The COVID-19 pandemic has created its share of challenges over the past month. For NFL coaching staffs, it's evaluating college prospects.
Under normal circumstances, scouts would have been scattered across the country for Pro Days. Teams would have been sending invites to their top-30 prospects for official visits and coaches meetings.
Those are all impossible now with team facilities shuttered and coaches working from home. Staffs are left to rely heavily on their scouts' assessments as the 2020 NFL Draft is mere days from kicking off its "all-virtual" event. That doesn't bother Redskins head coach Ron Rivera, though, as the scouting department he inherited has already earned his trust.
"We're going to find out just how good we are in terms of being able to evaluate, whether it's from the college scouts' perspective or from the positional coach perspective," Rivera told local media on April 7.
Rivera has praised the Redskins' college scouting department since the organization hired him. In fact, their work in the past three drafts was one of the factors that made the job in Washington so intriguing.
"It's an opportunity to have a group of young players that can grow together," Rivera said at the NFL Scouting Combine. "That's one thing I find exciting."
He was so impressed with the results of each draft class that he decided to keep Kyle Smith and promote him to vice president of player personnel. Both Smith and Rivera said their relationship has gone well from the start, and Rivera sees Smith as an extremely hard worker who "does his due diligence."
"It was pretty natural," Smith said their his and Rivera's relationship. "We kind of meshed together and we'll move forward together and we work well together."
Now that he and his staff have been cut off from most of their personal engagements with players, Rivera will rely on Smith and his department more than ever.
"Those guys have been watching the last three years," Rivera said. "You will rely heavily on their opinions. I have a lot of trust and belief in what Kyle and our other college scouts have been doing."
Rivera witnessed Smith's scouts in action during the Combine. He watched as they evaluated prospects and listened as they talked about players currently on their draft board. He "loved" the way they went about their jobs that week, and it only strengthened his belief in them.
And according to Smith, Rivera "has really taken a step back" when it comes to the draft process.
"[He] said, 'Listen, do your thing with setting the board, run your meetings how you've been doing it, do all the changes that you wanted to make...do all those things and your thing there.'"
Smith and his scouts are only part of the process, though. Rivera and his coaching staff worked from April 8-13 on their own player readings, which added a coach's point of view to the scouts' assessment. Those readings were a wide-spread analysis on not just each player's skillset and how they perform, but also a deep look into how they would fit into their system.
"It's not just about being a great football player, but also you've got to be a guy that is part of the fit because a lot of the times, all you go off is their numbers [and] not off their football ability, whether or not their football ability will transfer into fitting your system or style of play," Rivera said. "You've got to be really smart and diligent about that."
Player meetings would normally be a part of figuring out whether or not a prospect is a good fit. Those meetings still happened in some capacity with the NFL allowing coaches to meet with players via video conferences, but it can be difficult to equate those with face-to-face interactions.
Instead, coaches are relying more on video than they have in recent memory, which Rivera said is similar to "the way things used to be done."
"The way we're doing it is a little different than the way I've done it in the past, but it's something I enjoy, just a different way of things being done. It's going to be interesting. I really do like the process, the way it's been mapped out. I just think we're getting some pretty good insight."
The plan for Rivera and his staff, it would seem, is to maintain the status quo of their draft preparation as much as possible. They might not have as much access to players as they normally would in previous years, but they believe they have a strong group of scouts they can place their faith in to deliver solid reports.
"I really do think Kyle Smith has done a tremendous job the last three drafts, just looking at the young talent he's brought in. ...And then we're going to have to rely on our coaches and make sure that their evaluations are really about the fit, whether this guy can play in the system that we have or not."