The last NFL event not impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic was the 2020 combine in Indianapolis. A year later, with the 2021 combine canceled, the league has released a list of players who would have merited invitations.
From such high-profile quarterbacks as Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, the almost-certain top overall draft pick by Jacksonville, and Ohio State’s Justin Fields to guys who sat out last season such as Oregon tackle Penei Sewell, there are 323 players from 100 schools.
While they won’t get the chance to be observed and examined in Indy, the fact they are on this list means there will be interest in them come the end of April and the NFL draft.
Instead of running 40-yard dashes, lifting weights and doing other activities, many on national television, at the combine, the players will be evaluated at pro days throughout the nation. Some even have or will attend mini-combines that are not sanctioned by the NFL.
Fields would have had 13 Buckeyes teammates at the combine, the most for any school, followed by Georgia with 12, Alabama and Notre Dame (11 each), and Florida (9).
Cornerbacks got the most invitations with 44, including all-Americans Shaun Wade of Ohio State, and Patrick Surtain of national champion Alabama. Offensive tackles are next most popular with 36; that position was a stronghold of the 2020 draft and could be again this year led by Sewell.
Other potential first-round quarterbacks on the list include Zach Wilson of BYU, Trey Lance of North Dakota State and Mac Jones of Alabama.
There’s even a long snapper invited: the Crimson Tide’s Thomas Fletcher.
Heisman Trophy winner Devonta Smith and Tide teammate Jaylen Waddle are among the wide receivers who would have been at the combine, along with Smith’s All-America counterpart, Elijah Moore of Mississippi.
Several FCS and lower division schools have players on the list, including North Dakota State, Illinois State, Grambling State, Nicholls State, North Carolina Central, Northern Iowa, Charleston (Division II), Central Missouri State (Division II) and Wisconsin-Whitewater (Division III).
The latter school is expecting representatives from all 32 clubs at its pro day, when its one combine player, guard Quinn Meinerz, is planning to work.
Some prospects already have appeared in all-star games such as the Senior Bowl and Hula Bowl. The flood of pro days begins Friday at Kansas.
Key pro days at which many likely high draft picks will work — albeit in a choreographed practice — are Alabama’s two (March 23 and 30); Ohio State (March 30); Oklahoma (March 12); Notre Dame (March 31); Georgia (March 17); Iowa State (March 23); Texas (March 11); Texas A&M (March 30); Clemson (March 11); Wisconsin (March 10); and Penn State (March 25).
Such NFL teams as the Detroit Lions, who select seventh overall, will be paying close attention.
“When you pick inside the top 10, you better know every single position regardless of the circumstances currently on your roster,” said new Lions general manager Brad Holmes. “There’s really not a position that I can sit here and say that I see as thin right now just because in relevance of where we’re picking at, we have to be prepared to know all positions and that’s part of the process that we’re doing now.”
That process is not any easier without a combine.
Prospects already are getting tested at non-sanctioned events that the NFL has barred officials from attending. At the EXOS mini-combine in Arizona, wide receiver Rashod Bateman of Minnesota, a combine invitee, ran a 4.37 hand-timed and 4.39 laser-timed 40. DE Milton Williams of Louisiana Tech, also an Indy invitee, had a 35-inch vertical jump and ran a 4.63. And Tylan Wallace, Oklahoma State’s highly regarded wideout, ran a 4.39.