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How Does the NFL Draft Work?

The NFL draft is an annual selection meeting where all 32 teams of the National Football Conference and the American Football Conference recruit players. Usually held in the month of April or May, the draft is done to level the playing field and give the weakest teams the best chance at selecting the best college players entering the league.

The NFL draft is where football athletes’ dreams come alive. And all hands of each of the 32 teams are on deck to select the best.

So, how does the NFL draft work? Let’s dive into how one of the greatest non-competitive sporting events is done.

Key Takeaways

  • The drafts look for graduating college players with declared availability into the NFL.
  • NFL uses drafts as a method to prevent one team from dominating the entire league.
  • By ranking the winning percentage from best to worst, NFL decides the all-important draft order with the worst being the first to pick. Thus, the newly minted Super Bowl champions are the last to pick, being the No.32 pick.

1. Assigning Order of Draft Picks

NFL Teams are positioned in reverse order of their records from the previous season.  This means that the team with the worst record gets the first pick, while the Super Bowl champion gets the 32nd pick. No matter what their regular season record was.

Teams that completed the previous season with the same records are ranked by the tiebreaker – the strength of schedule, in this case, the win percentage of opponents. If that percentage is the same, the next tiebreaker is the division and conference stats.

And if they’re still tied after that, the emphatic tie-breaking method will be:

  • 1. Head-to-head records
  • 2. Best won-lost-tied percentage in common games
  • 3. Strength of victory across all games
  • 3. Best collective ranking among teams in points scored and points allowed in all games
  • 5. Best net points in all games
  • 6. Best net touchdowns in all games
  • 7. Coin toss

2. Draft Rules and Process

The NFL football draft presently lasts seven rounds with 262 picks (2022 record) and is broadcast for three days each spring.

In this below video, let’s take the 2018 NFL Draft as an example.


The selection process involves the deployment of representatives at the NFL draft venue, which in 2019 was in Nashville, Tennessee, in order to maintain communication with its leadership back at what is popularly called the draft war room.

There are 7 rounds. In the first round, each team gets 10 minutes to select their draft pick. They there are seven minutes in the second round, five minutes in rounds three through six, and four minutes in the seventh round. Each of the 32 teams receives one pick in each of the seven rounds.

In addition to those picks, the NFL can, months before the draft, assign as many as 32 compensatory picks at the end of the third through the seventh rounds. Some teams receive compensatory draft picks and others don’t.


Part of the suspense of the draft is that teams try to move up to get a better player or move down to acquire more picks. The suspense is greatest in the first round and declines as the days proceed. Most teams follow a points system to determine whether trading draft spots is worth it.

Each spot in the seven rounds is given a value. For example, the Arizona Cardinals had the number 1 pick in 2019; it has a value of 3000 points. For a team to attempt to trade up for that spot, the Arizona Cardinals would expect a combination of points that comes near 3000 points.

In this case, the benefit for the team making trades with the Cardinals gets to select the player it highly desires, while the Cardinals acquire several drafts picks to meet the team’s player shortage. And after only winning just one game last season, they needed all that help they could get.


When a teams work to make a decision on a draft pick, its decision-makers inform the representatives at the draft. One of the representatives writes the player’s name, school, and position on a card, which is handed to a runner, and the pick is officially ratified.

A second runner approaches the representatives of the team up next and notifies them of who was chosen. Upon receiving the card, the first runner notifies the selection of an NFL player personnel rep, who computes the player’s name into a database that informs all teams of the pick.

The runner also walks with the card to the head table and gives it to the vice president of player personnel. The VP then reviews the name for accuracy and registers the pick. He then transfers the name to NFL broadcast partners, the commissioner, and other league or team reps in order to announce the pick.

3. Compensatory Picks

Under the rules of the NFL collective bargaining agreement, the league can assign as many as 32 additional compensatory free-agent picks. This allows teams that have lost free agents to another team to use the draft to try to fill the void. The awarded picks occur at the end of the third round throughout the seventh round.

Compensatory free agents are decided by a proprietary formula designed by the NFL management council, which considers player salary, played time, and postseason honors.

The value of the compensatory picks gained or lost by each team is computed and a club is awarded picks of equal value to the net loss of compensatory free agents up to a cap of four. From 2017, compensatory free agents may be traded.

4. Trades

Once NFL teams are given their draft slots, each pick has deemed an asset. It’s up to the club’s executives to either select a player or trade the pick to another team to enhance its position in current or future drafts.

Teams may negotiate trades at any time before or during the draft and can exchange draft picks or current National Football League players to whom they hold the rights.

Once a trade is ratified, a player personnel rep relays the details to the league’s broadcast partners and to all 32 clubs. A league official announces the trade at the draft venue in the full glare of the media and fans.

5. Player Eligibility

To be eligible for the NFL draft, players must have been out of high school for no less than 3 years and must have exhausted their college eligibility before the start of the next college football season.

Players and underclassmen who have graduated before using all their college eligibility may request the league’s approval to enter the draft early.

Prior to the draft, NFL player personal staff members confirm the eligibility of draft prospects – this involves researching the college backgrounds of about 3,000 college players every year. They also work with agents, scouts, and teams to imbibe pro football rules into the prospects and observe them in play and at private workouts.

During the draft, player personnel staff declares that all players are draft-eligible.

6. Supplemental draft

The NFL does one supplemental draft for players whose eligibility has changed since the NFL draft. A player may not bypass the NFL draft to be eligible for the supplementary draft.

Also Read: Who Is The Youngest Player in NFL Among Others?

FAQ #1: How much do NFL draft picks get paid?

The National Football League is one of the sport’s biggest non-competitive events. Even when you land one of those highly coveted draft spots, there are sizable gaps in pay when you compare first-round talent to seventh round-talent.

The order in which they are picked is key to how much they make. So, even if you’re eligible and drafted in the first round, you’re not guaranteed the same amount of cash as college players.

Each player has a draft stock, which is an unofficial ranking. It plays a big role in helping teams decide if they want you or not. However, your NFL draft stock isn’t just based on how well you play.

Consider Laremy Tunsil, the offensive tackle for the Miami Dolphins. One hour before the 2016 NFL draft, Tunsil was considered a top 5 pick. But 13 minutes before the draft, his Twitter account was hacked, and broadcast a video of him in shoddy light.

Tunsils draft stock fell and he was eventually taken to the Miami Dolphins as the 13th overall pick in the first round. And while he was drafted in the first round, he missed out on $6- to $8 million dollars on his first NFL contract. This is because what you make is directly linked to the order in which you are chosen in a given round.

A player drafted dead last can have a full four-year contract worth less than a fraction if first-round talent signing bonus alone. But even players all chosen in the first round can face pretty big pay disparities in the range of millions of dollars. To sum it up, the sooner you’re chosen, the bigger the salary.


Once the draft is finished, it’s time for the player to sign his first professional contract. Before 2011, due to the way negotiations were carried out, the NFL offered lucrative contracts for players who weren’t always able to deliver on the field. 

All that has changed thanks to the NFL collective bargaining agreements which created new caps on rookie agreements. If signed, a rookie player can earn up to $480,000 (year 1), $555,000 (year 2), $630,000 (year 3), and $705,000 (year 4). However, these rates can hike up.

There are three main components of each rookie contract – timing, salary, and bonus. All drafted rookies require a minimum of four years to play on the team.

Unlike veteran players, recruits cannot renegotiate the terms of their deal during the course of their first contract. The NFL has also created a rookie wage scale to determine salaries and bonuses, where contracts are based on players’ NFL draft orders being picked in the draft.

Each year when the college football season ends in January, the journey to the NFL begins. It is a short four-to-five-month path to the draft night. But transitioning from a college player to an NFL player is more than their collegiate stats.

Draft players have to undergo training, NFL combined with college pro days, team visits, and finding the right agents. All these come with a heavy price tag. According to the NFL, the cost of getting drafted can surpass $100,000.

Also read: Who is the oldest active player in the NFL?

FAQ #2: Can a player refuse a draft pick NFL?

Drafting players in the NFL always comes with some risk. There is no guarantee that a given player will sign because they have no obligation to do so. Refusal to come to an agreement with an NFL team may vary due to concerns over money, medical concerns, position, and disciplinary issues.

Green Bay Packers drafted Bruce Clark as the fourth overall draft pick of the 1980 NFL draft. GM and head coach Bart Starr was fully aware that Clark wasn’t willing to switch positions, and when Starr eventually made the pick, Clark refused to sign. Green Bay mishandled the ordeal so badly that they couldn’t even get to trade and get something in return before the clock drained on their draft rights.

FAQ #3: How many rounds are in the 2022 NFL Draft?

There are 7 rounds with 262 draft picks. The entire draft doesn’t happen in one night. It is split into 3 days from April 28th to April 30th, 2022. Round one takes place on Day 1, rounds 2 to 3 take place on Day 2, while rounds 4 to 7 take place on Day 3.

The first round is the most important round. It is treated as the opening night of the new NFL season, and one of the biggest live events on TV. It comes after month over month of mock drafts by sports analysts and commentators, deciding who is going to be the top pick.

General Managers, coaches, and scouts spend months narrowing down the list of players that they either want to pick or trade for in the first round.

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