The NFL For Rookies – The NFL Draft

The NFL Draft – what is it and how does it work?

The NFL Draft – The Basics

In the weeks before the NFL Draft takes place, selected college players are invited to take part in a large-scale scouting event called the ‘Scouting Combine’. This is where they attempt to show off their skills to prospective employers and hope to impress them enough to secure getting picked and signed to a Pro-NFL contract. 

The Scouting Combine’s approximate equivalent is knowing that there is a scout in the crowd at a football match. The major difference being that this is an individual skills showcase, as opposed to a game.

The NFL Draft takes place every year in the last week of April. This annual event is where the thirty-two NFL teams take turns picking players from colleges, to play for their team in the National Football League. 

Remember those days at school when you stood waiting to be picked by the best two players after lunch-time? Now imagine 32 captains picking from the whole school’s population.

Teams use the draft to plug holes and weaknesses in the team, as well as finding next-generational talent. The draft is split into seven rounds with each team getting assigned one pick per round. (This is sometimes more complicated than it sounds, but we will cross that bridge later!)

The Order of Picks in the NFL Draft

The order in which the teams pick sometimes looks totally randomised but at least initially is worked out really simply. The team with the worst Win/Loss record from the previous season picks first in each round. The team with the second-worst record picks second and so on, and that is how it works for the first eighteen teams.

Then it becomes slightly more confusing. Instead of just the Win/Loss record, it goes off of how well they did in the playoffs. So, the next six picks are the six losers from the wildcard round. They are then ordered into worst Win/Loss records. The same then happens for the teams that lose in the divisional round, the championship round and finally Super Bowl. 

At the end of all that, you have your order. The worst team with the first pick and the Super Bowl winners with the last pick. For 2021, that will be the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tampa Bay Buccaneers respectively.

If only it were that simple…

Trading Picks

In the NFL, trades work very differently than they do in English football. Contracts that players sign get traded to the next team and rather than monetary transfers they predominantly use player swaps and draft picks instead.

I’ll write a separate article about this because these can tend to get pretty complicated at times too!

In the 2020 Draft, the Miami Dolphins had three first-round picks, with the Jaguars and the Raiders both having two. These were due to trades made in prior seasons.

Not only that but often teams will ‘trade up’ or ‘trade down’ depending on the teams wants and needs. For example, in the 2020 Draft, Tampa Bay traded up one space from 14th to 13th overall pick. To sweeten the deal they gave San Francisco their 4th round pick and in return received a 7th round pick. That meant that following the trade Tampa Bay ended up picking 13th and 245th and San Francisco 14th and 117th

Making a Pick

When the Draft starts, the first team is ‘On the clock’. This means they have a set time to either choose a player to draft or trade away the pick. Using their ‘Draft Board’ the team will decide on the player they want to select and then finalise the pick by completing a ‘Pick Card’ stating the player’s name, position and college and handing it to an NFL representative. This then triggers the draft clock to reset and the next team is on the clock. Whilst that team is deciding their pick, the previous pick will get announced and this process continues through the rounds.

The draft takes place over three days. The first round is held on the first day; the second and third rounds on the second day; and rounds four to seven on the third and final day.


There are a few teeny tiny extra bits to mention, such as compensatory picks and alike but we’ll go into them another day! This article should give you a good foundation for what the NFL Draft is and what to be on the look-out for come draft day!

To finish, here’s a quick statistic for you:

Roughly 60,000 people play American Football at college level. Of those, around 6000 will get scouted by NFL teams. Under 1,000 of whom will go on to sign an NFL contract. The majority of these will end up getting cut during the pre-season camps and only 300 will end up actually making the roster. 

That gives you an idea of how tricky it is to make it in the NFL!

Thanks for reading, 


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