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Combine changes, canceled Pro Days make the 2020 NFL Draft tougher for everyone

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Teams like the Packers will have incomplete information on more players than ever this year. Players snubbed from the Combine or who chose not to work out now have little or no way to show off their skills. And everyone will suffer for it.

NFL Combine - Day 6 Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Ted Thompson’s thresholds for NFL Draft prospects have become rather legendary. Green Bay Packers fans now can recite cutoff qualities like the minimum height for a cornerback or maximum 40-yard dash time for a wide receiver as easily as the Packers’ first-round draft slot.

Thanks in large part to work done by Justis Mosqueda a few years ago, the Packers’ approximate desired traits for potential draft picks are well-publicized. In recent years, Thompson’s successor as general manager, Brian Gutekunst, has seemed to stick pretty closely to the same ranges that Thompson seemed to establish. But because of a confluence of events over the past few months, the team will have a difficult time figuring out just which players meet the cutoffs they have so firmly set in place.

First came the 2020 NFL Combine, the gold standard for athletic testing in the sport. Normally, every healthy and able-bodied player would go through the full array of athletic tests in Indianapolis, save for a handful of very top prospects. But in its infinite wisdom, the NFL changed the workout schedule this year, leading a massive number of players to skip portions of or the entire workout, instead preferring to wait until their Pro Days in March. Worse, numerous players pulled up during their 40-yard dashes, leaving them unable to complete the tests remaining on their agendas.

The league made the move with an eye on TV ratings, pushing workouts into prime time. But according to many league insiders, the new schedule is directly to blame for the injuries. Agents, trainers, and players alike are frustrated, with some agencies promising not to let their players work out at all in 2021 if the league keeps the same schedule.

The word got out as the week went on as well, culminating in numerous dropouts on the last day of on-field work. The final group of players, the defensive backs, totaled 61 participants: 35 cornerbacks and 26 safeties. By the time those players worked out on Sunday, only 49 ran the 40-yard dash, with just 18 participating in both of the agility drills (including only five safeties). This is particularly problematic at a position where 3-cone and shuttle drill times are critical tools used to filter out players with deficient change-of-direction skills.

Compounding the issue in the weeks since the Combine is the spread of the COVID-19 virus, which has shut down in-person scouting and led to the cancellation of all but a handful of university Pro Day workouts. This means that any players who did not run in Indy — or who did not get an invitation to the Combine — will have little or no opportunity to demonstrate their athletic abilities for NFL teams.

For these players, this lost opportunity could well be devastating. Frequently a standout Pro Day performance from a Combine snub will put that player more squarely on NFL teams’ radars. Yes, the old adage goes that 90 percent of measurements confirm what you see on tape, while 10 percent will make you go back and revisit that tape. But it is those 10 percent of players whose measurements don’t match up — at least whose measurements exceed what their tape suggests — who will suffer from not having another opportunity to show out.

The final piece of this puzzle is the in-person meetings that teams typically have with prospects, typically known as “Top-30 visits.” Due to coronavirus precautions, these meetings, which often included private workouts, are also off the schedule, hurting both players and teams equally.

Ultimately, the events of the last few months have resulted in far more uncertainty about the upcoming 2020 NFL Draft class. With minimal Pro Day workout numbers and fewer testing results from the Combine than in past years, teams have far less information to go on, at least in terms of athletic testing. While this will make the Packers’ scouts rely even more significantly on college film, it also means that they may have to project how players would test in certain drills based on that film if they hope to use their testing cutoffs to set up a draft board.

And for fans and analysts, it also means that we will have even less of an idea what Brian Gutekunst will do in April than usual.