PITTSBURGH — Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, there are a number of added variables that have been inserted into the draft process for this year’s NFL Draft, which starts on Thursday.
There are players with injury concerns that haven’t been given an in-person medical examination, there are players that ran at a pro day without the benefit of also running and performing drills at a combine, there are players that team’s scouts were not able to see perform in-person during the season and there are players whose teams played significantly abbreviated schedules in 2020.
Teams are going to have to deal with incomplete — or at least less complete than they’d usually have — information when it comes to those players.
There’s another category of player that teams will have to deal with, as well: players that opted out of playing in 2020.
While teams may have good measurements and workout data, they haven’t seen them play football since 2019. That’s a long time to be away from the game, and most players see their games change in that amount of time. In the Steelers’ eyes, that makes for a tough projection.
“If a player chooses to opt out, for whatever reason, that’s their decision, and we will respect it,” Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said on Monday. “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.
“We believe it’s hard to sit this game out. 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. It’s not to say we’re not going to draft somebody that opted out. I couldn’t say that. But if I have a choice and we have a choice, we’ll take the one that played if their value is close.”
Colbert said the problem was exacerbated by the Big Ten and Pac-12 conferences stating they were not playing last fall, only to change their minds after the ACC, Big 12 and SEC got going. Some players had already signed with agents, meaning they could not go back to school.
“We did run into that a lot where players wanted to come back but they were too far down the road,” Colbert said. “Each case will be weighed individually, but again, if they’re close, we’re going to take the player that played.”