The grueling process from the end of the regular season to the NFL Draft needs to be altered. In today’s world of 24/7 coverage on the NFL Network and endless mock drafts, the NFL needs to step in and alter the off-season schedule.
We are just over a week away from the Draft and it feels like we have been talking about prospects and rankings for a year already. Enough of the constant changes. Does a player’s game film change because he ran a 4.4 second forty-yard dash at the Combine? If an Offensive Tackle has a 38" vertical leap, does he really become a more desired prospect? Of course not. The old adage of "the tape doesn’t lie," still applies above all else.
For the past several years, the NFL has wanted to have a major "event" in every month of the calendar year. What they ended up with though is a Combine that starts in the last week of February and a Draft that doesn’t occur until the last week of April. There is simply too much time elapsed between these 2 events.
My proposition to the League is this: Start Free Agency earlier, this year February 23rd would have been the ideal date, push the Combine back to March 17th and move the Draft up to April 13th.
A lot of hype is made about coaches interviewing and subsequently being hired at the Combine. The more realistic scenario is that these contacts are being made at the Senior Bowl, which typically happens the week before the Super Bowl.
Moving the Combine back would allow a greater amount of time for General Managers and Head Coaches to fill their coaching vacancies prior to the Combine. This would of course allow the newly hired coaches to attend the Combine with their new team.
As with most things NFL, the League would adjust to this new timeline and negate any potential affects from moving the date backwards.
Injuries can occur at any given moment for an athlete. Consider this, most Bowl Games are played on or around January 1, the Playoff games even later. That leaves those players with less than 2 months to heal from the grind of a College Football season. Once the season starts, most players are battling small injuries throughout the year. Just like in the NFL, a fair number of these players also succumb to more serious injuries which prevent them from playing.
If the players had an additional 3 weeks to recover, it might prevent over-training injuries like the one that Kevin White suffered prior to the 2015 NFL Combine. Of course, this injury did not manifest itself until Mini Camp after the Draft.
Other injuries such as the strained hip flexor that ended Marshon Lattimore’s Combine workout or the torn Achilles’ Tendon that will likely drop Sidney Jones from a First-Round pick to the Second Day. Could these injuries have been avoided had the players been given the requisite amount of time to recover from the season?
The Waiting Game
Quite possibly the most egregious part of the off-season schedule is the lead-up to the Draft. The painstakingly arduous eight and a half weeks between the Combine and the Draft are pure torture for fans. The constant mock drafts, television shows, radio talking heads, podcasts and fan blogs hit a fever-pitch around the second week of April. There is an acute Draft overload for many of us who follow the NFL closely.
Back when there was less information floating around, fans could be more patient. Given the smart phone world that we live in, the "Twitterverse" explodes with constant Draft chatter. Blogs have hundreds of comments about various Draft prospects. The NFL Network and ESPN are constantly running Draft-specific programming.
There is just simply too much to digest. Of course, NFL teams are aware of this and use this time for misdirection and the proverbial "smoke screen." Teams will leak which players they like and don’t like so as to fool their opponents. What is the point of this? Just keep a lid on it and pick your player when the Draft comes.
The weeks leading up to the Draft have been affectionately named "The Lying Season," and for good reason too. NFL teams are allowed 30 private visits/workouts with prospects. Many of these are made public and shared with the world. The Draft used to be a secretive process, which lead to more intrigue. Now, teams are releasing information to reporters with the sole intent to mislead other teams, the lying season indeed.
By separating the Free Agent and Draft periods, General Managers would be allowed to focus solely on one aspect of player acquisition. Most NFL teams have separate scouting departments for existing Professional players (Free Agents) and incoming College players.
Once the Senior Bowl ends, the General Manager would then be afforded the time to focus on nothing but that year’s crop of Free Agents. While Free Agency is in and of itself a risky proposition, this would allow for better scouting of players and assessments of their potential fit amongst a given team.
In contrast, the NFL Draft is a whole different animal. These players have never taken a snap in the NFL and the Scouts are using their evaluations to "project" what a player might become. In addition to the amount of time it takes to make these evaluations on a given player’s talent, there are many other factors that go in to each Scouting Report. Their background, desire, toughness, off-the-filed issues, injuries, etc. are all judged harshly by every team.
Often to the detriment of the team itself, the amount of time elapsed between the beginning and end of this process allows for teams to overthink decisions. It is possible to over-prepare for the Draft and shortening this scouting window, teams can take this part out of the equation.
By allowing a General Manager to focus his time, after the Free Agent period has essentially ended, on the Draft, it would help team be able to build a consensus opinion on a player. If the players can go through provide workouts when they are healthier, it will give the evaluators a better picture of each prospect.
Make it Happen
Everyone wants the NFL to put its best product on the field. This suggestion isn’t solely in the interest of cleaning up the off-season timeline. It should also provide incoming players additional time to get their body’s in the best shape possible to start the next season.
This is a call to the NFL to do something right for not only the fans, but the players as well. With player safety and pace-of-play at the forefront of the media and the League Office, this proposal would help solve several current issues. As a fan, I want to see the best product and in the most efficient manner possible.
I know that I am not alone in wanting to clean-up the off-season timeline, so I am urging the NFL to act and make the game better for everyone, players and fans alike.