First things first. Getting through the 2020 NFL regular season. Assuming that does happen, the focus will turn to the offseason. Which may produce almost as much uncertainty. With a large chunk of college football shutting down for the fall and the remaining conferences still in limbo, Kevin Colbert admitted preparing for the 2021 draft will be a challenge unlike any other. One that may be even more difficult than this past years, one conducted smack dab in the middle of the COVID pandemic. Even something as simple as scouting seniors comes with a grey area.
“The rising seniors are draft eligible,” Colbert said via a Wednesday Zoom call. “Now with the the new rule the NCAA is pushing through, granting an extra year of eligibility, a lot of those guys may opt in for that extra year. So we have to be aware of that.”
Last week, the NCAA announced all seniors would have an extra year of eligibility, even if their season isn’t cancelled. From Sports Illustrated:
“The NCAA Division I Council on Wednesday approved a proposal to grant all fall athletes an extra year of eligibility, no matter if they play a 2020–21 season or not. Final approval is expected to come Friday during a meeting among the Division I Board of Directors.”
That means even seniors have to be treated like underclassmen. Many will declare but some will return to school for 2021, making the evaluation process fluid.
And without individual exemption, actual underclassmen can’t even be scouted aside from teams watching tape of them.
“The only underclassmen we can look at without being officially included into the NFL draft are those players who were designated by their head coaches through an agreement with the AFCA which allows us to evaluate them as underclassmen. Until a player is deemed draft eligible by the National Football League, we can’t do anything with him other than to evaluate him from afar.”
Though Colbert chalked it up to coincidence, it’s not a surprise the normally underclassmen happy Steelers selected mostly seniors this year, including second round pick Chase Claypool and third round selection Alex Highsmith.
The team won’t have many more answers once the calendar ticks over into next year. Will conferences who have shut down for the fall truly play spring football like they’ve said? If so, how will that impact the Shrine Game, Senior Bowl, Combine, and Pro Day circuit.
And for those who sit out the year or the ones who’ve already declared for the draft, they’ll be two years removed from playing football by the time they get selected. Colbert said those who fall in that camp will be difficult to scout.
“The guys who are playing, they’ll be able to give us some type of 2020 film. Which quite honestly, I’ll be much more comfortable evaluating someone that plays in 2020 moreso than the guy who doesn’t. You take over a year plus two or three months from the game of football, I don’t know what kind of player you’re going to be coming out. So any way that a young man can play this given season, I think it will benefit him because we will have newer, fresher [information] and a better understanding of what he may be moving into the NFL.”
But as Colbert preached during this draft, and an appropriate reminder given his likelihood of now being inducted into the Hall of Fame, Bill Nunn and company assembled football’s greatest draft class nearly 50 years ago without the benefit of technology and free-flowing information the NFL enjoys today.
“We have to do the best we can under the circumstances. There are no excuses. We have to find the best players we can under any circumstances. And again, the great Bill Nunn, Art Rooney Jr, and Dick Haley, they did that under the circumstances of 1974. We can all look at that result and understand that’s a great example of what can be done.”