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Mailbag: How Does COVID Affect The Draft?

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With COVID-19 impacting players' decisions to play this year, will that impact the draft order process? Seems like if a bunch of players from one team (New England) opt not to play, the team could have a much worse record than predicted and end up with higher draft picks. One more trick up ole Belichick's sleeve — coronavirus tank play? — HOLLIS PEAVER / DACULA, GA

David: With all due respect to Bill Belichick, I think the Patriots get mythologized a little bit because of their success. As brilliant a coach as he is, I don't know how Belichick could prepare for an outcome with so many variables involved. There's no way to know how this season will pan out, and so there's no definitive way to know what the 2021 offseason is going to look like. It's a fun thought, but I don't put much stock in it.

Rob: Sorry, I don't buy that one bit. The Patriots have a few players opting out, not half their roster, and several have cited perfectly legitimate family and health reasons. I just don't believe teams and players will use this as some kind of loophole for next year's draft. If a player decides it's in the best interest of his family to opt out, that's completely his right. But I guarantee you that's not an easy decision to make. Players and coaches have reached this level of their profession because they're extremely driven. Players want to compete, be there for their teammates, and try to win games. They just want it to be as safe as possible, and the NFL and NFLPA have done a lot of diligent work to try to create that environment.

It seems that every year during camp we hear about players who do great in practice but don't do as well in preseason games and are cut. Do you think those players will benefit more this year with no preseason games and regular games with not fans in the stands? —BILL CONWAY / PALM SPRINGS

David: This is a really good point, and you're right that we do see it every year. Last year it was Jon'Vea Johnson, and the year before that it was Lance Lenoir. It's harder to perform when the bright lights turn on. It might be an advantage for the players, but it's going to be a challenge for this coaching staff to determine who is truly worth a roster spot and who is just having a nice camp.

Rob: No, I don't think there's a benefit from an evaluation standpoint. Consistency in practice is very important, but coaches also want to see players carry that over to live-action, competitive situations. Preseason games offer that environment for young players. I totally understand the reasons for canceling those games this year. But from an evaluation standpoint, it's going to be tougher for a less experienced player to make an impression on the coaching staff through only a handful of padded practices.

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