For reasons that I suppose ought to be obvious, a global event such as the pandemic we are experiencing has a way of carrying life-defining properties. It’s difficult to find an avenue of life that wasn’t touched by COVID-19 in some way. That includes the 2021 NFL Draft process, which is the league’s top priority right now.
Among the many ways in which the game of football was touched by the pandemic is the fact that many players opted simply not to play last year. Not just in the NFL, but within college football as well. That carries some baggage along with it, something Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Kevin Colbert acknowledged again earlier today during the team’s pre-draft press conference.
“As I stated in the summer, if a player chooses to opt out, for whatever reason, that’s their decision, and we will respect it,” he said. “However, if a player played in 2020, and those players are of equal value — one that didn’t play and one that played — we’ll take the one that played, because we don’t know what the opt-outs will be like in their first season back in football,” Colbert told reporters a short time ago.
“We believe it’s hard to sit this game out,” he added, speaking of the sense of being able to play at a high level after time off. “Sometimes it happens because of injury, but this time, it was pandemic-related for the most part. But we will take the players — again, if they’re close, and it’s not to say we’re not gonna draft somebody that opted out. I couldn’t say that. But if we have a choice we’ll take the one that played if their value is close.”
There are a number of prominent players throughout the NCAA landscape who ultimately did not play last season, including those who would ordinarily be regarded as first-round talents. I imagine a number of people will be watching with interest to see how their draft value is viewed around the league.
Colbert also noted that they ran into issues that were ultimately beyond the players’ control, specifically in the Big Ten and the Pac-12, two conferences who originally suspended their seasons, only to reinstate them some time later.
“Some of their players decided they were going to move on and put themselves in preparation for the draft,” he said. “Then when their conferences reinstated football, some of them were too far down the road, be it with an agent or be it with training, that they couldn’t get back. We did run into that a lot, where players wanted to com back, but they were too far down the road.”
Of course, when you have two players who are roughly evenly evaluated, and one has more recent data, it’s logical to lean toward the one you have more familiarity with, unless you anticipate a higher growth rate for the other. What Colbert is talking about is not what we have heard from others, however, with some privately expressing apprehensions about drafting players who opted out at all.