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College football is going to be weird, and it’s going to impact the NFL Draft

Buckle up for an odd spring, assuming the draft even happens on time.

NFL Combine - Day 1 Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

The Big 10 isn’t playing. The Pac 12 isn’t playing. There are many players who were set to suit up for college football who won’t get to do so, and the question of what those players do now and what happens to them during the run-up to the NFL Draft next year is going to loom over the months to come.

The Big 12, meanwhile, is planning to play, and the SEC and ACC may be as well. Those players face an entirely different set of challenges, including navigating the background hum of COVID-19 at every practice and during every game, and being potentially one of a relatively small group of players actually giving NFL GMs and decision makers 2020 film to watch heading into next year’s draft. That could be really great, but this is certainly not the year to have a down year.

While the NFL Draft is quite low on the list of our concerns at the moment, it’s going to be the most interesting and likely chaotic one in recent memory, and perhaps of our collective lifetimes. You’ll have teams unable to look at 2020 on-field play for a significant chunk of draft-eligible players, while other players could miss multiple weeks of the season with COVID-19 diagnoses, which are all but inevitable once things get going. If some conferences do choose to play in the spring, the NFL Draft could choose to back up to give teams at least some time to try to look at more players, but it would take a vote of the NFLPA and some finagling to move it later than June, and then we’re talking about it crashing into training camp.

Consider that the draft is likely to be even more critical than usual because of the major reduction in cap space headed our way and the weirdness to come feels a lot more dire for NFL decision makers. With the season so close they can’t really be dwelling on this now, but teams are going to have to devote significant manpower to digging up last year’s scouting notes and games for some players, and weigh those who do play carefully in light of the challenges they’re inevitably going to face.

As someone who loves the draft, in spite of what a slog and a spectacle it’s become, I’m apprehensive about what this means. The NFL can and will figure it out, but first we have to get through a full NFL season and something resembling a college season, and that seems like a daunting enough task for the moment.