The most recent NFL event not impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic was the 2020 combine. A year later, with the 2021 combine canceled, the league has released a list of players who would have merited invitations to Indianapolis.
From such high-profile quarterbacks as Clemson's Trevor Lawrence — all but a lock to be drafted No. 1 overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars — and Ohio State's Justin Fields, to guys who sat out last season such as Oregon tackle Penei Sewell, there were 323 players from 100 schools included.
While they won't get the chance to be observed and examined by scouts and other team personnel in Indianapolis, the fact they are on this list means there will be interest in them at the end of April, when the NFL draft starts in Cleveland.
Instead of running 40-yard dashes, lifting weights and doing other activities — many on national television — at the combine, the players will be evaluated at pro days throughout the nation. Some even have or will attend smaller-scale combines not sanctioned by the NFL.
Fields would have had 13 Buckeyes teammates at the league's combine, the most for any school, followed by Alabama, Georgia and Notre Dame with 11 each and Florida with nine.
Cornerbacks got the most invitations with 44, including two All-Americans whose teams met in the College Football Playoff title game in January: Patrick Surtain of national champion Alabama and Shaun Wade of Ohio State. The second-most numerous invitations, 36, went to players at offensive tackle — a position that was a stronghold of the 2020 draft and could be again this year, with Oregon's Penei Sewell the leader in that group.
Besides Lawrence and Jones, other potential first-round quarterbacks on the list include Zach Wilson of BYU, Trey Lance of North Dakota State and Mac Jones of Alabama, whose Crimson Tide targets included Heisman Trophy winner Devonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle, both among those who would have been invited to Indianapolis. Elijah Moore of Ole Miss — like Smith, he was an All-American — is another such receiver.
The Tide were even the source of a long snapper on the list: Thomas Fletcher, who is credited with a perfect snapping record during his time at Alabama.
Several Football Championship Subdivision and lower division schools have players on the list, and Division III program Wisconsin-Whitewater expects representatives from all 32 NFL clubs at its pro day, when guard Quinn Meinerz is planning to work.
Some prospects already have appeared in all-star games such as the Senior Bowl and Hula Bowl, and the flood of pro days are set to begin Friday at Kansas. Key pro days at which many likely high draft picks will work out are Alabama's two (March 23 and 30) plus those held at Clemson (March 11), Georgia (March 17), Iowa State (March 23), Notre Dame (March 31), Ohio State (March 30), Oklahoma (March 12), Penn State (March 25), Texas (March 11), Texas A&M (March 30) and Wisconsin (March 10).
The Detroit Lions, who have the No. 7 pick in the first round, are among the teams paying close attention to the high-level prospects.
"When you pick inside the top 10, you better know every single position regardless of the circumstances currently on your roster," said Brad Holmes, a former longtime Rams scout who was hired as general manager of the Lions in mid-January. "There's really not a position that I can sit here and say that I see as thin right now just because in relevance of where we're picking at, we have to be prepared to know all positions, and that's part of the process that we're doing now."
That process, already difficult, is not any easier without a combine.