JACKSONVILLE – The 2020 NFL Draft will be different. Dramatically so.
But whether "different" means "bad" in this case is another question. Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone doesn't necessarily think so, though he did say last week there's little question his pre-draft preparation has a different feel.
A throwback feel, actually.
"A lot of this reminds me of college," Marrone said last week.
The NFL decided Monday to hold the April 23-25 2020 NFL Draft in a fully virtual format, with team personnel advising teams they will conduct operations during the draft in separate locations – communicating by internet and telephone. The changes are to ensure the league remains in compliance with regulations due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
NFL teams have been conducting operations remotely for several weeks, meaning pre-draft preparations have been done via Skype and Zoom and other videoconferencing applications.
This new NFL normal isn't close to the old normal, but Marrone in a videoconference with local media last week said the dependence on film – with reduced one-on-one contact during the evaluation process – reminded him of working in college.
"When I was a college coach, we used to do this all the time," Marrone said. "We'd watch the film. The only thing we wanted to make sure of was if a guy said he was 6-5, he wasn't really 5-11. When you're a head coach in college, you don't have the ability to go out and work someone out."
Though NFL teams operated as normal through the January All-Star games and late February's 2020 NFL Scouting Combine, a major difference between this year and past pre-draft periods was the reduction of the Pro Day season in which players work out on college campuses for scouts. Another difference: teams could not fly players to their facilities for pre-draft interviews and physicals; in a normal year teams are allowed 30 such visits.
Perhaps the major concern for many teams is the inability for final physicals on players, which Marrone said could lead to teams taking fewer risks on players with injury histories.
"Your level of risk is probably a little bit greater – more importantly because of the medical check," Marrone said. "You're [usually] relying on those things where players will come in and they have issues and they get re-checked and everything's fine, so I think it's something that the league has been talking about: 'Hey, we may have to share information where normally clubs are doing that on their own.' I think it's still a work in progress as far as what we can do better for the information pipeline for everyone."
Marrone said he primarily likes an in-person workout if he believes a player may change positions. Using the example of an offensive lineman, he said an in-person workout can give insight into whether, say, a college tackle has the natural leverage to play guard in the NFL.
"Those are the only things I feel that I'm missing," he said. "If I want to talk to someone and see what their knowledge is on football or what their inspiration is, the way we're doing this [media conference call] is fine."
At the same time, Marrone noted that it's not as if any team or has an advantage over the other in preparing for the draft.
"We're all doing the same thing," he said.
Marrone did say the pre-draft limitations could bring more of a throwback – and perhaps, streamlined – element to the draft process.
"At the same chance: 'Hey, this is college. Here we go,''' he said. "Watch a guy on film, you're like, 'Boom, this guy can play, let's take him.' Now, we just make the call."
Marrone: "We're still looking through free agency. We're still looking to see if there's anyone that we feel like can help our football team. There are still players out there. … For me, I'm always in this mode of, we do have a lot of draft picks, we do have some money left. Hey, how are we going to keep bettering this team? The cornerback position, safety position, linebacker, defensive line. Even though we're taking players and putting them in a position, it's not like you say, ok, that's crossed off and let's move on to the next."
Marrone on new Jaguars tight end Tyler Eifert: "I've always liked him. Talking with him, obviously this is the first full offseason that he's healthy. What you see in him is someone who's a three-down tight end. He can sustain himself in the run game and obviously is a vertical threat. He's really savvy as far as being able to sit down in zone, being able to make moves – being able to get open. It's something we haven't had here for a while. We think obviously bringing Tyler in is going to help a player like Josh Oliver, who's going to be behind him. Also, you could see both those players on the field at the same time."