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NFL Draft Guide

The NFL Draft is an annual event where NFL teams select new players for their rosters. It follows the NFL Final and precedes the new season, with draft order based on teams' performance in the previous season. However, trades throughout the season can affect this order.

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The draft consists of several rounds with each team picking from eligible top college players. The 2025 NFL Draft is set for April 24-26 in Green Bay, Wisconsin, marking the 90th time these NFL franchises will meet for such an event.

Introduction to the NFL Draft

The NFL Draft of 2024 took place back in April, in Detroit, drawing fans who crowded the streets as if the Detroit Lions had won the NFL Championship. But, the festive atmosphere was just for the draft! It goes to show that excitement and passion run deep among NFL teams and their fans.

The NFL Draft occurs every year after the NFL Final and before summertime is in gear. The draft awards NFL teams picks in reverse order of finish from the previous NFL season. While this is the general rule, last season’s trades and last-minute deals can shake up the order, adding to the suspense and total unpredictability of the event.

The draft is the mechanism that sees college players declared eligible in a given year have their rights selected by NFL teams for a professional contract. For this college collection of players, the draft is not only a life-changing moment that sets the stage for their careers but also one that impacts the future of the teams that select them.

Drafting well is of the utmost importance and one of the most critical aspects of team-building in the NFL. Every NFL team has a 53-man roster, plus a practice squad to fill and spots not occupied by veterans or free agent signings will rely on the draft and the skills of their front office staff in being skilled drafters.

NFL Pre-Draft Preparation

Each NFL team has a myriad of members of staff specifically hired to scout and recommend players to the general manager and executive staff. Like all the other pro sports these days, analytics is now a major role in the selection process—the ‘Moneyball’ effect.

Teams use various methods, such as film study, interviews, and physical testing, to assess players and determine their fit for the team's needs and strategy. The ‘Moneyball’ effect, inspired by the Oakland Athletics in baseball, has influenced NFL teams to incorporate data and analytics into these evaluations. This approach emphasizes statistical analysis and objective metrics, complementing traditional scouting methods. By combining scouting insights with analytical data, teams can make more informed draft choices and build competitive rosters.

NFL Draft Day Dynamics

On NFL Draft Day, the dynamics and suspense can be quite electrifying. The draft order itself has teams pick in their reverse order of how they finished coming out of last season. The last team therefore gets the first pick.

The draft consists of several rounds, each comprising picks by all 32 NFL teams. However, the draft mechanics are far from straightforward, as trades play a significant role in reshaping the draft order. Teams frequently swap picks to secure players they desire, leading to a dynamic and unpredictable draft process. As a result, draft day is not just about making picks but also about strategic manoeuvring and deal-making to build the strongest possible team for the upcoming season.

Draft Strategies and Tactics

When it comes to NFL draft picks, most teams focus on filling specific needs. However, some years see outlier talents, like Caleb Williams this year, prompting teams to draft the best player available. This strategy can improve an unexpected area or enhance the team's trade value.

Each team has different needs and drafts accordingly. The quarterback (QB) position is often a top priority, as it is crucial for team success and chemistry, requiring strong leadership. For example, the Kansas City Chiefs traded up in the 2017 draft to select QB Patrick Mahomes, who has since become one of the league's top quarterbacks, leading the Chiefs to an NFL Championship for the past two consecutive years.

Additionally, standout players from big SEC teams may have been overshadowed by other stars or might come from lesser-known colleges without much television coverage or scouting attention. These players can be diamonds in the rough, surprising everyone with their performance. Overlooked or in the wrong system, a seemingly average player may shine in a different environment with the right coaching style.

Player Profiles and Analysis

QBs are the backbone of every team. It’s shocking over the years how some teams, like the Green Bay Packers, have had three quarterbacks for the last quarter century, and teams like the Chicago Bears have had a turnstile of failed selections numbering in the high teens to twenties. In fact, since 2000, the Bears have gone through 29 quarterbacks!

The running game has changed in the last few years. Although RBs are an internal part of any offense, their value (some analytics-based) has seen teams reluctant to sign running backs for big money, preferring instead to employ a ‘next man up’ strategy.

A receiving running back, like Nikon Robinson, has become a more valuable commodity as of late than the old style ‘ground and pound’ running back of yesteryear.

The speed of the game, rule changes for tight ends being able to receive without declaring eligible each down, has changed the pace of the game. Spent receivers and tight ends are very tough to defend in today’s game and these positions have become much more high profile. Travis Kelce is a prime example, all Taylor Swift shenanigans aside.

Speed has become the most valuable commodity on both sides of the ball. Teams draft for speed, and on defence, it’s become extremely important with the height and speed of receivers growing and improving over time. If you can’t keep up, you can’t stop the offence. This is why 40-yard dash times at the combine have become so relevant.

Drafting for Success

Sometimes generational players present themselves in a draft. Players that you know will be good from day one and make a real difference to a team. Could be a stud linebacker or multi-sport athlete with talent that crosses over to other disciplines. Perhaps it’s a rare two-way player who can ironman both sides of the ball or presents a runback threat on special teams.

Some players can come in and change the look and prospects of a team immediately versus a player who may be on the bench for a couple of seasons behind a star as he grows into his craft.

Most NFL teams have stories of drafting a bad seed that is locker room poison. It’s the general manager and staff’s job to find the right player who is not only skilled but the right fit for a team.

NFL Post-Draft Assessment

Too early to tell who the winners and losers in the draft will be, but it won’t be long until the season kicks off and the studs and duds will be revealed.

NFL First Overall Draft Picks: 2000-2023

Here is a list of the first overall draft picks for each year from 2000 to 2023:

  • 2000: Courtney Brown, DE, Cleveland Browns
  • 2001: Michael Vick, QB, Atlanta Falcons
  • 2002: David Carr, QB, Houston Texans
  • 2003: Carson Palmer, QB, Cincinnati Bengals
  • 2004: Eli Manning, QB, New York Giants
  • 2005: Alex Smith, QB, San Francisco 49ers
  • 2006: Jay Cutler, QB, Chicago Bears
  • 2007: JaMarcus Russell, QB, Oakland Raiders
  • 2008: Matthew Stafford, QB, Detroit Lions
  • 2009: Mark Sanchez, QB, New York Jets
  • 2010: Sam Bradford, QB, St. Louis Rams
  • 2011: Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers
  • 2012: Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts
  • 2013: Eric Fisher, OT, Kansas City Chiefs
  • 2014: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, Houston Texans
  • 2015: Jameis Winston, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  • 2016: Jared Goff, QB, Los Angeles Rams
  • 2017: Mitchell Trubisky, QB, Chicago Bears
  • 2018: Baker Mayfield, QB, Cleveland Browns
  • 2019: Kyler Murray, QB, Arizona Cardinals
  • 2020: Joe Burrow, QB, Cincinnati Bengals
  • 2021: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars
  • 2022: Travon Walker, DE, Jacksonville Jaguars
  • 2023: Bryce Young, QB, Carolina Panther

NFL Draft FAQs

How are draft picks determined?

The NFL Draft allocates each of the 32 teams a pick in every round, with the order based on the last season's standings. The team with the worst record kicks things off with the first pick, while the NFL Champions get the final pick in each round.

Can a player refuse to be drafted?

Technically, no. When a player declares for the NFL Draft, they agree to be selected by any of the 32 teams. If they're unhappy, they can refuse to sign a contract, potentially holding out for a trade or re-entering the draft the following year. It’s a risky move but it sure makes for great football drama.

What happens to undrafted players?

Undrafted players become free agents allowing them to sign with any team. Some get a call to showcase their skills in rookie minicamps. It’s not without its challenges of course, but some players have had amazing careers via this route. Notables include Kurt Warner, whose journey to the NFL was made into the movie ‘American Underdog’. Spoiler alert: Warner went on to win two NFL MVP awards, a NFL MVP, and led the Rams to a win. Other players like Wes Welker, and James Harrison prove that talent can indeed be found beyond the draft and hype.

How do trades work during the draft?

During the NFL Draft, teams can trade picks for players, other picks, or future draft picks. This flexibility allows teams to strategically select players or acquire additional picks.

What is the draft combine and its significance?

The NFL Scouting Combine is an annual event where college football players showcase their skills to NFL teams through a series of tests. It allows teams to assess prospects in a consistent manner, aiding them in making informed draft choices.

Can anyone watch the NFL draft?

Absolutely. The NFL Draft is typically free and open for anyone to attend, usually with VIP experiences or reserved seating at a cost. The largest NFL Draft in terms of attendance was held in 2019 in Nashville, Tennessee. Over 600,000 fans attended for three days, making it the highest-attended draft in history. The event not only covered the selection process but also featured live music, interactive exhibits, and other festivities, turning it into a massive celebration of football.

When did the NFL draft change to seven rounds?

The NFL draft changed to seven rounds in 1994, after experimenting with eight rounds in 1993.

Prior to 1994, the number of rounds in the NFL draft fluctuated significantly.

What time does the NFL draft start?

The draft takes three days but starts at 7 pm Eastern Time. The subsequent rounds usually occur between 4 pm and 7 pm on the following days.

How does the draft process work?

As we have discussed, the process involves several components attempting to rank the players most efficiently. Teams then have the opportunity to draft their players based on their league positions at the end of the previous season.

How are draft picks determined?

Several variables determine draft picks, including college performance and various statistics, which depend wholly on the player's position.

What is the Scouting Combine?

A set of distinct physical and mental tests to determine which players are most well-adjusted and could potentially flourish in the NFL.

Who creates player rankings?

Many variables determine rankings; this includes the player's performance at college level, athleticism, and stats, marketability, and potential growth. It's not an exact science, and it's not always 100% accurate, but more often than not, the players are ranked in broadly the proper order. The NCAA compliance department is responsible for these figures.

How accurate are mock drafts?

Mock drafts can result in solid projections; while it is challenging to get them exactly right, some experts out there have a solid hit rate.

Why do teams trade draft picks?

Each team is in a different position, and sometimes it is more viable for a team with a solid squad to trade draft picks to shore up other positions. If a team has fewer players within their squad, they can trade draft picks in a bid to obtain quantity over quality, it all depends on the circumstances. There are dozens of specific examples, but this is the most common.

What is the difference between drafting for need and drafting the best player available?

While drafting the best player available might be more beneficial in the short-term, from a marketing perspective, if a team needs strength in a specific area they will often take the intelligent choice and draft for need instead of simply picking the best player.

Which positions are most valuable in the draft?

Quarterbacks often command the highest salary and notoriety. As the most well-known position in the game and with many quarterbacks crossing over into popular sports appeal, quarterbacks are the hardest position to find as free agents, so securing a solid option is a top priority.

How do experts grade each team's draft class?

Experts look at the quality each team has brought in, where they have strengthened, and whether it has provided the team with a more worthwhile overall outlook.

How many rounds in the NFL Draft?

Seven rounds take place during the three days.

2024 NFL Draft: Complete Guide

With the 2024 NFL Draft comes a new batch of prospects vying to be a key piece of one team’s future run to the Super Bowl. Here’s your guide to the big event!