2021 NFL Draft: COVID-19 taking us to alternate football universe

2021 NFL Draft prospect, Trevor Lawrence #16 of the Clemson Tigers (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
2021 NFL Draft prospect, Trevor Lawrence #16 of the Clemson Tigers (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) /
Trevor Lawrence, 2021 NFL Draft
Trevor Lawrence, 2021 NFL Draft (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) /

The COVID-19 pandemic could be taking the 2021 NFL Draft on an alternate timeline.

The unfortunate reality of the sports world in 2020 is that the college football season could be shortened or shut down at some point entirely, which would have a massive impact on the NFL and specifically, the 2021 NFL Draft.

The Big Ten is only playing its conference schedule in 2020, while some are of the opinion that the college season has only a fraction of a chance of being played at all.

Safety is of the utmost importance so it’s understandable that athletics would be affected greatly by this pandemic, which is surging around the United States in terms of case numbers in June and July.

Trying to imagine a world without college football is borderline impossible, but among a number of other possibilities, there exists a scenario where there is no college football season in 2020 and plenty of others where some star college players could choose to sit out even if there is one.

Because nothing in the sports world is ‘normal’ right now, we are heading into a real-life version of an alternate story universe, one where our new reality in 2020 and 2021 as it relates to the football world is going to be tremendously different than if there were no pandemic and the season were being played as planned.

What if the 2019 season had not been played?

Let’s look at the extreme scenario in which no season is played. What if the 2019 season had been lost due to a pandemic?

Perhaps the most substantial difference is that there would be no Joe Burrow story.

Burrow’s historic 2019 season — arguably the best single-season from a QB in college football history — would not exist.

Burrow was so dominant for LSU in 2019 that he became the consensus top QB prospect in the 2020 NFL Draft and was the first overall pick of the Cincinnati Bengals.

There was absolutely no one talking about Burrow as a top overall pick candidate for the 2020 NFL Draft one year ago, and even if Ed Orgeron had hyped Burrow up to NFL coaches and general managers, he likely would have only been a day three pick based on what everyone had seen from him in his first three years of college experience.

Another major event that would have never happened if there was no 2019 college season? No injury to Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.

A year ago at this time, the hype for Tua was at an all-time high. NFL teams were supposedly trying to tank for the Alabama southpaw and he was pretty much a consensus top overall pick in 2020 mock drafts.

If he’d never suffered a hip injury and there was no Joe Burrow to compete with him, Tua would have probably been the top overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.

There are so many other players who would have been affected by not having a 2019 college football season, it’s really hard to think how different things could be right now.

Arizona State wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk, for example, was taking over for N’Keal Harry as the Sun Devils’ WR1 last year, but prior to that, all he had was 33 catches for under 500 yards to his name.

His breakout senior season after some time at the JUCO level elevated him to first-round status in the 2020 NFL Draft, where he was picked by the NFC champion San Francisco 49ers.

For a select few players, things may not have been all that different had there been no 2019 college season.

Players like Ohio State’s Chase Young didn’t have much to prove last season to be a top pick in the NFL Draft.

Others would have been picked way later or not at all if there had been no 2019 season.

Would Clyde Edwards-Helaire have still been a first-round pick without the team success of LSU last year? Justin Jefferson?

What if Laviska Shenault didn’t have to go through another injury-riddled season at Colorado?

A year ago at this time, some were having a debate of whether or not AJ Epenesa was in contention with Chase Young as the top edge defender in the 2020 class.

Epenesa ended up going in the second round to the Bills after the 2019 season.

Next. 2021 NFL mock draft update: Fields over Lawrence?. dark

The way things appear to be headed at this present moment, if there’s a shortened college season or no season at all, the 2021 NFL Draft could be on a very strange alternate timeline where things that never happen because a pandemic didn’t allow them to happen force NFL teams to go with what they know based on information up to 2019.