How Does The NFL Draft Work?

How Does The NFL Draft Work

Every year, football fans, coaches, and players eagerly anticipate the NFL Draft, a three-day long event in which the 32 NFL teams select eligible players from a massive pool of college athletes to join their rosters. The draft is crucial for teams to build up their squads and prepare for the upcoming season, and as such, a team’s draft picks are coveted items, with higher-ranked picks being the most desirable, and pick trades occurring frequently. Below, we will provide an in-depth look at how the NFL Draft works, discussing its format, how picks are assigned and traded, the rules of the draft, and how players become eligible.

NFL Draft Format

The NFL Draft is an annual event that occurs each spring, typically late in the month of April. In its current format, the draft is a three-day event, occurring over the span of a Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. The draft consists of seven rounds, each of which consists of 32 draft picks, one for each team in the NFL. On Thursday, only the first round of picks occurs, with the second and third rounds occurring on Friday and Rounds 4-7 on Saturday.

The draft is held at a large venue, often a hotel, theater, stadium, or concert venue. Popular past venues have included the Radio City Music Hall in New York City, Madison Square Garden, and the New York Marriott Marquis hotel. The upcoming 2023 Draft is set to be held at Kansas City Union Station in Missouri, on April 27-29, 2023, while the 2024 Draft will be held at Campus Martius Park in Detroit, Michigan.

Each team has a table at the venue, which consists of their representatives at the draft. These representatives maintain constant telephone or Internet contact with team executives, who often watch and participate in the draft from their team headquarters. Below, we will go into further detail about the rules of the draft itself, and how selections work, but first, we will discuss how picks are assigned to each team.

Assigning Draft Picks

The NFL Draft consists of seven rounds, and each round consists of 32 draft picks, one for each NFL team. In order to assign draft picks after the end of the previous season, the NFL looks at the records of each team in the league. Draft picks, and thus selection order, are given out in the reverse order of league standings at the end of the season. Thus, before any pick trades occur, whichever team had the worst record in the prior season receives the first pick, while the Super Bowl winners pick last.

The first 20 picks are given out to those teams which did not make the previous postseason. Slots 21-32 are given to the teams that did qualify for the playoffs, with the following ranking:

  • Slots 21-24: Teams eliminated in the Wild Card Round of the playoffs.
  • Slots 25-28: Teams eliminated in the Divisional Round of the playoffs.
  • Slots 29-30: Teams eliminated in the two Conference Championship Games.
  • Slot 31: The team who lost the Super Bowl.
  • Slot 32: The team who won the Super Bowl.

If two or more teams have the same seasonal record, selection order is determined by strength of schedule, meaning that the team with the easier schedule in the regular season (based on their opponents’ combined winning percentage) receives the better pick, and so on until the ties are resolved. In cases where teams are tied in terms of both record and strength of schedule, division or conference tiebreakers are used, followed by the following methods, in order, if ties still exist:

  1. Head-to-head (if applicable)
  2. Best won-lost-tied percentage in common games (minimum of four)
  3. Strength of victory (all games)
  4. Best combined ranking among all teams (points scored and points allowed)
  5. Best net points (all games)
  6. Best net touchdowns (all games)
  7. Coin toss

Compensatory Picks

The NFL’s collective bargaining agreement allows the league to assign up to 32 “compensatory free agent” picks. These picks allow teams who have lost free agents to another team to use the Draft to complete their rosters. Compensatory picks are used at the end of each of Rounds 3-7. Players who are compensatory free agents are determined by a formula used by the NFL Management Council, based upon salary, playing time, and postseason achievements. For each team, the value of free agents gained or lost is calculated, and teams are awarded compensatory picks equal in value to their net loss, with a team being capable of receiving a maximum of four picks.

NFL Draft Rules

Once the NFL Draft begins, teams must follow a set of rules governing their selections and the timing of their picks. These rules are as follows:

  • The first round begins on Thursday at 8 p.m. EST, and consists of 32 picks.
  • Each team has 10 minutes to make their picks in the first round.
  • Rounds 2 and 3 occur on Friday.
  • Each team has seven minutes per pick in Rounds 2 and 3.
  • Rounds 4-7 occur on Saturday.
  • Each team has five minutes per pick (regular and compensatory) in Rounds 4-6.
  • Each team has four minutes per pick (regular and compensatory) in Round 7.

When making their picks, a team’s executives decide on their selection and communicate it to their on-site representatives, who proceed to write the selected player’s name, position, and school on a card. This card is given to a “runner,” who is an NFL staff member that sends the selection to an NFL Player Personnel representative to be placed in a database. Meanwhile, a second runner goes to the team with the next pick and informs them of the previous selection, so that they can plan their upcoming pick. The runner with the card brings it up to the head table and gives it to the Vice President of Player Personnel, who records the pick and gives it to the Commissioner to announce.

If a team fails to make a selection within its allotted time each round, they have the ability to select at a later time, but it cannot hold any players it was considering, and they can thus be drafted by any team in the interim.

Draft Pick Trades

As in many other sports, the NFL allows teams to trade their draft picks between each other after initial picks are assigned. Teams often trade draft picks for players during the season, and many teams will often consent to trading a star player if it means they can rack up multiple high-ranking draft picks.

Draft picks can be traded at any time prior to or during the draft. If they occur during the draft, both teams must call the head table and have them supervise the trade. Trades are then shared with the entire league.

How Do Players Become Eligible for the NFL Draft?

Now that we have covered how the NFL Draft works, how do players become eligible for the draft? Many rules govern what is required of a player to be eligible for the draft. These include the following:

  • A player must have been out of high school for at least three years.
  • Players must have used up their college eligibility before the start of the next college season.
  • Underclassmen and players who have not used up college eligibility may request NFL approval to enter the draft early.
  • A player must apply for the draft only in the first year after using up their college eligibility.


What is the NFL Draft?

The NFL Draft is an annual event in which all 32 NFL teams select players from the pool of recent college athletes to fill out their rosters. Each team receives one pick in each of the seven rounds after the previous season ends, based on their record in that season. Picks can be, and are often traded. The draft is a three-day event, with Round 1 occurring on Thursday, Rounds 2 and 3 on Friday, and Rounds 4-7 on Saturday.

When is the NFL Draft?

The NFL Draft is typically held in the spring, usually around the end of the month of April. The draft has been held at various times over the years, including in February, December, January, November, March, and May. Since 1985, the draft has been held consistently in April. The 2023 Draft is set to be held at Union Station in Kansas City, Missouri, on April 27-29, 2023.

Who gets the first pick in the NFL Draft?

The first overall pick in the NFL Draft is initially given out to the team with the worst record in the previous NFL season. This is done in order to avoid giving draft advantages to the best teams, which would prevent poorer-performing teams from getting a chance to improve. However, the team who receives the first pick can always trade it away before the draft begins. The first overall pick for the 2023 NFL Draft was held by the Chicago Bears but was traded to the Carolina Panthers in exchange for two first-round picks and star receiver D.J. Moore.