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Pro day cancellations forcing changes to draft process

Sun Apr 5 11:54am ET
By MICHAEL MAROT
AP Sports Writer

In this Aug. 7, 2015, file photo, Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee Bill Polian speaks to reporters in Canton, Ohio. With Americans hunkering down, doctors overwhelmed by the mounting cases of COVID-19, and a flurry of canceled pro days, Polian believes it's time to bring back an old approach for this year's draft. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)


FLUE - In this March 20, 2019, file photo, Georgia coach Kirby Smart, left, and New England Patriot coach Bill Belichick talk during Georgia Pro Day in Athens, Ga. Some college coaches are making a more concerted effort to sell the players who didn't get a chance to work out in front of NFL scouts. (AP Photo/John Amis, File)


In this Oct. 12, 2019, file photo, Indiana wide receiver Nick Westbrook runs during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Rutgers, in Bloomington, Ind. Gone for the most part this year are access to in-person interviews, campus workouts and visits to team headquarters. Those who competed in college all-star games but didn't receive a combine invite, like Indiana receiver Nick Westbrook, have the advantage of performing in front of scouts. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings, File)


In this March 12, 2020, file photo, Clemson football player Tee Higgins lifts weights during NFL Pro Day in Clemson, S.C. Scouts, front-office executives and even coaches find themselves coping with a whole new process with Americans hunkering down and doctors overwhelmed by the mounting cases of COVID-19. Gone for the most part this year are access to in-person interviews, campus workouts and visits to team headquarters. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro, File)


In this March 11, 2020, file photo, former Oklahoma running back Marcelias Sutton makes a catch as he runs through drills during Pro Day for NFL football scouts and coaches in Norman, Okla. Gone for the most part this year are access to in-person interviews, campus workouts and visits to team headquarters. Also gone are some of the numbers garnered at pro days decision makers like to crunch as they becoming increasingly reliant upon advanced metrics. (AP Photo/Alonzo Adams, File)


INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Bill Polian simplified the NFL's draft process years ago.

He studied film, relied on medical experts, checked the numbers and interviewed players.

With the flurry of canceled pro days, the Hall of Famer who constructed multiple Super teams during his 32-year- career believes it's time for a return to his throwback approach.

“Really all you need, and it's especially true in a time like today, you need the game film, the physical exam, which may be difficult to get right now, and the measurables," he told The Associated Press. “So if a player has been to the combine, that's all you really need. If a player hasn't been to the combine or is from a small school, then you've just got to go on the game film and you'd be slightly less accurate.

“And the people who haven't done it as long as I did are probably a little discombobulated about that right now.”

Younger scouts, front-office executives and even coaches find themselves coping with a whole new process with Americans hunkering down and doctors overwhelmed by the mounting cases of COVID-19.

Gone for the most part this year are access to in-person interviews, campus workouts and visits to team headquarters. Also gone are some of the numbers garnered at pro days decision makers like to crunch as they becoming increasingly reliant upon advanced metrics.

That combination has forced everyone to rethink how they do business.

- Zoom and Skype meetings have become commonplace.

- Draft prospects are offering to send homemade videos of workouts and drills to NFL teams.

- Some college coaches are making a more concerted effort to sell the players who didn't get a chance to work out in front of NFL scouts.

- Even agents find themselves playing new roles.

“I feel like more of a mental health counselor than ever before because some of these kids have been so stressed out to not have the opportunity to showcase what they've worked for their whole life," said David Moreno, who represents about 10 pro prospects.

Everybody agrees that top-tier players such as Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow or defensive end Chase Young won't be hurt by the cancellations. They did enough in their college careers - and it's all on tape. Plus, they met with team officials and went through the medical checks at the NFL's annual scouting combine in Indianapolis.

Some players with medical concerns, such as Tua Tagovailoa, the 2018 Heisman Trophy runner-up, or Colorado receiver Laviska Shenault Jr., probably won't see a precipitous drop in their stock, either.

And those who competed in college all-star games but didn't receive a combine invite, like Indiana receiver Nick Westbrook, also have the advantage of performing in front of scouts.

Many others find themselves in limbo.

“I just feel horrible for all these kids that aren't combine guys and put in all this work and now they're just kind of stuck,” agent Ron Slavin said.

The stories are endless.

Slavin represents eight draft-eligible players, including Houston punter Dane Roy, who returned home to Australia for his wedding before the school's March 31 workout was called off. Roy doesn't know when he'll be back in the U.S.

Westbrook was working out in Seattle - until the pandemic started shutting down the city. So the Indiana receiver moved in with his parents in Florida but has since struggled to find a workout facility.

Lehigh's top receiver, Devon Bibbens actually missed out on three pro days - two at Temple and another at Delaware. He's also back home in Pennsylvania, using his old high-school regimen to stay in shape.

“I'm lucky enough that I have some equipment in my garage - dumbbells, a barbell, a pull-up bar, field equipment. My high school has a hill," Bibbens said. “These are the workouts I did in high school, so getting back to those things is honestly kind of fun."

Still, nothing can really replace missing time in front of NFL scouts. So coaches are pitching in.

Illinois was one of the few major schools to conduct a pro day before travel restrictions were imposed, so coach Lovie Smith has spent his days responding to follow-up questions.

At Georgia, coach Kirby Smart said he's been contacted personally by five NFL teams and answers text messages daily in an effort to help his players, especially those under the radar.

“The guys that didn't get to go to the combine that are really football players, I worry for them, for their sake,” Smart said. “You feel good when you go out there and you go perform, whether you perform good or bad, you feel good that you got your opportunity."

It's not just the football component that disappoints players, it's the uncertainty.

“Not knowing what's going to happen and even if the draft takes place on time, whether the minicamps start up and all those unknowns is probably the hardest thing to deal with right now," Westbrook said.

But Polian has a reassuring message for borderline prospects: NFL teams have been unearthing talent for decades, - many years with no combine and no pro days.

“That's why we have scouts," he said. “They've seen the player up close and personal and can do a pretty good assessment of all the measurables and the physical. If they need additional information, I'm sure the school will give it to them. ... If you have good scouts, you're in great shape.”

Player Notes
Gary Kubiak Apr 5 1:30pm ET

Minnesota Vikings tight end Irv Smith should see an increased role in the offense in 2020 now that Stefon Diggs is playing for the Bills. When wide receiver Adam Thielen was out for almost two months with an injury last year, Smith caught 36 passes for 311 yards and two touchdowns and emerged as a reliable target for quarterback Kirk Cousins. Minnesota's offense also relies heavily on tight ends under coach Gary Kubiak; tight ends have received an average of 23 percent of targets per season in Kubiak's 21 seasons as a head coach or offensive coordinator. Even battling for targets with Kyle Rudolph, Smith could become worth rostering as a TE2 in standard leagues in his second season in the NFL.

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Matt Breida Apr 5 1:20pm ET

San Francisco 49ers running back Matt Breida didn't have much of a role on offense to end last season behind Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman. If Jerick McKinnon is actually healthy in 2020, he gives the 49ers a legitimate route-runner and third-down option out of the backfield. San Fran could be willing to trade Breida's rights for a low-round draft pick. Of all the backs in this crowded backfield, Breida is the most likely to be playing for another team come the start of the season. The 25-year-old from Georgia Southern has been productive with 5.0 yards per carry on 381 career rushing attempts in his three years with the Niners, but he's also consistently battled nagging injuries and is now buried on the depth chart. A move out of this crowded backfield and onto another team with more opportunity would be best for Breida's real-life and fantasy value.

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Jadeveon Clowney Apr 4 4:40pm ET

The Cleveland Browns have shown interest in free-agent defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, and some people around the league think that Cleveland has gotten closer with Clowney than other suitors. Clowney was originally seeking around $20 million per season, but his market has been cold and he hasn't received the offer that he wants in order to re-sign with the Seahawks. The Titans and Jets have also been interested, but the pass-rushers price might have to drop some more in order for him to strike a deal. The 27-year-old isn't in a rush to sign at this point. The oft-injured former first overall pick in 2014 by the Texans is a risk/reward in both real life and in IDP leagues.

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Antonio Brown Apr 4 4:30pm ET

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Odell Beckham Jr. Apr 4 11:30am ET

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Jarvis Landry Apr 4 11:20am ET

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Ricky Seals-Jones Apr 3 9:40pm ET

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Justin Reid Apr 3 5:40pm ET

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Christian Kirk Apr 3 12:30pm ET

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Johnathan Abram Apr 3 12:20pm ET

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Eli Apple Apr 2 10:10pm ET

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Jadeveon Clowney Apr 2 10:00pm ET

The New York Jets are interested in free-agent defensive end Jadeveon Clowney now that his asking price has dropped a bit on the open market. Clowney has found a cold market for his services, likely because of the lack of physicals due to the coronavirus and his extensive injury history, but at this point he's in no rush to pick a team. He's willing to wait until he gets the deal that he's seeking as the best pass-rusher available in free agency this late in the game. The Seahawks are interested in bringing him back at the right price, and the Titans have also shown interest. Clowney has never had a double-digit sack season in his career and is an injury risk, but there's no denying that he still has an impact in defending both the run and the pass when he's healthy. This one could drag on.

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Deshaun Watson Apr 2 5:30pm ET

Houston Texans left tackle Laremy Tunsil said on NFL Live that he wants to become the league's highest-paid offensive lineman. "Im not going to talk numbers, as Im going to keep that between me and the club. I am looking to be the highest-paid lineman, of course. I worked my butt off to be in that position and hopefully we can make that happen," Tunsil said. The 25-year-old first-round pick of the Dolphins in 2016 was acquired from Miami along with receiver Kenny Stills last year for two first-round picks and a second-rounder. He's an elite left tackle that should easily wind up making around $20 million per season on a long-term deal with the Texans. His presence on the blind side for years to come will be excellent news for quarterback Deshaun Watson.

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Eric Ebron Apr 2 5:20pm ET

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Bruce Arians Apr 2 2:40pm ET

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Kevin Stefanski Apr 2 2:40pm ET

Cleveland Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski said that offensive tackle Jack Conklin will stay at right tackle in Cleveland. The Browns added Conklin in free agency as they look to improve a dreadful offensive line from a season ago. The eighth overall pick by the Titans in the 2016 draft was a first-team All-Pro in his rookie season and has been one of the better right tackles in the league in his four seasons. The 25-year-old has started all 57 games he's played in and has played in a full 16-game season in three of his four years in the league. Conklin will help bring stability to the right side of the Browns line, but they'll need help elsewhere.

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