EAGAN, Minn. — The Vikings found creative and innovative ways to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic over the past year.
And as Minnesota's front office enters another offseason that won't look anything like normal, Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman and his team are prepared to be as resourceful again.
The biggest change to the 2021 offseason is that there has not been a combine. A reduced, medical only event is in the works, but teams missed the opportunity to see draft prospects participate in on-field drills in the same, controlled setting.
Pro days at colleges coast-to-coast will be as important as ever because general managers will get their only chance to see players in person on the field before the 2021 NFL Draft. They were able to see 130-plus players at the Senior Bowl in January but did not make campus visits in the fall.
Spielman said last week he is "scheduled for about 10 to 15 Pro Days" across the country in the coming weeks.
"[Pro days are] going to be more valuable than ever since we didn't have a combine," Spielman said. "We're going to be allowed to go out to pro days this year [unlike in 2020].
"I think you'll see a lot of GMs [visit] all these pro days, just because most of us were not able to go out in the fall because of the testing protocol and being in the building all year with our teams," Spielman added. "There will be a lot of guys out. I think I'm scheduled for about 10 to 15 pro days, as many as I can get to."
Pro days are important for teams and draft prospects.
For teams, it's usually a chance to see a player on his home turf and get more information on him from coaches and those around his college program.
And under normal circumstances, players use their school's pro day as a chance to make a lasting impression on NFL teams.
Recall that Vikings cornerback Cameron Dantzler ran a sluggish 40-yard dash in Indianapolis at the combine in 2020, but rebounded and ran a quicker time at Mississippi State's Pro Day last spring. He ended up being a third-round pick and led all Vikings cornerbacks with a pair of interceptions as a rookie.
With that in mind, the ensuing weeks are crucial for both sides as they move toward the draft, which is scheduled for April 29 to May 1.
And with everything else, the Vikings (and all other NFL teams) have to adapt to new guidelines in 2021.
Spielman said last week that teams are limited to three personnel members at any given pro day, meaning they will have to be selective in who is going where — while also keeping COVID testing protocols in mind.
"It is going to be a little bit challenging with how the coaches can get out or not get out, depending on how many people we have there," Spielman said. "There's a whole new set of rules, but at least we'll be able to get out and see these players."
Spielman was asked how the Vikings plan to determine which combination of front office members, coaches or scouts will make the trip to a campus.
"It depends on the school, so I don't know how many coaches will be able to go out," Spielman said. "There's going to be no private workouts this year. You get one shot at their pro day.
"So, at some schools, coaches actually get out and work with the players. Technically there's only … six people at the pro days that can actually interact with the players, from the measurements, the timing on the field," Spielman added. "Everybody else is going to have to observe from the sideline. So, it'll be based on where the prospects are and who's going to go."
The circuit began at Kansas last Friday and continues today with Kansas State, Northwestern and Wisconsin-Whitewater holding their pro days. NFL Network will air a special "Live Path to the Draft Pro Day Special" at 11 a.m. Friday.
For a list of confirmed pro days across the country, click here.