If you are a fan of the National Football League you already know it is important for a team to draft college players well. This is a great way to bring in new talent, often for less than what free agency costs. There is a specific order to the NFL draft, and it works differently from other professional drafts. So, if you're a fan of a particular team and want to know when the team will draft and whether they will pick up a particular college player you're hoping will make an immediate impact, you need to know how does the NFL draft work.
History of the NFL Draft
In order to understand the history of the NFL draft and understand how does the NFL draft work, you need to look at the history of the NFL. In fact, college football has been around for much longer than professional football. The first officially recorded college football game took place in 1869 between Rutgers and Princeton (at that time known just as New Jersey). Professional football didn't begin until almost 60 years later in 1920.
The American Professional Football Conference started in 1920 although it went on to rename itself the National Football League two years later. It later went on to absorb the American Football League in 1970. This is where the National Football Conference (NFC) and the American Football Conference (AFC) come from. The champions of each play each other in the Super Bowl.
The Creation of the Draft
While professional football started in 1920, the NFL draft did not occur until 1936. Before this time, following the completion of college football a player would enter free agency, where any team could bid for the player's services. It worked in a similar manner to any other professional world. If, for example, you graduated medical school with an impressive resume, different hospitals might compete to bring you in, offering varying incentives and allowing you to choose.
However, at the time before the NFL draft, a highly skilled college player could hold out for the highest bidder, which turned college free agency into a giant mess. Additionally, teams would loan out players to different teams for rental costs if that team knew they couldn't make the playoffs (and keep the rights to the players following the end of the season). Due to this, a number of league meetings took place in 1934, and in 1935 the owners agreed to set up a draft of college players to take place in 1936. They also established certain protocols within the league, including the inability to lend out players to other teams.
History of the Draft
When looking at how does the NFL draft work, it all started in 1936. The first draft took place in Philadelphia with 90 college players registered for the draft. Jay Berwanger became the first player ever drafted in the NFL. However, he also became the first officially drafted player to be traded as well, as Jay was traded to the Chicago Bears. It became even more interesting when Jay Berwanger did not sign with the Chicago Bears at all. In fact, he never played professional football. In total, 81 players were drafted, but only 24 played in the NFL.
Back in 1936 someone with a college degree could often make more money in the field they graduated in, so many did not continue on playing football. Many put their names in the draft to see how much they could make.
The draft remained basically the same until the conclusion of the Second World War. Starting in 1946, teams had a better understanding of scouting and looking into the performance of a player. This made it easier for teams to draft players to better fit their needs. By 1960, the draft became especially competitive as both the AFL and the NFL were drafting after similar players at the same time, but for two different leagues.
The NFL draft has grown although the number of rounds has evolved over the years. At one point there were thirty rounds of the draft, but now it is down to seven.
NFL Draft Picks and Trades
When looking at NFL draft picks and trades, it all comes down to what teams are interested and how bad they want a particular trade or player. Teams can negotiate between one another and trade away as many picks for individual players. If, for example, a bad team with a few great players wants to improve, they might trade a great player for several picks. This is common for rebuilding NFL teams. A team might try to stockpile NFL draft picks to build up the team with young talent.
By default, an NFL team will have one pick in each round, giving them seven picks. However, things can change to affect this. A team might trade several draft picks for a player on another team's roster. If, for example, the Eagles traded a top player to the 49ers in exchange for a 1st and 2nd round pick, the Eagles would then have two first round and two second round picks, while the 49ers wouldn't have any picks in the first two rounds (but would have the received player).
There is also a supplemental draft that can cause alterations. A supplemental draft takes place later in the year and is for players who might not have been eligible for the standard NFL draft at the time. Teams can use future draft picks in this draft if they so chose.
Penalized By the League
Penalties handed out by the league can affect how does the NFL draft work. There are times where the NFL might divvy out penalties to a team for cheating or for breaking NFL rules. For example, the Atlanta Falcons were caught feeding crowd noise through the stadium speaker system to make the stadium sound louder for apposing teams. When the NFL found out it fined the owner and it took away draft picks. Likewise, when the entire "Deflategate" issue happened with the New England Patriots the Patriots were fined, Tom Brady was suspended a few games and the team was docked a few draft picks.
How Does the NFL Draft Work?
If you are wondering how does the NFL draft work, you probably want to know how the draft order is selected and how the process goes. Unlike other leagues, where even the very best team has a shot at landing a top draft pick, the NFL does not do that. It does its very best to ensure league equality.
Non-Playoff Draft Order
When it comes to how does the NFL draft work, the top 20 teams in the NFL draft are those that did not make the playoffs. The order a team drafts is based on their record from the previous year. The team with the worst NFL record drafts the earliest (which is why the Cleveland Browns almost always have a top 3 draft pick). So what happens if two teams have the same record? The strength of schedule is looked at. The league will look at how the other teams that played the two that tied faired over the course of the year. The team that played the lower strength of schedule will then draft first.
If the two teams have the same strength of schedule (not likely but it can happen), the NFL will look at common games against division opponents, and the team with the worst division record will draft first. If the two remain tied, the NFL will look at the record in common games against conference opponents (if both teams are in the same conference). If the teams are tied again, there will be a coin flip.
Playoff Draft Order
10 teams make the NFL playoffs. Teams that were eliminated in the Wild Card rounds draft between slots 21 and 24. The exact order is determined by their overall records (worse record drafting earlier) and then followed the same rules for the draft order as decided for the other 20 teams.
Teams that lost in the divisional rounds draft between slots 25 and 28. Then conference runners up are drafts 29 and 30. The loser of the Super Bowl drafts 31st and the Super Bowl champion drafts last during the year's NFL draft at 32.
When it comes to how does the NFL draft work, it is rather straightforward. Each team has one draft per round. However, it can shift every year based on how teams trade, if they have been penalized by the league, or if they are trading up or down within the draft. Basically, if you're looking at how does the NFL draft work, you need to take each year as its own creation and can evolve based on trades the teams have made. So if a team doesn't have picks in one round, or they have multiple picks in a round, it is because there have been trades in recent years that affect their draft picks.