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For fringe NFL prospects, scramble is on not to let their dreams die

Pro Days, team visits help lesser-known players get opportunities

NFL: New York Giants-Minicamp
Reggie White Jr., catching a pass in practice, is a TEST alumni who got a chance with the Giants last year as an undrafted player.
Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

If the 2020 NFL Draft turns into a television-only event without fans, or even an ordinary, old-fashioned conference call, that will be unfortunate for the host city of Las Vegas, NFL first-round picks denied the once in a lifetime walk across the stage experience and fans who have come to expect a draft spectacle.

With a national emergency declared in the U.S. and countries all over the world trying to come to grips with the COVID-19 global pandemic, how — and when — the draft is conducted is anyone’s guess right now.

Money lost by Las Vegas and experience lost by young men about to become extremely well-compensated professional football players could be an unfortunate consequence of the scary and uncertain times in which we live.

There is, though, another subset of hopeful young football players facing more than the loss of a one-day experience that will soon be little more than an annoying memory when their NFL paychecks begin to roll in.

That would be the long shots. The young men from small schools, the ones who weren’t invited to the Combine, the ones hoping to use the Pro Days and “30-visits” to impress one team — just one — enough to draft them in the late rounds, sign them as an undrafted free agent or extend them a rookie camp invitation. Failing that, these young men would take an opportunity in the XFL, CFL or probably even the Arena Football League.

These are the young men being hurt right now by the NFL’s necessary and proper decision to take their coaches and scouts off the road and to halt prospect visits to team facilities. By the decisions of campuses around the country to close and to suspend any form of athletic activity on campus.

These young men, training as diligently as their more well-known or more talented counterparts, are facing the loss of their NFL opportunity. Without the Pro Days, the workouts, the one-on-one contact with professional talent evaluators their unlikely dream becomes even more of a long shot.

“Those are the guys it’s going to hurt the most. By now teams have most of the information, everything they need on the main guys from not only the Scouting Combine but the All-Star circuit,” said Scott Wright, veteran draft analyst at Draft Countdown.

“For the early-round guys the hay is in the barn for the most part. It’s the late-round guys, guys that emerge, guys that weren’t at the Combine who maybe pop up and run a great 40 time at a Pro Day. Teams usually would say OK let’s do some more work on this guy, let’s bring him in for a visit. It’s not going to be possible this year.”

One of those hopefuls is our own Big Blue View contributor Joe DeLeone. A long-snapper at the University of Rhode Island, DeLeone has been working out for months now at TEST Football Academy in New Jersey as well as attending showcases for special teams players.

It is players like DeLeone who are in limbo, not knowing if or when they will get a chance to participate in a Pro Day, or, if they find some way to send film to an NFL office, if anyone of consequence will ever see it.

“It obviously puts a big hurdle in front of things. I don’t think it completely kills my opportunity,” DeLeone told me during a recent break from his workouts at TEST. “It’s just a huge hurdle. It pushes everything back. There’s a lot of uncertainty.”

Uncertainty about when or if those Pro Days, like the one DeLeone had been scheduled to participate in March 25th at Rhode Island, will ever be held. If they are held, will NFL teams be allowed to send anyone? If they are held without scouts and only streamed to NFL offices or filmed, will anyone other than an intern be paying attention?

“Everybody’s just kind of sitting and waiting and hoping for the best,” said DeLeone.

Player agents and training centers like the one at TEST, where roughly 30 pro football hopefuls who weren’t invited to the Combine continue to pursue their dream, are trying to find ways to their players seen by NFL teams.

It’s not an easy task with team facilities largely vacant, campuses shut down and even college coaches who might be able to run something resembling a Pro Day away from their schools.

Geir Gudmundsen, director of football operations at TEST, called the shutdown a “devastating” development for these athletes.

“If you’re not one of the 400 Combine invites you really rely on making a name for yourself on the Pro Day circuit,” Gudmundsen said. “Let’s open some eyes with some times and how smooth you are through your positionals. Kind of force the scouts to say, alright let’s take another look at this kid.

“That’s going to be something that they are potentially not going to get an opportunity to do.”

Gudmundsen said TEST is planning its own version of a “Pro Day” on Monday. If it’s held it won’t be an NFL-sanctioned event, and there is no guarantee anyone from NFL teams will watch the livestream or see the film that will be made available.

“We’re going to run it like an NFL Pro Day,” Gudmundsen said. “At the same time it’s not from the NFL scouting department, so I don’t know. [if teams will pay attention]. What I do know is we have to get these kids a shot to just be looked at. Even if it catches one scout’s eye it’s all worth it.”

DeLeone and other hopefuls don’t want to believe the unfortunate circumstances we are in as a nation have ended their football dreams. Gudmundsen, and others like him, are trying to make sure these players get a chance to succeed or fail on their own merits. Not because they didn’t get the chance.

“We’ve just got to make sure we try to get these guys an opportunity. Whether it’s a small glimmer of hope it’s a glimmer of hope. It’s not the door shut in their face,” Gudmundsen said.

“All they need, all they wanted is an opportunity to try and showcase their skills. We’re going to try and make that come true for them.”

Gudmundsen pointed to Rich Seubert, a Giant from 2001-2010 and currently an offensive line coach at TEST, as a player who earned his NFL chance at this time of year.

“Ten years in the NFL. Super Bowl champion. Just a guy that took advantage of his opportunities and stuck and had a phenomenal career,” Gudmundsen said. “There’s your example right there. Rich. He benefited from this Pro Day circuit. A lot of these guys aren’t going to get that opportunity.”