The National Football League Draft, also called the player selection meeting, is an annual event in which the National Football League (NFL) teams select eligible college football players. It serves as the league's most common source of player recruitment. The basic design of the draft is that each team is given a position in the drafting order in reverse order relative to its record in the previous year, which means that the last place team is positioned first. From this position, the team can either select a player or trade their position to another team for other draft positions, a player or players, or any combination thereof. The round is complete when each team has either selected a player or traded its draft position. Certain aspects of the draft, including team positioning and the number of rounds in the draft, have seen revisions since its first creation in 1936, but the fundamental methodology has remained the same. Currently the draft consists of seven rounds. The original rationale in creating the draft was to increase the competitive parity between the teams as the worst team would, ideally, have chosen the best player available.
In the early years of the draft, players were chosen based on hearsay, print media, or other rudimentary evidence of a player's ability. In the 1940s, some franchises began employing full-time scouts. The ensuing success of their corresponding teams eventually forced the other franchises to also hire scouts.
Colloquially, the name of the draft each year takes on the form of the NFL season in which players picked could begin playing. For example, the 2010 NFL draft was for the 2010 NFL season. However, the NFL-defined name of the process has changed since its inception.
The location of the draft has continually changed over the years to accommodate more fans, as the event has gained popularity. The draft's popularity now garners prime-time television coverage.
In the league's early years the draft was held in various cities with NFL franchises until the league settled on New York City starting in 1965, where it remained until 2015. The 2015 and 2016 NFL drafts were held in Chicago, while the 2017 version was held in Philadelphia. In recent years, the NFL draft has occurred in late April or early May.
As background, Stan Kostka had a huge college career as a U of M running back, leading the Minnesota Gophers to an undefeated season in 1934. Every NFL team wanted to sign him. Since there was no draft back then, savvy Stan did the smart thing - he held out for the highest offer. While a free agent, Stan kept busy, even running for Mayor of Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota. Although his political career didn’t take off, Stan's nine-month NFL holdout succeeded and he became the league's highest-paid player, signing a $5,000 contract with the NFL's team in Brooklyn, New York on August 25, 1935. As a response to the bidding war for Stan Kostka, the NFL instituted the draft in 1936.
In late 1934, Art Rooney, owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, gave the right of usage of two players to the New York Giants because Rooney's team had no chance to participate in the post-season. After the owner of the Boston Redskins, George Preston Marshall, protested the transaction, the president of the NFL, Joe F. Carr, disallowed the Giants the ability to employ the players. At a league meeting in December 1934, the NFL introduced a waiver rule to prevent such transactions. Any player released by a team during the season would be able to be claimed by other teams. The selection order to claim the player would be in inverse order to the teams' standings at the time.
Throughout this time, Bert Bell, co-owner of the Philadelphia Eagles, felt his team's lack of competitiveness on the field made it difficult for the Eagles to sell tickets and to be profitable. Compounding the Eagles' problems were players signed with teams that offered the most money, or if the money being equal, players chose to sign with the most prestigious teams at the time, who had established a winning tradition. As a result, the NFL was dominated by the Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers, Giants, and Redskins. Bell's inability to sign a desired prospect, Stan Kostka, in 1935, eventually led Bell to believe the only way for the NFL to have enduring success was for all teams to have an equal opportunity to sign eligible players. At a league meeting on May 18, 1935, Bell proposed a draft be instituted to enhance the possibility of competitive parity on the field in order to ensure the financial viability of all franchises. His proposal was adopted unanimously that day, although the first draft would not occur until the next off-season.
The rules for the selection of the players in the first draft were, first, that a list of college seniors would be assembled by each franchise and submitted into a pool. From this pool, each franchise would select, in inverse order to their team's record in the previous year, a player. With this selection, the franchise had the unilateral right to negotiate a contract with that player, or the ability to trade that player to another team for a player, or players. If, for any reason, the franchise was unsuccessful in negotiating a contract with the player and was unable to trade the player, the president of the NFL could attempt to arbitrate a settlement between the player and the franchise. If the president was unable to settle the dispute, then the player would be placed in the reserve list of the franchise and would be unavailable to play for any team in the NFL that year. In the 1935 NFL season, the Eagles finished in last place at 2–9, thus securing themselves the first pick in the draft.
The first NFL draft began at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Philadelphia on February 8, 1936. Ninety names were written on a blackboard in the meeting room from which the teams would choose. As no team had a scouting department, the list was created from either print media sources, visits to local colleges by team executives, or by recommendations to team executives. The draft would last for nine rounds, and it had no media coverage. The first player ever selected in the draft was Jay Berwanger. Bell, prior to the draft, was not successfully able to negotiate a contract with Berwanger so Bell traded him to the Bears. George Halas, owner of the Bears, was also unsuccessful in signing Berwanger. Berwanger's decision to not play in the NFL was not unusual, as only twenty-four of the eighty-one players selected chose to play in the NFL that year. The draft was recessed on the first day and it was continued and finished on the next day.
This draft saw the emergence of Wellington Mara as a savant, as he had been subscribing to magazines and local and out-of-town papers to build up dossiers of college players across the country, which resulted in the Giants' drafting of Tuffy Leemans. As a result of the institution of the draft, Tim Mara, owner of the Giants, reduced Ken Strong's salary offer to $3,200 from $6,000 a year for 1936 because Mara felt the draft would alter the salary structure of the NFL. Generally, the franchises' exclusivity in negotiating with draft picks produced the immediate effect of, depending on sources, stopping the escalating salaries of new players, or reducing their salaries. Consequently, contemporary critics charged it was anti-labor.
Art Rooney, owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, chose Byron "Whizzer" White in the first round of the 1938 draft despite White's known public declaration that he would not play professional football and would instead begin work on his Rhodes scholarship. White did, however, agree to play for the 1938 season after Rooney publicly gave him a guaranteed contract of $15,000, double what any other player had ever made in the NFL. The size of the dollar amount brought condemnation from other owners because it altered the pay expectations of college draftees. For the 1939 draft Wellington, for the first time, was put in charge of drafting players for the Giants. He submitted the list of players into the pool that the Giants—or other franchises—could choose players from. However, in the first round he selected a player, Walt Nielsen, not on the list of players that the Giants or any other franchise had submitted. With a grin Wellington stated, "'I didn't think I said I put every name on that list.'"
An African-American had not played in the NFL since prior to the draft's institution. In 1939, Kenny Washington was, to no small extent, viewed as one of the greatest college football players of all time. After information was made available to at least one owner of a franchise, Washington was not drafted by any team for the 1940 NFL Draft.
The draft would be eventually codified into the NFL Constitution, although no information is available on when that originally occurred.
The NFL's competition with the AAFC in 1947 resulted in a temporary institution of a bonus pick.
In the thirteenth round, George Taliaferro became the first African-American selected when he was chosen in the 1949 NFL draft. He however, chose to sign with an AAFC team. Wally Triplett was chosen in the nineteenth and he would be the first African-American to be selected in the draft and make an NFL team. After the draft and prior to the start of the season, Paul "Tank" Younger was signed by the Los Angeles Rams as a free agent and became the first NFL player from an historically black college. Eddie Robinson, Younger's coach at Grambling, promptly and unequivocally, impressed upon him that the future of the recruitment and drafting of his colleagues at other black colleges lay in the balance based on his success with the Rams.
In 1980, Chet Simmons, president of the year-old ESPN, asked Pete Rozelle if the fledgling network could broadcast coverage of the draft live on ESPN. Although Rozelle did not believe it would be entertaining television, he agreed.
In 1988, the NFL moved the draft from weekdays to the weekend and ESPN's ratings of the coverage improved dramatically. ESPN received competition in 2006 when the NFL Network, which had launched in October 2003, began to produce its own draft coverage.
In 2010, the NFL moved to a three-day draft with the first day encompassing the first round beginning at 8:00 pm EDT, the second day encompassing the second and third rounds beginning at 7:00 pm EDT, and third day concluding the process with the final four rounds beginning at 11:00 am EDT Saturday.
The rules do not state that a player must attend college, but virtually all of the players selected in the NFL draft have played college football. A year as a redshirt player in college counts toward eligibility even though the player was not allowed to participate in games during that year, therefore players who have completed their redshirt sophomore year can enter the NFL draft. A few players are occasionally selected from other football leagues like the Arena Football League (AFL), the Canadian Football League (CFL), and the German Football League (GFL). A small handful of players have also been drafted from colleges who played other sports than football.
The selection order is based on each team's win-loss record in the previous season and whether the team reached the playoffs. Teams that did not reach the playoffs the previous season are ranked in reverse order of their records (thus the team with the fewest wins is awarded the first selection). Ties between teams with identical records are determined by the following tiebreakers (in order):
Teams that reached the playoffs the previous season are then slotted in the order in which they were eliminated as indicated in the table below. Within each tier, the slotting is determined as above (i.e. worst record picks first and the same tiebreakers apply).
|Eliminated in Wild Card round||21–24|
|Eliminated in Divisional round||25–28|
|Super Bowl runner-up||31|
|Super Bowl champion||32|
Once the order for the first round is determined as described above, the selection order remains the same for subsequent rounds with the exception of teams with identical records within their tier. These tied teams "cycle" picks in each subsequent round. For example, in the 2014 draft, the Jacksonville Jaguars, Cleveland Browns, Oakland Raiders, Atlanta Falcons, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers all finished 4–12, and selected in that order in the first round (based on the tiebreakers described above). In the second round, Jacksonville cycled to the back of the line with the order becoming Cleveland, Oakland, Atlanta, Tampa Bay, and Jacksonville. That cycling continued in each round.
An exception to this ordering strategy occurs when new "expansion teams" are added to the league. An expansion team is automatically granted the first selection. If there are two or more expansion teams added, a coin toss (for two expansion teams) or a drawing of lots (for three expansion teams or more) determines which team is awarded the first selection in the regular draft. The loser of the coin toss (or the winner of the drawing of lots in the event there are three or more expansion teams) is awarded the first selection in the expansion draft.
The 2010 NFL draft was the first draft to take place over three days. Its first round was on Thursday, April 22 at 7:30 p.m. ET, with the second and third rounds on Friday, April 23 at 6 p.m. ET, followed by the remaining rounds on Saturday, April 24 at 10 a.m. ET.
The first overall pick generally gets the richest contract, but other contracts rely on a number of variables. While they generally are based on the previous year's second overall pick, third overall, etc., each player's position also is taken into account. Quarterbacks, for example, usually command more money than defensive linemen, which can skew those dollar figures slightly.
Each team has its representatives attend the draft. During the draft, one team is always "on the clock." In Round 1, teams have 10 minutes to make their choice (previously 15)[time needed]. The decision time drops to 7 minutes (previously 10) in the second round and 5 minutes in Rounds 3–7. If a team does not make a decision within its allotted time, the team still can submit its selection at any time after its time is up, but the next team can pick before it, thus possibly 'stealing' a player the team with the earlier pick may have been considering. This occurred in the 2003 draft, when the Minnesota Vikings, with the 7th overall pick, were late with their selection. The Jacksonville Jaguars drafted quarterback Byron Leftwich and the Carolina Panthers drafted offensive tackle Jordan Gross before the Vikings were able to submit their selection of defensive tackle Kevin Williams. This also happened in 2011; as the Baltimore Ravens were negotiating a trade with the Chicago Bears, their time expired and allowed the Kansas City Chiefs to pick ahead of Baltimore, who was unable to finalize the trade with Chicago.
Teams may negotiate with one another both before and during the draft for the right to pick an additional player in a given round. For example, a team may include draft picks in future drafts in order to acquire a player during a trading period. Teams may also make negotiations during the draft relinquishing the right to pick in a given round for the right to have an additional pick in a later round. Thus teams may have no picks or multiple picks in a given round.
In addition to the 32 selections in each of the seven rounds, a total of 32 compensatory picks are awarded to teams based on the players they lost and gained in free agency. Using a proprietary formula, the league defines a class of unrestricted free agents as "compensatory free agents ("CFA"). Teams that have lost more or better compensatory free agents than they signed in the previous year receive picks somewhere in the third through seventh rounds. Teams that gain and lose the same number of players but lose higher-valued players also can be awarded a pick, but only in the seventh round, after the others. Compensatory picks are awarded each year at the NFL annual meeting which is held at the end of March; typically, about three or four weeks before the draft. Compensatory picks may not be traded (however, this will change beginning with the 2017 NFL draft). The placement of the picks is determined by a proprietary formula based on the player's salary, playing time, and postseason honors with his new team, with salary being the primary factor. So, for example, a team that lost a linebacker who signed for $2.5 million per year in free agency might get a sixth-round compensatory pick, while a team that lost a wide receiver who signed for $5 million per year might receive a fourth-round pick. However, the NFL has never revealed the exact formula used to determine allotment of compensatory picks, though observers from outside the NFL have been able to reverse engineer it to some degree of certainty.
All compensatory picks are awarded at the ends of Rounds 3 through 7. If fewer than 32 such picks are awarded, the remaining picks are awarded after the final Round 7 compensatory picks in the order in which teams would pick in a hypothetical eighth round of the draft; these picks are known as "supplemental compensatory selections". More than 32 compensatory picks have been awarded only on one occasion: the 2016 NFL Draft, where 33 picks were awarded; the additional pick was awarded (under an agreement between the NFL Management Council and the NFLPA) to the Buffalo Bills for losing Da'Norris Searcy to free agency and signing Charles Clay as a transition tagged player from the Miami Dolphins, who had not qualified as a CFA.
In 2016, the NFL released the compensatory picks on March 11 (one month and four days after the Super Bowl).
The NFL allows each team a certain amount of money from its salary cap to sign its drafted rookies for their first season. That amount is based on an undisclosed formula that assigns a certain value to each pick in the draft; thus, having more picks, or earlier picks, will increase the allotment. In 2008 the highest allotment was about $8.22 million for the Kansas City Chiefs, who had 12 picks, including two first-rounders, while the lowest was the $1.79 million for the Cleveland Browns who had only five picks, and none in the first three rounds. The exact mechanism for the rookie salary cap is set out in the NFL's collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA). (Those numbers represent the cap hits that each rookie's salary may contribute, not the total amount of money paid out.)
The drafted players are paid salaries commensurate with the position in which they were drafted. High first-round picks get paid the most, and low-round picks get paid the least. There is a de facto pay scale for drafted rookies. After the draft, non-drafted rookies may sign a contract with any team in the league. These rookie free-agents are not usually paid as well as drafted players, nearly all of them signing for the predetermined rookie minimum and a small signing bonus.
Two other facets of the rookie salary cap impact the makeup of rosters. First, the base salaries of rookie free agents do not count towards the rookie salary cap, though certain bonuses do. Second, if a rookie is traded, his cap allotment remains with the team that originally drafted him, which make trades involving rookie players relatively rare. (This rule does not apply, however, to rookies that are waived by the teams that drafted them.)
Teams can also agree to a contract with a draft-eligible player before the draft itself starts. They can only do this if they have the first overall pick, as by agreeing to terms with a player the team has already "selected" which player they will draft. A recent example of this would be quarterback Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions in the 2009 NFL Draft. The Lions, with the first overall selection in the draft, agreed to a 6-year, $78 million deal with $41.7 million guaranteed with Stafford a day before the draft officially started. By agreeing to the deal, Stafford had already been chosen as the first overall pick in the draft.
The commissioner has the ability to forfeit picks the team is allotted in a draft. For example, in the 2007 NFL season, the New England Patriots were penalized for videotaping the Jets' defensive signals outside of a designated area. As a result, the Patriots forfeited their first-round pick in the 2008 NFL Draft. Similarly, the San Francisco 49ers were forced to forfeit a fifth-round pick in the same draft for tampering with a player under contract to the Chicago Bears, and were also forced to swap third-round selections with the Bears (moving the 49ers down and the Bears up six spots). Also, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell penalized the New Orleans Saints by taking away their 2nd round picks in the 2012 and 2013 NFL drafts in the wake of the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal. Another time this has happened was in the 2016 NFL Draft where the Patriots 1st round pick was taken away for Deflategate.
Teams vary greatly in their selection methodologies. Owners, general managers, coaches, and others may or may not participate. For the 1983 draft, for example, the Pittsburgh Steelers' head coach Chuck Noll had what team executive Art Rooney, Jr. later described as "the final say" over picks, even over his father, team owner Art Rooney. New England Patriots head coach Ron Meyer, by contrast, later stated that the team, led by owner Billy Sullivan, excluded the coaching staff from any personnel-related decisions, even prohibiting him from reading scouting reports. Had he had the decision-making authority, Meyer said, he would not have chosen Tony Eason in the first round of the 1983 draft.
College football players who are considering entering the NFL draft but who still have eligibility to play football can request an expert opinion from the NFL-created Draft Advisory Board. The Board, composed of scouting experts and team executives, makes a prediction as to the likely round in which a player would be drafted. This information, which has proven to be fairly accurate, can help college players determine whether to enter the draft or to continue playing and improving at the college level. There are also many famous reporting scouts, such as Mel Kiper Jr.
The NFL Scouting Combine is a six-day assessment of skills occurring every year in late February or early March in Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana. College football players perform physical and mental tests in front of NFL coaches, general managers, and scouts. With increasing interest in the NFL draft, the scouting combine has grown in scope and significance, allowing personnel directors to evaluate upcoming prospects in a standardized setting. Its origins have evolved from the National, BLESTO, and Quadra Scouting services in 1977 to the media frenzy it has become today. Athletes attend by invitation only. Implications of one's performance during the Combine can affect perception, draft status, salary, and ultimately his career. The draft has popularized the term "Workout Warrior" (sometimes known as a "Workout Wonder"), describing an athlete who, based on superior measurables such as size, speed, and strength, has increased his "draft stock" despite having a possibly average or subpar college career.
Each university has a Pro Day, during which the NCAA allows NFL scouts to visit the school and watch players participate in NFL Combine events together. (Some smaller universities join with nearby schools.) Essentially job fairs for prospective NFL players, Pro Days are held under the belief that players feel more comfortable at their own campus than they do at the Combine, which in turn leads to better performances. College teams which produce a large quantity of NFL prospects generally generate huge interest from scouts and coaches at their Pro Days.
Tickets to the NFL draft are free and made available to fans on a first-come first-served basis. The tickets are distributed at the box office the morning of the draft, one ticket per person.
The 2006 draft was held at New York City's Radio City Music Hall, the first time this venue has hosted the gala, and it was held there until 2015, when the draft was held in Chicago's Auditorium Theater. The move marks the first time that the Draft has been in Chicago since 1964. The Theater at Madison Square Garden had hosted the event for a ten-year period, but the NFL moved it to the Javits Convention Center in 2005 following a dispute with the Cablevision-owned arena, who were opposing the West Side Stadium, which would have served as home of the New York Jets and the centerpiece of the New York City bid for the 2012 Summer Olympics, because the new stadium would compete with the Garden for concerts and other events.
Chicago: 1938, 1942–1943, 1951, 1962–1964, 2015–2016 (9)
Los Angeles: 1956 (1)
Milwaukee: 1940 (1)
New York City: 1937, 1939, 1944–1945, 1947, 1952, 1955, 1965–2014 (57)
Philadelphia: 1936, 1944, 1949–1961, 2017 (15)
Pittsburgh: 1948–1949 (2)
Washington, D.C.: 1941 (1)
*: Year with more than one Draft venue
The NFL has absorbed two other football leagues through mergers, these held drafts of their own before merging with the NFL.
Chicago: 1946, 1949
Cleveland: 1947, 1949
Houston: 1950 cancelled by NFL merger
New York: 1948
*: Year with more than one Draft venue
New York: 1964–1966
No location (by telephone): 1965*
*: Year with more than one draft venue
Since 1977, the NFL has also held a supplemental draft to accommodate players who did not enter the regular draft. Players generally enter the supplementary draft because they missed the filing deadline for the NFL draft or because issues developed which affected their eligibility (such as academic or disciplinary matters). The supplemental draft is scheduled to occur at some point after the regular draft and before the start of the next season. In 1984 the NFL held an additional draft for players who were under contract with either USFL or CFL teams.
Draft order is determined by a weighted system that is divided into three groupings. First come the teams that had six or fewer wins last season, followed by non-playoff teams that had more than six wins, followed by the 12 playoff teams. In the supplemental draft, a team is not required to use any picks. Instead, if a team wants a player in the supplemental draft, they submit a "bid" to the Commissioner with the round they would pick that player. If no other team places a bid on that player at an earlier spot, the team is awarded the player and has to give up an equivalent pick in the following year's draft. (For example, FS Paul Oliver was taken by the San Diego Chargers in the fourth round of the supplemental draft in 2007; thus, in the 2008 NFL draft, the Chargers forfeited a fourth-round pick.)
The 1985 supplemental draft was particularly controversial. Quarterback Bernie Kosar who had led the University of Miami to its first National Championship in 1984 was earning his academic degree as a junior. Rather than finish his eligibility at Miami he wanted to turn pro. At this time college players had to wait for their class unless they themselves graduated early.
A plan was devised by football agent AJ Faigin that was to get him to his preferred team, the Cleveland Browns. Faigin was representing former University of Miami QB Jim Kelly, then in the USFL, but whose NFL rights were held by the Buffalo Bills. The USFL was in its last days and Kelly would soon be available to the Bills. Faigin's first step was to ask Bill Polian, the GM of Buffalo, if he would be willing to trade the number one supplemental pick (worth next to nothing at that time) to Cleveland. Polian agreed and Faigin told the Cleveland Browns a trade was available. He next notified Kosar's father he should not formally submit his son's application for the standard NFL draft that was weeks away and declare only afterward; which would put him into the supplemental draft.
The result of Kosar's withdrawal resulted in rare, open warfare among NFL teams played out in the newspapers with threats of lawsuits between them, notably the Minnesota Vikings and New York Giants, who had expressed interest in choosing him in that season's regular draft. But as no rules were broken the Giants and eventually Minnesota had to back down. Following that season, the NFL instituted the current semi-random supplemental draft order.
The strategy devised by A.J. Faigin, to not declare for the NFL until after the regular draft, was subsequently used by other top players for various reasons. In some cases, it was because they did not want to play for the team that would have drafted them in the regular draft. For example, Brian Bosworth did not declare because he did not want to play for the Indianapolis Colts or the Buffalo Bills, the teams who drafted second and third that year. The Colts had offered him a 4-year, $2.2 million deal before the draft. The Seattle Seahawks won the right to draft first in the supplemental draft, and later signed him to a 10-year, $11 million contract. At the time that was the largest rookie contract in NFL history.
As of the 1990 season, only players who had graduated or exhausted their college eligibility were made available for the supplemental draft. Since 1993, only players who had planned to attend college but for various reasons could not, have been included in the supplemental draft.
He brings to the Seahawks ... the potential to be a dominating force inside.