Draft week is here, and it's an exciting time for the 32 NFL teams, their fan bases and the hundreds of players who will be making their NFL dreams come true.
While these are difficult times because of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, this week's virtual NFL draft will at least provide a little distraction for sports fans.
The pandemic has forced the NFL to change the way they typically operate this time of year, not just in how the draft will run, but the beginning of the offseason training program will have to change as well. This year, the offseason training program will begin virtually. The players who could be impacted the most by that new reality are late-round draft picks and undrafted rookie free agents.
For those players, the spring time is usually their time to shine and put themselves on the coaches' radar heading into training camp. Without that time, it's likely we could see less late-round picks or UDFAs making rosters come September.
"I think it's going to be harder – not impossible – for guys that are later round picks, rookie free agents," Lions general manager Bob Quinn admitted last week in a conference call with reporters. "Really, their time to impress and get on the radar, and get real reps in training camp is during the spring because you have more opportunities.
"Some of your veterans aren't taking as many reps, as you guys know, in the OTA practices. So, you can get a lot of these young, late draft picks and rookie free agents a ton of reps in the spring. And then if they show that they are capable and they deserve a chance to compete, then they are going to get more reps during the early part of training camp to really be able to make the team."
At least one undrafted rookie free agent has made the Lions' Week 1 roster out of training camp in each of Quinn's four seasons as general manager. Will that streak end in 2020?
The Lions plan to start their virtual offseason program on April 27. Phase 1 will consist of the first three weeks, and then the league will get back to teams about what the plan is after that.
"If we're not going to have a normal offseason, we're already going to be delayed at least three weeks, it's going to be harder for them," Quinn said. "It's kind of something we've talked about internally, for sure.
"Fortunately for us, our roster is at I believe 78 right now, I think we're at 78 with Kenny Wiggins on yesterday, so really, we're not going to have a huge number of undrafted free agents. We're going to have a handful depending upon what happens."