players who have not had a chance to train in front of the NFL scouts.

– Even the agents find themselves playing new roles.

“I feel like a mental health counselor more than ever because some of these kids have been so stressed out that they haven’t been able to show what they have worked their whole lives for,” said David Moreno, who represents approximately 10 professionals. perspectives.

Everyone agrees that top players like LSU Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow or defensive end Chase Young of Ohio State will not be hurt by the cancellations. They’ve done enough in their academic careers – and everything is recorded. In addition, they met with team officials and passed medical checks at the annual NFL combine in Indianapolis.

Some players with medical issues, such as Tua Tagovailoa of Alabama, 2018 Heisman Trophy finalist or Colorado wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. are also unlikely to see an abrupt drop in their inventory.

And those who have competed in university all-star games but have not received an invitation to combine, such as Indiana catcher Nick Westbrook, also have the advantage of performing in front of scouts.

Many others end up in limbo.

“I just feel horrible for all those kids who don’t combine guys and do all this work and now they’re just a little bit stuck,” said agent Ron Slavin.

The stories are endless.

Slavin represents eight players eligible for the draft, including Houston bettor Dane Roy, who returned home to Australia for his wedding before training ended on March 31. Roy does not know when he will return to the United States

Westbrook worked in Seattle – until the pandemic began to close the city. So the Indiana receiver moved in with her parents to Florida, but is struggling to find a training center.

Lehigh’s best receiver, Devon Bibbens, actually missed three professional days – two at Temple and one at Delaware. He’s back home in Pennsylvania, using his old high school diet to stay in shape.

“I am fortunate to have equipment in my garage – dumbbells, a barbell, a pull-up bar, field equipment. My high school has a hill, “said Bibbens. “These are the workouts I did in high school, so going back to these things is honestly a lot of fun. “

However, nothing can really replace the time missing from the NFL scouts. So the coaches intervene.

Illinois was one of the few large schools to host a pro day before travel restrictions were imposed, so coach Lovie Smith spent his days answering follow-up questions.

In Georgia, coach Kirby Smart said he was personally contacted by five NFL teams and responds to text messages daily to help his players, especially those under the radar.

“The guys who couldn’t get to the combine who are really soccer players, I worry about them, about them,” said Smart. “You feel good when you go out and play, whether you are good or bad, you feel good to have had your chance. “

It’s not only the football component that disappoints players, it’s uncertainty.

“Not knowing what’s going to happen and even if the draft takes place in time, if the minicamps start and all these strangers is probably the hardest thing to deal with right now,” said Westbrook.

But Polian has a reassuring message for the limited prospects: NFL teams have been hunting down talent for decades – many years without a combine and without professional days.

“That’s why we have scouts,” he said. “They saw the player up close and personal and can make a pretty good assessment of all of the measurable and physical parameters. If they need more information, I’m sure the school will give it to them. … If you have good scouts, you are in great shape. ”

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