By all observations, the pandemic’s effects on the NFL draft, which averaged more than 8 million viewers across three days, seemed minimal.
But its effects on the undrafted could be another story altogether. That bodes badly for the pair of USF players who signed with teams in the draft’s immediate wake.
In case you missed it, defensive end Greg Reaves and tight end Mitch Wilcox signed free-agent deals with the Rams and Bengals, respectively, after being bypassed in the draft. In a conventional year, their odds of making a roster would remain plausible; nearly 31 percent of the players on last year’s season-opening rosters were undrafted, according to NFL numbers cruncher Jason Fitzgerald.
But the uphill climb this year’s collection of non-drafted free agents face has a far more daunting incline. Because of the coronavirus, all 32 NFL team facilities remain closed.
“When and if the NFL comes back,” veteran south Florida recruiting analyst Larry Blustein said in a Saturday tweet, “the attention will be totally on draftees and new players on the roster.”
Normally, Wilcox and Reaves would have a chance to make a quick impression at a live rookie mini-camp with their teams this weekend or the next, but that’s off. Presumably, so is the initial phase of an offseason conditioning program. Organized team activities and full-squad minicamps aren’t likely to occur either.
When training camp finally commences, it may or may not be accompanied by preseason games. In that scenario, practice reps will be dispersed almost exclusively among the guys expected to play when the regular season commences. There simply will be no time to evaluate the fringe roster prospects.
Which leaves virtual workouts as the only legitimate chance for guys such as Reaves and Wilcox to get noticed.
The Rams and Bengals were among 20 NFL teams set to begin their virtual offseasons Monday, with a Bengals virtual rookie mini-camp set for this weekend.
“What’s going to be key right now is being in shape and staying in tune with the virtual meeting systems,” said former Bulls linebacker Sam Barrington, who spent parts of five seasons in the NFL and now serves as analyst on USF’s official radio broadcast.
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“Guys will also have to retain their teams’ playbooks without the value of actually walking through plays.”
Because Reaves and Wilcox have shown the maturity to remain in shape on their own and learn in a virtual setting, Barrington said he thinks their chances of making a roster is “realistic.”
Problem is, these remain unreal times.
It could take a virtual miracle.