How the Seahawks prepared for the 2021 draft amid the COVID-19 pandemic

The challenge of medical assessments

While Kirchner for the most part feels that the Seahawks have made up for the best they can with less information, one place where it was impossible to fully make up for everything that had been lost over the past year was the medical evaluations. players.

“If there’s one place where we have less information, it’s medical,” he says.

While some players with injury issues traveled to Indianapolis for medical checks, it was only a small portion of the roughly 300 players who would normally be evaluated at the combine. Teams can also carry out their own medical checks in their building during the 30 visits, which did not take place this year.

“It really puts a stress on Strick (Head Coach David Stricklin), (Assistant Track Coach) CJ (Neumann), (Assistant Track Coach) Mackenzie (Marques), (Assistant Track Coach / Physiotherapist) Harrison (Grube), those people in the training room should contact schools and get medical information, ”Kirchner said. “… You are dealing with HIPAA laws, it is difficult to access them. Our materials and training staff must have really grinded this offseason. It was tough, but they did a great job and gave us as much information as they could. “

As Berry notes, teams would typically have full medical reports on around 350 prospects at this point in a typical year, this year that total is closer to 150.

“So there are a lot more questions about the health and longevity of players,” he said.

Lessons learned for future versions

While the Seahawks and every other team want to see the world back to normal, there are things they’ve learned over the past year that they think can help them move forward.

Berry points out the idea that scouts start working on evaluations earlier as something that might stick, while Kirchner notes that coaches, scouts and the analytics department continue to push for new ways to evaluate the players.

Then there’s also the simple fact that the pandemic has made it clear that a lot can be done remotely that weren’t in the past.

“From a communications perspective and from a technology perspective, I think we’re in a much better situation than before COVID,” Berry said.

Ramsey said: “It has been a challenge, but it has been good too. It has shown us that we are able to do things a little differently than what has always been done. None of us understood this problem. of staff, so finding new, small ways of doing things that might streamline it might be useful in the future. ”

Kirchner credits GM John Schneider’s open-minded approach to helping the Seahawks adapt well throughout the past year.

“John keeps trying to polish so many things,” Kirchner said. “He doesn’t push people, but we have people who do a great job of training and always trying to improve the process, and John has always been very good at doing that and trying to convince the rest of the staff to do it. do, and I think we’ve all incorporated that mindset. No idea is a dumb idea, you know? “

For example, a coach or scout can add something to the analytics department and come up with an idea that can help the team in the future. Or, that idea could be met with a “why the hell are you looking at this,” from Ward and Smith, Kirchner said with a laugh. “But nothing is ever off the table in terms of questions or ways to improve the process.”

More uncertainty and less depth

For fans and members of the media, the draft is still a kind of crapshoot, although obviously some draft experts are better informed than others. And while teams never know for sure what other teams will be up to, in a normal year scouts and executives probably have a much better idea of ​​how things are going to turn out than those in the backyard. outside the company. This year, however, the draft is likely to come with more surprises, even for the most knowledgeable people in the NFL.

In a normal year, a lot of information is exchanged between scouts on the road and at the combine, and things like free agent visits and 30 visits can act as pre-draft revelations, both on specific positions and players that teams might consider. . Add to that the fact that there is less information about the players from a medical point of view and that the teams were less likely to evaluate the players both on the pitch and as individuals, and this year’s draft has even more of a mystery than usual.

“When it comes to predicting the positions that teams will take, free will helps because you see what positions they bring in, and this year you didn’t really have a clear idea of ​​what positions they brought or were working, ”Kirchner said. “I think there will be more surprises than in the past.”

Said Berry, “There is more uncertainty around every choice.”

Ramsey added, “No combine is great, it’s a level playing field to measure guys against each other, and it’s a week of information gathering between your peers. It will be great. interesting to see which teams come out the best and which teams not in the long run. And I could see it’s more predictable, yes. There are definitely going to be some surprises. “

And aside from being more unpredictable, this draft class should also be shallower than usual, in large part because the NCAA gave players a chance to return to school for an additional year of eligibility. ‘next year. That probably won’t change much in the early rounds – the top prospects will probably still come out if the opportunity arises – but if a senior is looking to be a late pick or potential free agent and may instead try to improve his stock draft next fall, many of those players will choose to go back to school.

“One of the most important things about the past year is the number of players returning to college,” Kirchner said. “The NCAA has given players an extra year (of eligibility) … If they think, ‘I’m fifth for the sixth-round pick, I’m going to go back, train my tail and try to improve my stock. to a third or fourth year. So the overall numbers in this project are going down, but the biggest area that’s going to affect is unredacted free agency. “

It won’t be clear how much worse the depth is in the years to come, but in terms of numbers, the teams are dealing with a smaller talent pool.

“This year I think there are only 650 or 700 guys who have signed on with agents,” Ramsey said. “Last year it was 1,900, the year before it was 1,800.”

As Berry noted, about 485 football players took over the NCAA over that extra year of eligibility, and while not all of those players would have been drafted or even signed after the draft, “it really thins the back half. repechage and free. agency, ”he said.

On the flip side, Berry notes that “next year’s class will be incredibly deep and you might be able to get more quality players than you normally would.”

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