As predicted, the 2021 NFL Combine, like the rest of the NFL season, is going to be feeling the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Actually, the NFL season was less effected by the virus than some expected and, just weeks away from the Super Bowl, survived better than most sports leagues.

NFL Combine Adapts To COVID-19

How to deal with the NFL Combine this year in light of the continuing threat presented by COVID-19 has been a repeated topic of conversation in the league.   It is easy to see how, left to its normal formats and practices, the Combine could quite possibly turn into a dreaded ‘super-spreader’ event that we are all at pains to avoid.

The NFL Draft Combine has been held in Indianapolis at Lucas Oil Stadium in February every year since 1987, but now that tradition becomes just one more to have fallen before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last week, the NFL sent out memos to all 32 teams, informing them of the necessary changes being instituted for this year’s version of the Combine.  The memo began simply enough, “This year’s NFL Combine will be conducted in a different format.”

More Rules Still To Come

Normally, about 330 of the nation’s top pro-football prospects are invited to the National Invitational Camp for what is now a familiar routine for NFL fans to see and to judge prospective NFL players all performing in the same format, on the same fields.

Here is where the changes begin for 2021.  All on-field workouts will be conducted at on-campus pro days.  According to the NFL, details of just how this will work will follow in the coming days.

All interviews between the prospects and team officials will be conducted virtually, as will all psychological testing.  Schedules for interviews will be coordinated by the staff at the NIC.

The medical exams will be, naturally, a bit more complicated but for the most part “will be conducted in a combination of virtual interviews between players and each team’s medical staffs, to go with exams done at medical facilities near the prospects home campus.”

Schools To Play A Larger Role

The league has promised in the memo that they will work with the different schools to encourage consistency “in testing and drills across pro days and ensure that all clubs have access to video from those workouts, irrespective of whether the club is represented at a particular workout.”

According to the memo from the commissioner’s office, “A select number of prospects will be asked to travel to one or more designated sites for a more comprehensive medical exam.”  This will likely take place in early April according to NFL insiders. These exams can be attended by one physician and one athletic trainer from each team and will likely take place over a 2-3 day period.  Specifics will follow, according to the memo.   Commissioner’s Goodell’s office is attempting to collect all possible medical information on each player before the Combine begins.

The NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium would normally be not only one of the key evaluation points during the pre-draft process, but also one of the more interactive periods between teams, which could now alter some offseason deals, as well.  Even though the NFL has been able to avoid major coronavirus issues, the pandemic is still impacting normal operations.

This is going to be a time of high tension drama for everyone involved for trainers to coaches to the players involved.  Everyone wants to get the requirements of the combine done as quickly and efficiently as possible while adhering to COVID-19 restrictions and protocols as closely as possible in order to keep everyone safe and healthy.