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The NFL Draft (officially the NFL Annual Player Selection Meeting) is an annual sports draft in which National Football League (NFL) teams take turns selecting amateur college American football players and other first-time eligible players.

Draft Procedure and Rules

The NFL Draft has been in New York City since 1965 and has had to move into large venues as the event has gained in popularity, drawing fans from across the country who are looking for a reason to paint their faces in April. The 2006 draft was held at Radio City Music Hall, the first time this venue has hosted the gala. Madison Square Garden had hosted the event for a number of years before moving to the Javits Convention Center in 2005 following a dispute with MSG management opposing a new stadium for the New York Jets.

Tickets are free, but long waits in line can be expected for fans hoping to get a live glimpse of their team's high-profile picks, or to express their displeasure at their team picking the "wrong" guy. Fans must arrive early in order to attend the draft.

The current format consists of seven rounds. Each team is assigned a selection in each round, with the team with the worst record from the previous year being assigned the first pick in each round. The team with the second-worst record gets the second pick, and so on (with ties broken by strength of schedule) until the Super Bowl participants are reached, with the team that lost the game picking next to last, and the winner picking last.

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 offensive 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 15 minutes to make their choice. The decision time drops to 10 minutes in the second round and to 5 minutes in Rounds 3-7. If a team doesn't 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 late team may have been eyeing.

Compensatory Picks

In addition to the 32 picks in each round, there are a total of up to 32 picks dispersed at the ends of Rounds 3 through 7. These picks, known as "compensatory picks", are awarded to teams that have lost more talented players than they gained the previous year in free agency. These picks cannot be traded, and are awarded based on a proprietary formula based on salary and performance. So, for example, a team that lost a backup quarterback in free agency might get a sixth-round compensatory pick, while a team that lost their best wide receiver might receive a third- or fourth-round pick.

If fewer than 32 such picks are awarded, the remaining picks are awarded in the order in which teams would pick in a hypothetical eighth round of the draft.


The draft is the first chance each team gets at players who have been out of high school for at least three years. Players whose high school class did not graduate three or more years before are not eligible for the draft and hence are not eligible to play in the NFL. Most drafted players come directly out of college programs as seniors or juniors, though some underclassmen are eligible, and other players are selected from other pro leagues like the Arena Football League. A player who is drafted, but does not sign a contract can sit out that season, which is referred to as a "hold out", and can re-enter the draft the following year.

Mr. Irrelevant

The NFL Draft has developed a phenomenon known as "Mr. Irrelevant", which is the final player taken over the two-day event. This player actually receives some celebrity status, receiving a parade and the Lowsman Trophy, which is much like the Heisman trophy, except instead of carrying the ball, the player is fumbling the ball. Past "honorees" of the Mr. Irrelevant title can be seen here.


The NFL allows each team to spend a limited amount of money from its salary cap to sign rookies (including undrafted players). Teams with higher picks get a higher rookie salary cap allocation. The salary cap increases from the year before, so most years there is more money allotted to teams for signing rookies. This form of salary control is legal because it has been negotiated into the NFL's collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with the National Football League Players Association(NFLPA).

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, any non-drafted rookies are allowed to sign a contract with any team in the league. These rookie free-agents usually do not get paid as well as drafted players, nearly all of them signing for the predetermined rookie minimum.

Supplemental Draft

In late summer, the NFL also holds a Supplemental Draft to accommodate players who did not enter the regular draft because they thought they still had academic eligibility to play college football. 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, RB Tony Hollings was taken by the Houston Texans in the second round of the Supplemental Draft in 2003; thus, in the 2004 NFL Draft, the Texans forfeited a second-round pick.)

The 1985 Supplemental Draft was particularly controversial. Bernie Kosar of the Miami (FL) Hurricanes earned his academic degree a year early but did not enter the regular draft that year. Rather than finish his eligibility at Miami, he entered into talks with his hometown Cleveland Browns, who advised him to delay his professional eligibility until after the regular draft. They then traded for the right to choose first in the Supplemental Draft. This angered many clubs, notably the Minnesota Vikings and New York Giants, who had expressed interest in choosing him in that season's regular draft. Many of today's Supplemental Draft rules aim at preventing a recurrence of this incident.

As of 2006, players who enter the Supplemental Draft usually are graded as players who should be drafted at a later round, or who have college eligibility problems (poor academic or discipline issues). Only 34 players have been taken since the NFL instituted the Supplemental Draft in 1977.

Tiebreaking Procedure

The tiebreaking procedures for the NFL draft are different from those that help determine the final regular season standings. If two or more teams have the same win/loss record, then their opponents' win/loss record is used as the tiebreaker. The team with the lowest opponents' winning percentage gets the higher pick. For example, five teams (Tennessee, New York Jets, Green Bay, Oakland and San Francisco) finished with a 4-12 record in 2005, but, as Tennessee's opponents had the worst winning percentage among the five teams, the Titans were the first 4-12 team to make their pick in the 2006 Draft. If two teams have the same win/loss record and opponents' win/loss record, then a coin toss decides who picks first; for example, in the 2006 Draft San Francisco won the coin toss over Oakland to pick 6th instead of 7th.

Events leading up to the Draft

NFL Scouting Combine

The NFL Scouting Combine is a three-day showcase, occurring every February in Indianapolis, Indiana's RCA Dome, where 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.

Tests/evaluations include:

  • 40 yard dash
  • Bench press
  • Vertical jump
  • Broad jump
  • 20-yard shuttle
  • three-cone drill
  • 60-yard shuttle
  • Position-specific drills
  • Interviews
  • Physical measurements
  • Injury evaluation
  • Drug screen
  • The Cybex test
  • The Wonderlic Test

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, whereby an athlete, based on superior measurables such as size, speed and strength, have increased their "draft stock" despite having a possibly average or subpar college career.

Pro Day

Each university has a pro day, where NFL scouts are allowed to come and watch players participate in the events that take place at the Combine at their own school. This is done as it is believed that players feel more comfortable at their own campus than they do at the Combine and therefore should perform better. Major college teams like Florida State, USC, Ohio State, Miami (Fla), and Texas, which all produce a large quantity of NFL prospects, generate huge interest from scouts and coaches at their pro days.

See also

  • List of NFL first overall draft choices
  • List of Professional Football Drafts
  • 2006 NFL Draft

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