Looking at the effect of COVID-19 on the 2020 season with a postponed college season and opt-outs what does this mean for future NFL stars?
With only three of the Power 5 conferences opting to attempt to play football in 2020, as well as the ever-growing list of players electing to opt-out of the season from the schools who are proceeding, how will this impact the draft in 2021?
Despite the determination of some of the schools to play, many including the Big10 and Pac12, have elected not to play this year. This means a large quantity of high-quality potential draft picks will be forced not to play football this year and in a lot of cases, they will choose to instead prepare for the NFL Draft. Others may opt to use the extra year of eligibility to return and play before the 2022 Draft but that will mean some players are another year older and in some positions, that could leave them out in the cold. Other players, despite their schools electing to play football this year, have taken the decision not to play through choice and instead opt to prepare for the coming draft. Some feel that they are risking too much playing and others perhaps recognising they had a highly impressive campaign last year, and playing may only diminish their stock.
There is also a flip side to this, there will now be some players out there with more of an opportunity to shine and drive their draft stock up. With less competition for places and perhaps more field opportunities as well as a smaller pool of active players and more scout focus with more time to designate to “lesser-known” players. There may also be an element of lesser competition on the field from opponents, with their opposite numbers perhaps being the 2nd choice at that position rather than a first-round draft star.
So how will this all impact the NFL Draft of 2021?
There is no exact science in the draft, and more often than not, draft picks don’t work out as expected and in some cases end up being busts. So while we all fancy ourselves as our own teams GM, truth is most of us wouldn’t be any more successful in what is still largely a lottery. With that in mind, the odds just got a lot longer, will teams look to take a gamble on a player who hasn’t seen a football field in 18 months? Or will they decide to move players up their board who have played this season, even if that means over players that were viewed as superior prior to the 2020 season? Another potential outcome will be that teams may surrender more of their draft picks in order to acquire proven players for depth as well as future draft picks rather than taking picks during a much riskier draft. Perhaps it opens up the opportunity for bigger risk-takers to gamble on some of the talent pool that may drop down the order, and that could yield some big rewards.
How this will impact the future of college football?
Realistically, it can go one of two ways. If it becomes apparent after this year that sitting out your final year will not dent your draft stock, at least not by a large margin, then you can perhaps expect to see more players adopting the tactic in the future. With the requirement to be three years removed from high school to declaring for the NFL draft being the only restriction, some may choose to forego their junior seasons in order to prepare for the draft. This, in turn, will put an even larger strain on recruitment, with teams needing to become more focused on using their freshman and sophomores in the preparation for more upperclassmen electing to sit out seasons.
Conversely, this season could provide a huge opportunity for lesser-known players as well as younger players the opportunity to shine. Should they take this chance, they could drastically increase their draft stock and ultimately move up draft boards meaning a bigger first payday. Ultimately, if NFL teams show that they value players who have been playing throughout the current year over those who have opted out, then the chances are players will be unlikely to attempt to do the same in future seasons.