Thousands of talents, fans and the teams are already looking forward to the next NFL highlight after the Super Bowl: Every year in April, the draft is held, in which the successor to Tom Brady and Co. is sought.
Why does the NFL need the draft? How does the talent selection work? What special features are there? sport.de clarifies the most important questions about the NFL draft.
What is the NFL Draft?
In US sports, the draft is a meeting of all franchises in a league and is the usual means for professional teams to sign young talent.
Unlike in European football, for example, the amateur and youth fields are not organized as clubs; instead, young athletes are trained at high schools and colleges.
In an annual draft, the teams of the respective league, in this case the NFL, can select young talents for their rosters from a large pool of college players.
The first NFL draft was in 1936. The idea came from Bert Bell, then head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles and later NFL commissioner. With the introduction of the draft, he wanted to prevent the top talent from continuing to join only the top teams.
How does the NFL draft work?
Traditionally, there are seven rounds of voting. In theory, each of the 32 teams has exactly one pick in each round, i.e. one choice.
The order depends on the performance in the previous year. The worst team of the preseason gets the first pick, the winner of the Super Bowl gets the last pick.
The reason behind it is as logical as it is fair. It’s about creating a balanced league over the years. Weak teams should have the opportunity to compensate for the performance disadvantage of the previous season by signing the greatest talents.
The seven rounds are divided into three days. Only the first round takes place on the first day, followed by rounds two and three on the next day before the remaining four rounds take place on the last day.
Teams have ten minutes per selection on day one, seven minutes on day two, and just five minutes on the final day.
How do trades change the order of the NFL draft?
In practice, the order of the draft is usually different. That’s because draft picks in the NFL represent much of the currency for player transfers. Players are not committed by monetary compensation, instead players are exchanged for the draft picks and/or optionally their own players. The order can therefore change constantly before and during the draft.
A typical example of a draft pick trade would be: Team A has the 20th pick in the first round, but would like Team B’s 15th pick, so Team A offers their 20th pick in exchange for the 15 as well as a pick from the next round.
Should this trade go through, both teams would have swapped their picks and Team B would have two picks in the following round, while Team A would not be able to pick a player.
Particularly valuable players are usually worth several first-round picks. Just last year, for example, the Houston Texans received three first-round picks (one each in 2022, 2023, and 2024) from the Cleveland Browns for quarterback Deshaun Watson.
By exchanging valuable players, the NFL teams have the opportunity to collect the so-called “draft ammunition”, i.e. many picks, in order to strengthen the team in the best possible way in the event of a possible upheaval.
For example, the New York Giants had three first-round picks in 2020.
Which players are in the NFL Draft?
There are thousands of players to choose from every year. This is also due to the rather simple criteria for admission. Athletes must have been out of high school for at least three years and must be ineligible to play in college.
The so-called “underclassmen”, i.e. players who have not yet been at college for four years, have to give up their eligibility to play there.
So if a player enters the NFL Draft while still out of college, they need to be confident they will be selected. If that doesn’t happen, he could go back to college, but only as a student, no longer as an athlete.
In order to be selected, the player does not necessarily have to be picked in the draft itself. Even after the draft, the teams can commit the players as so-called “undrafted free agents”. This is then no longer subject to a specific order, teams and players can negotiate freely.
For some of the players, the NFL organizes the NFL Combine every year, which takes place almost two months before the draft.
In Indianapolis, not only the athletes, but also the trainers, doctors and scouts of the teams gather to examine the players very closely.
From physical tests, such as the famous 40 yard dash, through game exercises to medical examinations and personal interviews, everything is included that helps the teams to get an accurate picture of the players.
Why is the NFL draft so important?
For NFL teams, the draft is a great opportunity to improve up and down the field with talented (and relatively inexpensive) players.
The contracts for rookies are significantly cheaper than those of a player who has already proven himself in the NFL and can freely negotiate his salary – an important factor, especially given the salary cap.
The financial component and also the chance to win a lot of quality directly with a good pick makes the draft particularly important for the NFL teams.
What is the players’ view of the NFL draft?
The draft is even more important to the players than it is to the teams. At the end of the day, the draft is a footballer’s best shot at making it into the NFL. If an athlete is selected in one of the seven rounds, he takes part in the preparation with his team and has the chance to prove himself.
But not only the fact of the pick is important, also the question of when one is selected can change the life of the young athlete. An earlier pick simply means more money for the player.
As an example: The contract value for Travon Walker, first pick last year, is $41 million, while George Karlaftis, who came off the board in 30th place, “only” earns just under $13 million.
What are compensatory picks in the NFL draft?
As mentioned, in theory, each team has one pick per round. In practice, however, it is not that simple. The so-called compensatory picks are to blame. These picks are made by the NFL prior to the draft and can come at the end of rounds three through seven.
Here, too, the aim is to create more equal opportunities. Therefore, teams that lost one or more important players to other franchises in the offseason of the previous year are given such a compensatory pick.
Certain criteria are used for the compensatory picks. Each team can have a maximum of four compensatory picks.
A complicated mathematical formula, which the NFL keeps secret, is decisive for the exact assignment of the picks. But things like the player’s salary and playing time with the new team play a role.
There are also picks for a minority coach who has been poached away if they become head coach or general manager somewhere else. These count on top of the maximum four achievable picks through player losses.
When and where will the 2023 NFL draft be held?
This year’s draft will take place on April 29th and 30th according to German time.
The first round will take place on Thursday night at 2:00 a.m., the second draft day will start 23 hours later at 1:00 a.m., while the last four rounds in Germany will start at 6:00 p.m. on the same day . Venue this year is Kansas City.
In recent years, the NFL draft has always taken place in different cities. However, this was not always the case: between 1965 and 2014, for example, the event always took place in New York City.
What surprises have there been in the past in the NFL draft?
There are surprises in the NFL draft almost every year. Be it players who are picked early but then have problems in the league or players selected late who then cause a sensation.
The most famous case in this scenario is of course Tom Brady: The NFL superstar, who recently ended his career after more than 20 years and seven Super Bowl titles, was drafted in 2000 in 199th place by the New England Patriots.
A recent example is Brock Purdy. The quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers was named “Mr. Irrelevant” last year, i.e. the last picked player in the entire NFL draft.
As such, he not only made the California roster, he even led the 49ers into the NFC Championship Game late in the season, albeit suffering an early injury and watching his team lose to the Eagles.
Finding such surprises among thousands of talents is the fine art of the NFL draft. It takes a lot of work and a bit of luck for the team scouts to choose the stars of tomorrow.