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'A strange, strange year': How college football's opt outs complicate the NFL draft

John McGonigal, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on

Published in Football

PITTSBURGH — Steve Muench went to college with Todd McShay. The two played football at Richmond in the late 1990s, got into the business together and have been colleagues for 20 years at what is now Scouts Inc., ESPN's scouting and evaluating partner.

Year after year, Muench, McShay and their team have grinded tape and set the tone for how hundreds of prospects are perceived ahead of the three-day circus that is the NFL draft. But this year, the circus is more unpredictable than ever before.

Sure, the early days of the pandemic put a strain on scouts, coaches and executives in 2020, canceling pro days left and right. But next weekend, six players who chose not to play in the fall could hear their names called in the first 20 picks. Forty prospects who either didn't play or left their teams midseason might be drafted.

Ever since high-profile players — including Penn State's Micah Parsons and Pitt's Jaylen Twyman — made their decisions last summer, 2020 became the year of the opt out in college football. That has extended into this month's draft as 32 franchises try to assess an unprecedented season and the players who didn't take part.

"I've spent more time going back to 2019, to the year before, than I ever have. I'm just trying to get a feel for players that I haven't seen in over a year, which is really weird," McShay said on a recent conference call. "Talking to guys in the league, general managers and head coaches, everyone's kind of, I don't want to say frustrated, but it's just so different from what you're used to having."

"I get it. It's a strange, strange year," Muench told the Post-Gazette. "Kids were being told all these different things. It's hard to get into that room and criticize a kid for making a decision that they think is going to help them the most. ... It's just muddy."

 

It's muddy for both parties: NFL teams and most opt outs. Take Twyman for example.

The former Pitt defensive tackle was a preseason 2020 All-American after receiving national recognition the year before. Twyman broke out with 10 1/2 sacks in 2019, helping Pitt lead all Power Five programs in sacks per game. But the All-ACC selection's draft stock is all over the place after not adding any new tape this past fall.

Twyman went in the fourth round of a recent mock draft by Sporting News. CBS Sports' Ryan Wilson had him pegged as a fifth-rounder. Meanwhile, Twyman went undrafted in the most recent mock by The Athletic's Dane Brugler. Twyman said himself at Pitt's pro day on March 17 that there are "a wide range of different ways it could go."

McShay, Muench and Scouts Inc. have Twyman as their 13th-ranked defensive tackle, which would place him in the mid-round category.

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