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How the NFL Draft process works: Rules, order, time and what has changed over the years


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What started as an un-televised meeting behind closed doors has transformed into one of the most watched and anticipated annual events for a league and its fans: the NFL Draft.

The event has become so popular that in 2015, after holding 49 consecutive drafts in New York, the league renewed the tradition of spreading the fervor to different NFL cities, with this year’s draft taking place in Kansas City, Mo.

Every NFL fan understands the basic concept of the draft — teams selecting eligible players. But what are the mechanics of the draft? How are teams slotted? How much time is allotted to make each selection? How has the draft changed over the years?

Here’s a glimpse at how the draft works and how much it’s been tinkered with through the years:

How the NFL Draft order is determined

The draft order is determined by reversing the order of the league standings from the previous season. For example, the Bears were awarded the No. 1 pick for the 2023 draft by finishing the 2022 season with the worst record. But trades often occur, including the Bears trading the No. 1 pick to the Panthers earlier this offseason.

Teams that missed the postseason will take up the first 18 draft slots in each round. The other 14 slots are determined by how teams fare in the postseason. Here’s a snapshot from the league on how those slots are determined:

  • Wild-card round losers receive picks in slots 19-24 in the reverse order of their final regular-season records.
  • Divisional-round losers receive picks in slots 25-28 in the reverse order of their final regular-season records.
  • Conference championship round losers receive picks in the 29th and 30th spots in the reverse order of their final regular-season records.
  • The Super Bowl loser receives the 31st slot.
  • The Super Bowl champion receives the 32nd slot.

If teams hold identical records, draft slots are determined by strength of schedule. The team that played the weaker schedule, which is gauged by the lowest winning percentage, gains the higher pick in Round 1. For example, the Broncos and Rams both finished 5-12 last season. The Broncos were slotted as the No. 5 pick in this year’s draft because their 2022 strength of schedule was .481 while the Rams’ strength of schedule was .517.

However, the Seahawks hold the No. 5 pick after Denver traded its first-round pick this year as part of the deal to acquire quarterback Russell Wilson. In this instance, the Broncos’ record is used to determine the slot even though the pick isn’t actually for Denver.

Teams with identical records will change order through a cycle in each subsequent round. For example, the FalconsJetsSaints, Panthers, Titans and Browns all finished the season 7-10. Atlanta had the weakest strength of schedule, giving it the highest pick in the group in Round 1, No. 8. For Round 2, the Falcons cycle to the back of the group, selecting No. 44. Carolina moves up from the second slot in Round 1 (pick traded to Bears) to the highest pick in the group in Round 2 at No. 39.

If the teams have the same strength of schedule, then you move to division or conference tiebreakers. If those tiebreakers aren’t applicable, here’s a look at the tiebreakers (in order) for draft slotting:

  • Head-to-head
  • Best won-lost-tied percentage in common games (minimum of four)
  • Strength of victory
  • Best combined ranking among all teams in points scored and points allowed
  • Best net points
  • Best net touchdowns
  • Coin toss

What is the 2023 NFL Draft order for Round 1?

How much time between picks?

Round 1 starts Thursday, April 27 at 8 p.m. ET. Teams will have 10 minutes to make their selections. Rounds 2 and 3 will start Friday, April 28 at 7 p.m. ET. Teams will have seven minutes to make a pick in Round 2 and five minutes in Round 3. Rounds 4-7 will start at noon ET on Saturday, April 29. Teams will have five minutes in Rounds 4-6 and four minutes for Round 7.

The timeframes to make picks decreased starting in the 2008 draft. The 2007 draft held the longest Round 1 in the event’s history, lasting six hours and eight minutes. The draft held rounds 1-3 on the same day for the final time that year, lasting 11 hours and four minutes.

If a team runs out of time during its selection, the next team on the clock can submit its pick. Infamously, the Vikings were jumped twice during the 2003 draft. Minnesota held the No. 7 pick and ran out of time after failing to make a trade with BaltimoreJacksonville then drafted quarterback Byron Leftwich and Carolina drafted tackle Jordan Gross. The Vikings finally took defensive tackle Kevin Williams at No. 9.

Rounds history

The first NFL Draft in 1936 only consisted of 81 picks in nine rounds. The Eagles selected Heisman Trophy winner Jay Berwanger from the University of Chicago with the top pick. According to the league, the halfback never played in the league, opting for a career as a foam rubber salesman. Only 24 of the 81 players chosen in the first draft went on to play in the NFL.

The draft jumped to 10 rounds the following year and to 12 rounds in 1938. It took a massive leap in 1939 to 22 rounds. It took another leap in 1943 to 32 rounds. The draft dropped to 25 rounds in 1949, before jumping to 30 rounds in 1950. It was trimmed to 20 rounds in 1960, then down to 17 rounds in 1967. The draft decreased to 12 rounds in 1977. In 1993, the draft was downsized to eight rounds. In 1994, the draft shifted to seven rounds, which is where it’s stood ever since.

Where has the NFL Draft been hosted?

The draft has been held in the following cities:

  • Chicago (1938, 1942-1943, 1951, 1962-1964, 2015-2016)
  • Cleveland (2021)
  • Dallas (2018)
  • Las Vegas (2022)
  • Los Angeles (1956)
  • Milwaukee (1940)
  • Nashville (2019)
  • New York (1937, 1939, 1944-1947, 1952, 1955, 1965-2014)
  • Philadelphia (1936, 1944, 1949-1961, 2017)
  • Pittsburgh (1948-1949)
  • Washington D.C. (1941)

Kansas City will host this year’s draft and Detroit will hold the 2024 draft.

“There he goes. One of God's own prototypes.

A high-powered mutant of some kind, never even considered for mass production.

Too weird to live, and too rare to die.”

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