NFL Hot Press: Scouting Challenges During Pandemic

Scouting Challenges During Pandemic

Updated Sept. 3, 2020
By Charlie Campbell. Follow Charlie on Twitter @draftcampbell.

Just like the 2020 NFL Draft and the 2020 NFL season, the 2021 NFL Draft cycle is going to be greatly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. As college football games kick off in parts of the country, NFL scouting staffs are in store for a very unique season. Scouts have limited access to games; some prospects are sitting out the season; and some NFL teams are not having their scouts travel. According to league sources, five NFL teams are planning on keeping their scouts at home all year.

Among those five teams are the Washington Redskins. Washington is keeping its scouts at home throughout the fall and not letting them travel to schools to watch players, according to team sources. Many colleges are restricting access to the scouts who do come to watch their teams, with some not allowing them on the sideline in pre-games, some not allowing them in the press box to watch games, and some schools are credentialing only one person per NFL team. That will make scouting quarterbacks in person more challenging because in past years certain teams had owners, general managers, area scouts, college directors, and other directors all going to watch quarterbacks while conducting the search for a franchise quarterback.

Having restricted access to watch practice and not be on the sideline with players during the pre-game warmups makes it more difficult for scouts to get an accurate idea of a player’s body type. That eye ball test can tell scouts how players carry their weight, if they need to lose weight or get stronger for the NFL. There have been some rumors of NFL teams putting scouts on furloughs, but teams will need to lean on scouts and their school contacts like never before considering the reduced access to information and seeing players in person. Scouts have contacts at the schools in their areas who share information on a player’s character, work ethic, background and development.

The all-star games will be another unique situation as there could be players from the Pac-12 and Big Ten who did not have a fall season in attendance playing against players who had a fall season in the SEC, Big XII and ACC. “Those guys [who didn’t play] are going to be at a real disadvantage,” said an area scout. The rust factor for the Big Ten and Pac-12 players could be harmful to their draft grades when going against players who just played the fall and are basically in mid-season form. Yet those players from the Big Ten and Pac-12 need the all-star-game opportunity to help generate a buzz on their draft stock. Sources from multiple teams said they expect teams that have more recent tape from prospects this fall to be viewed as safer draft choices and the rust factor of being forced to sit out a year and lose development is going to hurt some draft prospects.

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow stated at the beginning of training camp that if the virus had hit a year earlier and he was at a school that had their season canceled, he might not be playing football anymore and never would have had a NFL career. A number of team sources said that is definitely true. Burrow’s magical senior year, and to a lesser extent Gardner Minshew at Washington State in 2018, led to them getting NFL opportunities that seemed unlikely a year earlier.

This year, there probably will be good players who are seniors at colleges and miss out on the opportunity to rise for their draft class, or even get signed as an undrafted free agent. They have been buried on the depth chart like Minshew, or made a big leap in their abilities heading into senior year, like Burrow. Thus, some talented players could fall through the cracks and miss out on a pro career – like Moonlight Graham in Field of Dreams. Players, scouts, NFL teams, and the 2021 NFL Draft continue to be hurt significantly by the COVID-19 pandemic.