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2020 Offseason Questions: How Much Impact Will Fewer Combine Interviews Have On Pre-Draft Process?

The Pittsburgh Steelers are now into the offseason, following a year in which they had high hopes for Super Bowl success, but ultimately fell short of even reaching the postseason at 8-8. It was a tumultuous season, both on the field and within the roster, and the months to follow figure to have some drama as well, especially in light of the team’s failure to improve upon the year before.

The team made some bold moves over the course of the past year, and some areas of the roster look quite a bit different than they did a year ago, or even at the start of the regular season. Whether due to injuries or otherwise, a lot has transpired, and we’re left to wonder how much more will change prior to September.

How will Ben Roethlisberger’s rehab progress as he winds toward recovery from an elbow injury that cost him almost the entire season? What about some of the key young players, some of whom have already impressed, others still needing quite a bit of growth? Will there be changes to the coaching staff? The front office? Who will they not retain in free agency, and whom might they bring in?

These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.

Question: Will the reduction of formal player interviews at the NFL Scouting Combine have any meaningful negative effect on the pre-draft process?

Before we begin, I want to specify that I’d like to talk both specifically about the Steelers as well as more generally about the entire NFL. Because the Steelers are among the most active teams in the league in terms of getting boots on the ground at as many Pro Days as possible, trying to meet with as many players high on their radar as they can, they may be less affected than most by the fact that they may now only interview 45 players at the Combine rather than 60.

Nevertheless, the fact that they have fewer formal interviews also puts a greater emphasis on informal contacts in addition to Pro Days, as well as pre-draft visits, and in particular makes the selection of formal meetings in all three phases all the more important.

There was one recent year, perhaps 2018, during which the Steelers did not even utilize all of their pre-draft visits allotted to them, though that appears to have been an anomaly more than anything else. It may be more prevalent among other teams.

One effect I think this may have is that there may be more sharing of information between teams regarding prospects. It is a practice that a team may agree to meet with a player and pass on what they learn to other teams in exchange for similar knowledge of other prospects.

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