Given how it has altered the NFL draft process for prospects and teams alike, of course the COVID-19 pandemic is a big deal, but the way Andrew Kessler sees it, the pandemic is a bigger deal for later-round or fringe prospects.
“If this were January 10, things would have been different,” Kessler, an agent with Laguna Beach-based Athletes First, told The Salt Lake Tribune last week. “The vast majority of players did not have a pro day, and that is damaging for guys who were not at the [NFL scouting] combine, or small-school guys who had to prove themselves.
“No in-person meeting, no private workouts at schools, no prospects going to dinner with teams, none of that occurred. Did a few of them occur? Yes, but most did not.”
Kessler, along with Athletes First colleague David Mulugheta, represents a higher-end NFL draft prospect in Utah State quarterback Jordan Love. Kessler’s point about the pandemic affecting the draft process does not apply to Love because by the time COVID-19 canceled pro days and in-person visits in mid-March, he had already gotten a lot done.
Something of a divisive prospect whose potential draft slot varies widely depending on who you ask, Love started 32 games across three seasons for the Aggies, throwing for 9.003 yards, 60 touchdowns and 29 interceptions. He went to the Senior Bowl, then went to the combine, where his 4.74 40-yard dash was seventh-fastest among quarterbacks and most of his other measurables displayed elite athleticism. His NFL-produced draft-prospect grade of 6.36 indicates his long-range projection is as a starter within his first two seasons.
In the days before the NFL banned all face-to-face, in-person contact with prospects, Love was able to get one team meeting accomplished with the Miami Dolphins, according to Kessler.
Love, projected to be selected anywhere from the middle of the first round on Thursday to late in the second round on Friday, may be a higher-end prospect, but for the past month, he’s been just like anyone else. Love is in Southern California self-quarantining, but finding time every day to get all of his football-related stuff done.
“The last month has been pretty crazy,” Love told The Tribune. “I was in Santa Ana training, but with everything going on, pro day was canceled, so I came home [to Bakersfield] and I’ve just been training, working out, getting on Zoom with coaches. There’s been a lot of that.
“I wake up and I get straight to it.”
“Late December, January, February, the majority of his stuff was really done,” Kessler added. “For a player like Jordan, who went to Senior Bowl, went to the combine, was a multiple-year starter, the majority of what he had to do was done.”
A major reason Love has become a polarizing prospect is because he was excellent in 2018 as a redshirt sophomore, and not so much in 2019 as a redshirt junior.
In 2018, Love threw for 3,567 yards and 32 touchdowns against just six interceptions as Utah State went 11-2. Those numbers came under offensive-minded head coach Matt Wells, a former Aggies quarterback in the mid-1990s, and offensive coordinator David Yost, who was a semifinalist for the 2018 Broyles Award, given annually to the nation’s top assistant coach.
When • Thursday-Saturday
TV • ESPN
Wells accepted the head-coaching position at Texas Tech that season before the New Mexico Bowl and he took Yost with him. In came Gary Andersen for a second stint in Logan. Andersen hired 37-year-old former Western Kentucky head coach Mike Sanford Jr. as his offensive coordinator.
In a new scheme, Love struggled, throwing for 3,402 yards and 20 touchdowns, but also an FBS-high 17 interceptions as the Aggies went 7-6.
Love was draft-eligible after that big 2018 season. Had he left then, there would presumably be less questions about his ability. Instead, with the 2019 season on film, he has been painted as more of a wild card, a high-risk, high-reward prospect.
Love knows that, but is opting to focus on what he can control, not what people are saying.
“I see it all, it’s hard to not see those things on social media and whatnot,” Love said. “I’m tagged in all kinds of things, but don’t pay any attention to that stuff. It’s in one ear and out the other.
“For me, it’s excitement, I’m super-excited for draft night.”