NFL rookie class, teams faced with unprecedented pre-draft challenges

The coronavirus pandemic has taken away memories for a lot of people across the country, like those hoping to walk across a stage for a diploma and those whose weddings have been postponed. For the incoming class of NFL hopefuls who did not get to showcase themselves at the NFL Combine, it’s taken away much of the pre-draft leadup with college pro days, like the University of Georgia's, cancelled across the country.

Although former Georgia Tech tight end Tyler Davis said his multiple visits to meet with NFL teams across the country were cancelled, he now hears all the time from scouts that he's actually one of the lucky ones.

"I hear it all the time from scouts on how lucky I was to be able to get my pro day in," Davis told FOX 5 Sports. "I thank our player personnel guy that selected this date every day that somehow he saw this coming to get it in on that date, so just I hear it a lot from the scouts on how lucky I really was to get it in. Just crazy circumstances and was really lucky to get it in."

The Yellow Jackets' pro day was March 11. Georgia governor Brian Kemp declared a public health emergency on March 14, also ordering that week that all public schools including Georgia’s universities close from March 18 through the start of April. 

Georgia State slipped its pro day in on March 18, but since then, travel to teams' facilities and additional workouts have been cancelled. In a normal offseason, those trips, interviews, showcases and interactions helped raise draft stock for non-combine invites like former Panthers running back Tra Barnett.

"I feel confident in myself (but) I feel even more confident if it’s in person because I like to meet them face to face just because I like to let them to feel my energy and to let them know I’m confident in myself and I’m willing to do whatever role they want me to be," Barnett told FOX 5 Sports. "It"s very frustrating, but I know I ain’t the only one. It’s the whole league. Everybody’s in the same position, so it’s just like, control what you can control."

And Barnett said the only thing he can control right now is staying in shape and being ready for that NFL call, whenever it may come.

Former Georgia wide receiver Tyler Simmons agreed, and the McEachern High grad has been working to maintain "probably the best shape I've ever been in" since the Bulldogs' pro day was cancelled last week.

Simmons said his agent keeps trying to find a venue to stage some virtual and in-person workouts, but now facilities are all shut down. He continues to work out in the area with guys like Tyrod Taylor, Stefon Diggs, and Deshaun Watson, and he's garnered interest from the Dolphins, Texans and 49ers, even without the pro day exposure. Simmons even drove to Macon last week to catch some passes from Jake Fromm to send new video to scouts. 

But even with in-person workouts and meetings being cancelled, Simmons said the current quarantine environment has opened up a new line of communication with NFL personnel, like with a Houston Texans scout who's been more available while working from home, like most of Americans. 

"I could tell he wanted something to do, so he was like, 'Dude call me if you have any questions or anything. It's pretty slow right now. Everybody's at home, so just call me if you have any questions or just want to talk football,'" Simmons said. "So it's definitely opened up the relationship with scouts and players a little bit more because nobody is busy right now."

"They're willing to talk for a long time about what you need to do and how this process is going to work out because also a lot of them don’t really know what's going on. It’s out of all of our control," Davis agreed. "It's definitely interesting from that point of view, just you could really hear from them on what you need to work on and what they're looking for. So it’s definitely been more details than I've heard from guys in the past. I know how busy these scouts always are on the road. They don't have any time. So you can definitely see a positive out of that.”

While this process has been one he said he's looked forward to his whole life, Davis said reflecting on the positives throughout this unique journey helps him realize things could always be worse. 

"We're all going through this together, and we're all going  to get through this together, no doubt," Davis said. "Everybody's going through it, everybody in the world. So you kind of take it with a grain of salt and realize there's people's health and safety that's on the line. Obviously that's first and foremost. You kind of just sit back and realize there's something greater that's going on here, and we've got to keep each other safe and listen to everything that the leaders of this country are saying to stay safe."