NASHVILLE — Among the greatest downfalls of the Tennessee Titans in 2020 was a draft class that struggled to contribute. Changes coming to the 2021 NFL Scouting Combine because of the COVID-19 pandemic create real challenges for GM Jon Robinson.
This incoming crop of rookies cannot fail as badly as the last.
NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported on Monday that the league had sent out a memo informing its 32 clubs that changes to the annual event were officially coming. In-person workouts will be replaced by pro days on college campuses. Interviews and psychological testing must take place virtually and in-person medical examinations taking place in a limited capacity.
Robinson is familiar with digital evaluations at this point. Last season’s sample size for Tennessee is not a great one, however.
Titans Can’t Afford Another Flop
The football implications of Combine cancellation are massive.
Here’s the full memo on changes to the 2021 scouting combine: pic.twitter.com/e1KNcuaUTn
— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) January 18, 2021
Scores of league business dealings get done in the bars and hotel rooms surrounding the Indiana Convention Center and Lucas Oil Stadium when the NFL comes to town. None of that is possible with COVID-19 hovering over every part of day-to-day life. One cannot get a better feel for the pulse of the league, though, when the combine takes place under normal circumstances.
No one knows this better than Titans head coach Mike Vrabel and Robinson.
“We’ll have to identify a lot of areas of focus and making sure that we do a great job of bringing guys in here that love football, that are talented, that put the team first, and play with great effort and finish,” Vrabel said in his end-of-year comments. “They’ve got to love football. This is a grind. This league is a grind. Those are the types of players that we’re looking for, and obviously talented.”
In-person interactions being removed from this offseason make that identification process far more difficult. It is the only explanation for how badly Tennessee and Robinson whiffed on players like Isaiah Wilson in the draft and Vic Beasley in free agency. The 2019 Titans draft class was such a resounding success for Robinson and Vrabel when things were done under normal circumstances.
It made the failures of the 2020 collection stand out that much more.
NFL Cap Hell
The Titans are in relatively good shape heading into Offseason 2021.
Tennessee owns eight picks in the upcoming NFL Draft and has 20 unrestricted free agents to make decisions on. Robinson and Titans Vice President of Football Administration will have to clear just under $7 million in salary to remain under the projected $175 million COVID-reduced cap. The lack of financial flexibility makes this year’s draft selections that much more crucial.
There can be no charming over Zoom calls with players that fool league executives and coaches. No margin for error exists under normal pretenses but the Combine’s cancellation takes that maxim to the extreme. Robinson faces his most critical draft heading into Year 6 as Tennessee’s general manager without many of the tools that have made him above average among his peers.
For as much as people think the Combine is about bench press and 40-yard dash times, losing it will mean so much more.
Featured Image: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports.