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Is sticking with local players or former college teammates the theme of the 2021 NFL Draft?

NFL: NFL Draft Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The 2020 NFL season was historic in that it was the only season in NFL history that took place in the midst of a global pandemic. The entire season was impacted, including the offseason, training camp process, and preseason. It comes as no surprise that college football was likewise impacted and there was a time where it seemed entirely possible that there wouldn’t be a college football season for major conferences.

While football happened for most schools, the access to players and practices was drastically reduced. Likewise, the annual Combine in Indianapolis was canceled and even medicals were more difficult to obtain with restricted access to players. All of these attributes were bound to lead to something that looked a little different in the NFL Draft and one major theme stood out Thursday evening.

Most teams selected players who were familiar to existing players, former teammates in college, or players who played for teams from the same or neighboring states.

One position that will almost always be exempt from any of this is the quarterback position. These players are the most important to any franchise and more resources are spent vetting them, even in a limited environment. As a result, the quarterbacks who were selected did not fit this observation — outside of arguably noting that the New England Patriots selected Mac Jones after essentially one season of production and Bill Belichick has a strong relationship with Alabama head coach Nick Saban.

Let’s observe many of the remaining picks — Falcons selected Kyle Pitts from neighboring Florida; Bengals selected Ja’Marr Chase who previously caught passes from Joe Burrow; Dolphins selected Jaylen Waddle who previously caught passes from Tua, Panthers selected Jaycee Horn who played for South Carolina; Eagles selected DeVonta Smith who previously caught passes from college teammate Jalen Hurts; Dolphins selected Jaelan Phillips who played at Miami, and the Colts selected Kwity Paye who is from neighboring Michigan.

While there is no denying that it’s not entirely shocking to see players selected from the same regions as NFL franchises, one has to wonder if proximity played a bigger role in selecting the top 15 or so non-quarterbacks this season due to the pandemic. Draft capital is extremely valuable to the longevity of NFL franchises. It wouldn’t be surprising if GMs around the league later look back and admit that their selections were more impacted by proximity this season than normal.