Since the NFL draft was changed to a three-day event in 2010, it had been held on the fourth Thursday in April each year. The upcoming NFL draft, however, will be held May 8-10, 2014 two weeks later than previously and the latest in a calendar year it has ever been held.
The calendar change was met with mixed reactions when announced this May. The extended draft process could be an advantage for talent evaluators, as it gives them two additional weeks than they have had in previous years to study more prospects in advance of the draft.
That said, it lengthens a draft process that many already felt to be too long, while conversely shortening the time between the draft and the beginning of NFL training camps.
While no one can be quite sure how the two additional weeks will impact the draft process, it should have some impact, even if minimal, on NFL teams and the members of the incoming rookie class. From those on the outside, it will almost certainly lead to more speculation and scrutiny toward how the draft could potentially unfold.
More Time = More Evaluation, More Speculation
The evaluation process and its level of thoroughness in preparation for the 2014 draft is unlikely to have increased greatly as a result of the extended draft process. Regardless of whether or not the draft was being held in May or at the end of February, scouting is a 12-months-a-year process NFL teams have always prepared their timelines for to evaluate, rank and eventually select draft prospects.
That said, one would not expect members of NFL personnel departments to wait aimlessly for two weeks because of the extended time frame. Teams will almost certainly use the additional time to their advantage. That could mean having the ability to watch a film of more draft prospects than even before, but could certainly also mean having the opportunity to conduct more personal workouts with players.
The impact of the extended calendar before the NFL draft will really only be felt in its final 10 weeks, as major pre-draft scouting opportunities such as the Senior Bowl (Jan. 25, 2014) and NFL Scouting Combine (Feb. 22-25, 2014) have been scheduled in their usual time frames.
One aspect that could potentially change is the scheduling of pro days, as some colleges could opt to hold their prospect showcases a week or two later than usual in response to the later draft date.
As for the draft prospects itself, more time before the draft could be a blessing for some but a trap for others. Two additional weeks before the draft means two additional weeks for prospects coming off injury to potentially prove they are healthy and erase pre-draft doubts about injury concerns.
The move also, however, gives prospects two additional weeks to potentially slip up and run into off-field trouble that could adversely affect their draft stocks.
The greatest beneficiaries of the extended draft process may be small-school prospects, “diamonds in the rough” for whom two more weeks means 14 more days of potentially being noticed when they might have gone unnoticed before.
It would be reasonable to hypothesize that the extended draft process could lead to an increase in prospects drafted from outside FBS programs, and a converse decrease in prospects drafted from major schools.
Still, the extended draft process is unlikely to leave any clearly noticeable differentiations in prospect selection.
The most noticeable result of the additional pre-draft weeks is an increase in the speculation that has always run rampant in the weeks leading up to the draft.
Hate mock drafts? That’s too bad, because there will almost certainly be more mock drafts produced than ever before.
If approached correctly, those who follow the NFL draft in a media or otherwise public capacity could benefit in a similar fashion to NFL teams. Those who want to study as many draft prospects as possible will have two weeks of additional opportunity to watch players’ tape and potentially create more quality content for the public as a result.
That said, there may be nothing more certain about a later NFL draft date than that it will lead to an increase in pre-draft rumors and speculation as more time will lead to more digging for stories.
This could lead to more stories about lesser-known prospects and bring to light some of the draft’s more interesting, unusual and/or inspirational stories. Inevitably, however, it will also lead to more rumors that prove to be false and more credence to prospect red flags that might be insignificant.
Overall, holding the NFL draft in May is unlikely to have a major impact on the selection meeting itself. Teams and prospects will both still go through their usual preparation processes. It is likely to have a greater impact, however, on what would normally happen after the draft.
Quicker Turnaround from Draft to Training Camp
Although we could discuss the bemoaning from both NFL team employees and media members who cover the NFL who have complained about the later draft cutting into their usual May vacation time, most fans are unlikely to care about that side effect of the calendar change. The later draft could, however, have a legitimately negative impact on the incoming rookie class’ preparation for the 2014 NFL season.
The 2013 NFL draft wrapped up April 27, which allowed all 32 NFL teams to hold their rookie minicamps on either the first or second weekend of May this year. That means that by the time the draft will have even concluded in 2014, NFL rookies would have had playbooks in hand but an opportunity to work out with their new coaches and fellow rookies.
While pushing the draft back may not affect the timing of the events before the draft, it almost certainly will affect the timing of post-draft events. Pushing back rookie minicamps could mean later start dates for organized team activities, which were held during either the third or fourth week of May for most NFL teams in 2013. But it could also mean no rookie minicamps at all.
“They’re going to have to come in here and hit the ground running,” Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera told The Charlotte Observer in May. “There’s not going to be any rookie camp where it’s just them, because your time’s going to be so limited. So they’re going to have to come in, get thrown right in the mix with the veterans and try to catch up.”
This impact might be overemphasized; Ron Rivera would know as well as anyone, considering the success Carolina quarterback Cam Newton had as a rookie in 2011, Rivera’s first season as Panthers coach, even after a league lockout kept NFL draft picks (and all other players) away from their teams until late July that year.
Drafted players from some schools could actually be a beneficiary if OTA’s are moved back, because of an NFL rule that does not allow rookies to participate in offseason workouts (aside from rookie minicamps) until their collegiate class graduates.
Nonetheless, the shorter turnaround time from the draft to training camps is likely to be the most tangible impact of the calendar change. While it may leave teams scrambling less from the end of the NFL season until it is time to make draft selections, it will have teams scrambling more to prepare their rookies of the season and with less time to be sure of what rosters will look like going into the start of training camps.
The calendar change could turn out to be much ado about nothing.
Sports Illustrated’s Peter King said the primary reason he could find for the move is to “hype the most ridiculously overhyped event on the NFL calendar,” and that might be accurate. Though the NFL has said the change was made due to the draft’s regular weekend conflicting with Easter and Manhattan’s Radio City Music Hall being unavailable as a result, King’s idea that the later draft provides “(two) more weeks for spring-programming-starved NFL Network to be relevant” could make the move to May one that continues into 2015 and beyond.
But as you might recall, many were up in arms in 2010 when the draft became a Thursday-Friday-Saturday event instead of its traditional Saturday-Sunday format. After a year or two of getting used to it, that format became the new normal and no longer bothersome to most involved with the NFL draft.
Even though some NFL executives, coaches, scouts, media and/or fans might be averse to the change now, a permanent move to May would likely be accepted and no longer considered problematic after two or three years have passed.
Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.